Although we don’t like to admit it, we all know that the downtown Rogers Place arena deal was a kick to the gut for taxpayers. It was also a death-blow to Northlands. Now we are trying to pick up the pieces.

Is Rogers Place nice? Yup, sure is. But we Edmontonians certainly coughed up a lot of dough to get a shiny new arena (which is already having roof issues). And then, as icing on the dome, we chipped in nearly $2 million in public art to decorate the outside.

Hockey is our heritage and I love the game. I support increased recreational opportunities for kids, and for this reason I am glad to hear that Hockey Canada is interested in creating a partnership with the City of Edmonton. The City wants to gut Northlands Coliseum (a.k.a. Rexall Place) and flip it into a retrofitted hockey palace. This project will be expensive and Council is contemplating closing several community rinks to pay the bills for the new hockey centre.

How much have we mismanaged our money that we are looking at closing community rinks to pay City bills? $2 million in public art alone at Rogers Place, anyone?  How far would that money have gone to keeping local rinks open?

Those familiar with my campaign will know that I support increased community amenities at the neighbourhood level. Low-cost physical active opportunities should be available to families near their homes. Walking around a block to play hockey is preferable to driving to Rexall Place, no matter how nice the refurbishment will make it. Can we have both?

What Should be Done?

The whole Northlands site should be envisioned in a master plan, not just the Coliseum building. It is odd that the City is not looking at the bigger picture. While I support the Hockey Canada proposal, the planning process has not been properly followed. Council has put the cart before the horse. This is like tearing up the City Centre Airport and then not really knowing what to do with the land.

When millions and millions of dollars are at stake, we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment in contemplation. We should not be approving a proposal without knowing what else we are going to do with the site. An LRT station is adjacent and could be utilized in some manner. No one will use the LRT to transport smelly hockey bags to practice, so let’s think a bit bigger about what could go around the repurposed Coliseum. Because a hockey centre (that is not for large-scale spectator sport) is anti-Transit Oriented Development.

Is the Hockey Canada concept good? Mostly. Should it be part of broader community engagement for the whole Northlands site? Yes. Is the City currently looking at the broader Northlands site? No. Did horse racing just leave due to uncertainty?

Can we save some money on the Hockey Canada Coliseum proposal? I think that if we scale back some of the proposed extras, like public art, we could have enough monkey to keep the community rinks open. To me, that’s an example of proper prioritization.

If kids do not learn how to skate in their own neighbourhoods, it’s unlikely that they will be playing hockey tournaments at the Coliseum when they’re teenagers.

For now, Go Oilers Go! Long live the Rexall Place memories.

Jon Dziadyk

North Side Journal