We’re shocked, shocked that Katz wants more.

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?

Edmonton: not world-class and proud of it.

Well, the WC word appeared in the paper again today.

You know what it is. I can barely utter it without snickering.

It’s world-class. And yes, technically, it’s two words. But whether it’s one or two, the one thing I know is that no arena is going to make Edmonton world-class, or “put Edmonton on the map”.

First, Edmonton has been on the map — in fact, all maps — for hundreds of years. See, it’s right there, just north of Red Deer. Always has been on the map, always will be.

But world class? Nope.

We may have a few “world class” buildings around. The Art Gallery of Alberta is kind of a baby world-class building. The Winspear Centre has world-class acoustics and is an outstanding concert hall. West Edmonton Mall is definitely world-class, in that it is the largest mall in North American, and can still make a point of being the largest functioning mall in the world, in that many mega-malls in China are mostly empty. The Fringe Festival is world-class in size if not in quality, and the Folk Fest thinks it’s world-class, but isn’t really.

But after that, the list gets pretty slim. Or ends altogether.

Now that we are about to get our first glimpse at “our” new arena, the “world-class” term has arisen again. John McKinnon in the Edmonton Journal went on today about how the area will move Edmonton to world-class status.

Sorry, Edmonton boosters. It takes more than a flashy new ice palace to make a city world-class.  Edmonton just isn’t a world-class city today, and it won’t be a world-class city tomorrow.

Exactly what “world-class” means is difficult to define. Clearly, there are some cities that are world-class — Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc. After a handful of mega-important cities, the list gets more difficult to define. Is Sydney, Australia a world-class city? Sounds like it. But how about Auckland, New Zealand? Is Vancouver world-class (might be if they didn’t have the Canucks)? Is a teeming place like New Delhi world-class?

To some, Toronto ranks as world-class. But the mayor of Toronto, Rob ‘911’ Ford, is putting the big push on to get an NFL franchise for Toronto to make it … yes, world-class. In Ford’s view, all it takes to be world-class is to have an NFL franchise, so welcome to the world-class club, Cleveland and Baltimore!

Here’s my definition of world-class. If you have to ask if you’re a world-class city, and if you think adding new hockey arenas and art galleries will make you a world-class city — then you’re not a world-class city.

Let’s be honest here, folks. Edmonton is too cold to be world-class, not cultured enough to be world-class, not architecturally interesting enough to be world-class, not touristy enough to be world-class, not rich enough to be world-class. We just aren’t, and we never will be.

And frankly, who cares? The world-class definition is dubious at best. I wish the Edmonton media types and politicians would expunge the term world-class from their vocabulary. We’re not going to be a world-class city, so let’s concentrate on being a livable city, a quality city, and a good place to live and work. Please, folks, let’s not pretend or aspire to be something we are not, nor ever will be. Please, let us have a moratorium on the term ‘world-class’.

Edmonton: not world-class, and proud of it.

Memo to Katz Group: Screw you.

Memo to: The Katz Group

From: An Edmonton taxpayer

Subject: Screw you

This memo is in response to your recent memo to Edmonton City Council regarding the progress, or lack thereof, in the negotiations towards the construction of a new arena.

If I may be blunt, let me just express my profound frustrations with your tactics by using a common idiom: screw you.

Pardon me for using the memo format, but this seems to be the preferred method of communications for the Katz Group.  Apparently, Mr. Katz considers himself too important to directly address the public about the use of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars he is demanding for a new arena. Seems like a strange way to do business with an organization that you are attempting to enter into an agreement with, but who am I to question how a billionaire operates.

Now, to address your concerns as outlined in your memo. Your primary concern seems to be that the window of opportunity to get the new arena built by the 2014 hockey season has closed. This should bother me, why? As a taxpayer and substantial partner in this project, I frankly could not care less whether the Oilers get into the building by 2014, or 2015, or 2016, or any other date. You can continue sucking at Northlands just as easily as you can suck in a new building. You have a perfectly good home you can play in for the foreseeable future, so get comfortable.

Second, you say that the option to buy the land is about to expire, and if you don’t act soon, you’ll lose the land. Well, then, do something. Buy it. Just carry on with the purchase. I find it rather amazing that you seem to want everything in place perfectly at your end, but you expect the city to take all the gambles. If you have the land, and you think this is perfect, then buy it. We’re good for it. We’re the freaking City of Edmonton.

Third, you are worried that there is no progress on the non-compete deal with Northlands. Well, again, this was your idea, not ours. How are we supposed to tell Northlands, which is a non-profit that has been around for more than 100 years, that they are supposed to mothball their biggest source of revenue so you can take the whole pie? When you open a Rexall drugstore in a shopping mall, do you insist on a non-compete clause with Shopper’s Drug Mart? No, I didn’t think so. It’s called competition. Look it up.

So here’s the thing, Mr. Katz Group. We’re still $100 million short. You may think that the province is going to kick in the money, but we don’t know that. If you really wanted to move this along, I have an idea… why don’t YOU kick in another $100 million? That would move things along nicely.

Unless we see some kind of goodwill gesture on your part, Mr. Katz Group, then you’ll just have to bide your time. There are hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars at stake here, and a good portion of the population (read: voters) would be mightily pissed if they gave a local billionaire even more money. Every time you put out another memo, you loose more and more public support. Who are you getting your advice from, Donald Trump?

So can your phony deadlines, pony up some more money, or shut the hell up.

Sincerely,

A Taxpayer

 

 

 

 

 

Northlands is right to fight.

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.