Downtown arena in Edmonton gets green light

Oilers owner Daryl Katz. Jimmy Jeong/CP

EDMONTON – The $480 million guaranteed maximum price (GMP) has been met and construction on Edmonton’s new downtown arena will begin next month.

Finally, we’re on to the fun part. Rogers Place — the future home of the Edmonton Oilers — will officially open in the fall of 2016.

Joining Mayor Don Iveson, City Manager Simon Farbrother and other civic administrators, Oilers owner Daryl Katz made a rare public appearance to help make the announcement on Tuesday afternoon at Edmonton City Hall.

“Rogers Place will be one of the most modern sports and entertainment facilities anywhere,” Katz said. “It will be an iconic and beautiful building that, like any great hockey player, will make everything around it better.

“It will be a magnet, not just for sports, but for concerts and events that will enliven our city.”

In addition to confirming the GMP for the arena itself, Farbrother identified the total cost of the project ($606.5 million), which will include the development of the Winter Garden, pedestrian corridor, LRT connection and community rink.

“A lot of people didn’t believe we could bring this in under budget,” Iveson said. “This removes that cloud of doubt about the cost for many people in the public.

“Hopefully we helped prove that this project is well managed and will be executed responsibly.”

The $606.5 million price tag includes a $2 million contribution from MacEwan University, which will be used to increase seating capacity in the community rink, per Canada West and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) requirements. In return, the Griffins men and women’s hockey teams will be given a permanent home.

The Griffins are currently housed off campus, a good 15- or 20-minute commute for the men, who play at the Bill Hunter Arena near West Edmonton Mall.

For everyone involved, Iveson described it as a “particularly satisfying day,” after trudging through the ups and downs of an exhausting six-year journey.

“This is a key project that will have a major impact on the ongoing transformation happening right here in the heart of our city. It’s bold and innovative, just as Edmonton is.

“As Edmonton makes this urban shift and really becomes one of the top tier Canadian cities, a move like this is going to be noticed. The design will send a message to the world about our creativity and dynamism.”

The GMP ensures the construction manager, PCL, bears all responsibility for any cost overruns.

“There’s a very ambitious timeline laid out, but there was a significant amount of design work made so we could guarantee the cost — and that very same design work is going to help lay out a path to build it on time,” Iveson said. “Time is part of the cost factor. It’s in everybody’s best interest to keep this on time in order to keep it on budget, but that risk is on (PCL’s) side.

“Now we turn our attention to putting shovels in the ground next month.”

Preparation and site inspections are expected to begin as early as next week.

Located at the corner of 104th Ave. and 101st St. NW, Rogers Place will seat 18,641. It promises to be one of the world’s most iconic sports and entertainment facilities and be the “cornerstone of private sector development” in the city’s downtown core. Edmontonians will be treated to a world-class entertainment experience at Rogers Place, highlighted by an increase in amenities, such as globally branded restaurants and bars, both inside and out.

Designed by ICON Venue Group and 360 Architecture, Iveson described it as the “full package,” coming in at the GMP without sacrificing design quality or sparing on even the most minor of details.

“It’s spectacular,” Oilers President and COO Patrick LaForge said, adding that Rexall Sports has already heard offers from entertainers looking to perform at the new facility.

“It kind of blows you away. We haven’t even got an order form printed yet, but we’ll get to it.”

The Oilers currently play at Rexall Place, a 16,839-seat facility located in the city’s north end. Built in 1974, it’s one of the oldest buildings in the National Hockey League, as exhibited by the heap of outdated comforts.

“Players really do care about their surroundings,” LaForge said. “For years our guys have been traveling to buildings that are many times are better than Rexall. They might not be better places to watch hockey, but they’re more properly outfitted. Hockey is a small community and word gets out about great places to play. If you have a winning organization and great facilities to along with it, that’s a great combination.”

Forget the standings for a moment. On this day, Edmontonians and Oilers fans everywhere can celebrate victory.

“I couldn’t be more excited and more proud of our city,” Katz said.

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