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Edmonton council votes in favour of proceeding with new arena

The Canadian Press

4/10/2013 11:53:06 PM

EDMONTON -- Even though the money is not all in place, Edmonton city council gave approval Wednesday to a deal that would see a new downtown arena built for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.

Councillors voted 10-3 in favour of the master agreement with Oilers owner Darryl Katz. The pact would see the Oilers stay in the city for the next 35 years.

Councillors also voted by a smaller margin in favour of leveraging $45 million from the Municipal Sustainability Initiative -- a provincial fund that provides grant money for infrastructure -- to make up for part of a $100 million shortfall in funding for the project.

However, the city said it will only borrow the money if the province confirms it will provide the remaining $55 million. All parties would have until Sept. 1 to finalize the funding arrangement or the deal could still fall apart.

"Council took a courageous step forward today," said Mayor Stephen Mandel. "We've also made it clear that we will not move forward until we have the balance of the funds needed from the province."

Premier Alison Redford was in Washington and could not immediately be reached for comment but has said repeatedly in recent months that there will be no direct provincial funding for the arena project.

The total cost of the project including a community rink, garden and transit link is now estimated at $604 million -- $408 million of that is for the arena itself.

Katz has committed to paying $143 million. In addition to the money from the province, the city is planning to apply for $14 million in grants from the federal and provincial governments for the community rink.

Coun. Tony Caterina expressed concerns that using MSI funding for the arena would mean other infrastructure projects would suffer.

"There is a tradeoff here," Caterina said.

Coun. Kim Krushell said there were other funding options to address the remaining $55 million if the city does move forward with borrowing $45 million from MSI funding, however those options were not discussed in public.

City manager Simon Farbrother said that the Katz Group had been asked a day after the provincial budget was released whether they could put up the missing $100 million, and the reply was no.

John Karvellas with the Katz Group said "it remains a very complex deal" but he believes everything can be approved and signed by the end of the month.

"I'm confident that with hard work and goodwill, we will be able to sign, seal and deliver everything by the end of April," Karvellas said.

Coun. Kerry Diotte voted against the deal, calling it "way off-side."

He described it as a public-private partnership that's weighted far too much on the backs of taxpayers.

"This deal was not supposed to go ahead without that $100 million from the province. That's what Edmontonians were told," he wrote on his website.

"It's not fair to proceed. It's a broken promise."

Construction would be expected to begin by spring 2014, with the arena opening in the fall of 2016.