It’s the perfect photo op. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player in the world, sitting in Club Suite 19. And beside him is Daryl Katz, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers, who just happened to be in town the day Seattle City Council approved the financing of a new arena for the city.
It’s a great photo op for anyone from Edmonton, particularly when you’re in a bitter public argument over who will fund the last $100-million for a new arena.
After last week’s full-out media tour, which put the reclusive Katz front and centre, it became quite apparent to those of us outside Edmonton that the new downtown arena was not a sure thing.
When you hear an NHL owner say things like:
“Incremental costs when compared to the incremental revenue in this deal are not enough for us to justify a 35-year commitment”
“Our lease expires in less than 24 months. Costs are mounting every day on the design process.”
“At some point — and that point is soon — the costs will become prohibitive for everyone and there’ll be no project. That’s why time and delays are our enemy right now.”
You know things aren’t going very well.
That Katz is putting $225 million of his own (Katz Group figure, not mine) doesn’t mean enough. Many thought that following the Alberta election that kept Premier Alison Redmond in power, it would only be natural for the province’s community revitalization levy to fill the $100-million gap. But finding the right formula for a public-private venture is difficult at the best of times, let alone when working on a tight deadline. (Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel says he needs to hear from the Katz Group by Oct. 17.)
That brings us back to Monday night. No progress has been made with the City of Edmonton, and as Katz noted last week, the clock is ticking.
And don’t be fooled, Seattle is a viable NHL market. Former Seattle resident and San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen has pushed for the return of the NBA as the primary need for a new arena, but there has always been interest from at least one group in bringing the NHL to the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Chicago businessman Don Levine, who owns the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, has been among those kicking tires.
Here’s what we do know: Hansen reached out to Katz before Monday to set up an informal discussion, hence the photo op at CenturyLink field in Seattle. After all, who wouldn’t want to sit beside Wayne Gretzky.
It’s the best way to get noticed in Edmonton.