If Edmonton Northlands had a Facebook page, I’d be tempted to click on that ‘like’ button.
I haven’t always been a fan of the not-for-profit ‘agricultural society’. It has always been an old boys’ club, and far too cozy with the PC elite. Over the years, Northlands has received hundreds of millions of dollars of government largess, which could have been more wisely spent elsewhere. Say, to me.
But in the current fight over the new arena, Northlands is coming off as the scrappy underdog, putting up the good fight against a murderers row of an empire-building city council with stars in its eyes, a reclusive billionaire, and the Edmonton Journal.
I’m not going to delve into the whole ‘do we need a new arena?’ question again. That’s been done to death, and besides, it’s a done deal. Despite the fact the finances are extremely shaky (something about $100 million that the city hopes will appear, magically, like a Christmas present under a tree), and the cost is sure to exceed the $450 million price tag, it’s going to happen. Mayor Mandel wants it, council mostly wants it, the city’s movers and shakers want it, and the media wants it. It will get done, regardless of how it gets paid for.
Northlands, which has done a very successful job of running the supposedly decrepit and unglamorous arena (that was, when it was first built, our dazzling, state of the art hockey palace) has understandably got its back up over the new arena. Northlands has been shut out of all conversations regarding the new arena. Richard Anderson, the American hired gun with loads of arena-running experience, stood his ground in front of council last week, refusing to disclose Northlands’ financial statements. This caused the easily horrified Coun. Jane Batty to say she was “horrified” to hear Anderson’s refusal.
Frankly, I think Anderson is on pretty shaky ground in giving council the figurative finger. He is right to say Northlands is “not a city arm or a part of the city”, but he acknowledged that they are partners, and partners have the right to see the books. But until the Katz Group comes through with financial information that they have been keeping secret, then Northlands has every right to keep its information secret, too.
Also, I question why council wanted to look at the Northlands books. Mandel professed to be concerned about its future viability of Northlands without the Oilers. It’s true that the city has a lot of money tied up in Northlands, and if Northlands goes under, the city with be stuck with the tab for things like the $56 million it loaned Northlands for the Expo Centre. But since nobody on council knows the first thing about how to run something as large and complex as Northlands, they would bring absolutely nothing to the table. Council is no friend of Northlands these days, and they are so cozy with Katz now that if I were Northlands, I wouldn’t want my financial information going to a potential rival, either.
Anderson is pretty ballsy, I must say. He is quite happy to go up against the new, Katz-run arena and compete for attractions.
“If it ever happened,” said Anderson of a head-to-head battle between Rexall Place and Rexall Place II, “I like our chances.”
There has been talk that the Katz Group wants Northlands to sign a non-compete deal. Again, if I were Anderson, I’d tell Katz and the Kouncil Kronies to take their non-compete clause and shove it. (When Katz opens a new Rexall drug store, does he force the other drug stores in town to sign non-compete contracts? I don’t think so.) Even though I don’t see any room in Edmonton for two, 18,000-plus seat buildings, I could see one downtown, and a pared down, 8,000-seat Northlands as a more intimate venue.
Rexall Place is a vital piece of Northlands’ economic pie. They have every right to fight for it, tooth and nail. And if Darrel Katz doesn’t like having Northlands around, then maybe he should put up the whole $450 million for the new arena and go toe-to-toe with Northlands. As Anderson puts it, I like their chances.