Edmonton on the Brink of Getting a New NHL Arena

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIOctober 27, 2011

EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 25: Nikolai Khabibulin #35 of the Edmonton Oilers stops a deflection by Daniel Sedin #22  of the Vancouver Canucks on October 25, 2011 at the Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

If all goes well, there will be two new NHL-size arenas in Canada that will open for business in 2015.

Most of the focus recently has been in the east on Quebec, with its attempts to fulfill NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's terms for reinstatement in the league by building a new NHL-size arena with at least 18,000 seats.

Supposedly, everything is in place now except when the shovels for construction start to dig in the ground.

Meanwhile out west, another Canadian city arena issue appears to be resolved. The Edmonton city council voted 10-3 to approve construction of a new NHL arena for the Edmonton Oilers.

Like the proposed Quebec arena, the new facility will cost $450 million.

The issue has been on the table for some years now. When Edmonton entered the NHL in 1980, it was the only WHA city to have an NHL-size arena in place when the merger occurred.

The arena (Northlands Coliseum, Rexall Center, take your pick) has served the city well, allowing the franchise to survive tough economic times. Its fellow WHA  teams, Winnipeg, Quebec and Hartford were shifted away in the 1990s.

As time passed, the median size of NHL arenas increased to about the 18,000 mark until now (until the readmission of Winnipeg). Edmonton has the second smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Long Island.

But unlike the Islanders, there were no fears for the Edmonton franchise. They built the properly sized arena for the NHL in the past and there was no reason to believe that they wouldn't get it right again this time.

Unlike Quebec, a substantial amount of the cost of the new arena will come from the franchise owner, Daryl Katz, who will contribute $130 million toward the project.

The city will contribute funds along with a ticket tax.

The only fly in the ointment is whether Edmonton jumped the gun like Quebec. The hope is that the final amount of funding will come from the Provincial Government, which has not made any commitment at all.

Things worked out for Quebec when the liberal government of Premier Jean Charest jumped on board, no doubt hoping that his contribution will win him votes in the next Quebec provincial election. But will Edmonton's potential sin of presumption derail the project?

Government money for private sports projects is unpopular in Canada. At least until recently, the only government money made available for sports projects are those that involve an international competition like the Olympics or Toronto's future 2015 Pan American Games.

Quebec tried to pass off its arena as a pre-Winter Olympic bid project, but the federal government (and most people in other provinces) was not buying it. Only municipal and provincial funds are being used.

EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 9: Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Kelly Buchberger of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 9, 2011 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

No attempt has been made to seek federal funding for the Edmonton project.

Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel wants to meet with Alberta Premier Alison Redford to entice a $100 million contribution.

The city has already taken another presumptive step by borrowing $30 million for design work. But if the provincial government doesn't come through, the project may be derailed.

By the looks of most of the comments and chat rooms online, the taxpayers are not too happy. Most of them want Katz to pay for the entire project himself.

However, NHL Commissioner Bettman is delighted at the news and says a new arena will mean long-term survival for the Oilers.

However, like Quebec, the Edmonton project has become a taxpayer issue and a lot of emotional debate may ensue before a definite commitment is made or rejected.