I’m shocked, shocked to hear that Daryl Katz wants more money for the new arena, just the way Major Renault was “shocked, shocked” to find that gambling was going on in Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

Back in July, when word came down that the “iconic” project (it can’t really be an icon until it’s built and established itself as an icon, so can we all please stop using that overused word?) was $35 million over budget, Mayor Stephen Mandel seemed sanguine about the whole thing. After yesterday’s meeting behind-closed-doors meeting with the Katz group extortionists (sorry, that should be ‘representatives’), Mandel — who would be a terrible poker player — looked morose about the whole thing. He admitted to going from “optimistic” to “frustrated”, all the while looking like a guy who just saw a puppy get run over by a steamroller.

City council members are staying tight-lipped about what Katz wants (sure, it’s only our money they’re talking about), but apparently it’s not about increasing funding for the arena itself, but some sort of mysterious “additional funding requests”. City councilors, with one eye on the budget and the other eye on their re-election prospects, politely told Katz no.

What exactly was Katz looking for? If you read between the lines of the letter the Katz group sent to council, it looks like they want a larger chunk of the revenue from the building, which seems impossible in that they’re basically getting the whole pie. The letter rather boldly says, “We believe the city has significant capacity beyond its commitment of $45 million to help fund the arena”. Put more bluntly, he’s saying you’ve got more money in your piggy bank than you’re letting on, so shake it loose.

The letter also criticizes the city for the slow pace of negotiations over the project. This makes me laugh. Surely Katz knew what he was dealing with the City of Edmonton, an organization that can take years to make the simplest decision, or build the most elementary project. Nothing, absolutely nothing, gets done quickly in civic government. And seriously, Mr. Katz, if you wanted an arena built quickly, you should have done it yourself. You can design and build a dozen Rexall drug stores in the time it takes for city council to decide on what it wants for lunch.

So where are we now?

Well, we know that the arena cannot be built for $450 million, but that’s hardly news; we knew that back in July. (At that time, I wrote that the Winter Garden would be the first piece of the arena project to be jettisoned for cost considerations, and I think that is more likely now than ever.) What we don’t know, thanks to the cone of silence city council is hiding under, exactly what Katz wants.

What we do know (or at least I think we know) is that the public has run out of patience with Katz. He’s coming off as a bully, a penny-ante operator who is trying to squeeze every last nickel out of Edmonton under the unstated threat of moving the beloved but incompetent Edmonton Oilers. Katz still holds all the cards — he’s got the Oilers, he’s got public expectations, he’s got politicians who want to get re-elected — but he’s playing his cards badly.

In my view, this is going to end poorly. We’ll get an arena, but forget all those gorgeous images you’ve seen. It will be a pared back building, attractive and functional, but no “icon”. You know that old expression, a camel is a horse designed by a committee? Well, we’re going to have a camel for an area.

Oh, and once again, I’d just like to ask one more thing — how’s the hunt for that missing $100 million coming?


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