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Editorial: Arena a once-in-a-generation opportunity22 March 2010 | In the News
Architect Barry Johns is to be commended for contributing his time and expertise to the public discussion now underway about the proposed Edmonton Arena District. In his article last Saturday in this space, "Is 104th Avenue best place for new arena?" Johns rightly states: "What must occur before any concerns are expressed about the financial model is a comprehensive planning and design analysis that takes into account all of the principles that make our cities vibrant, livable and sustainable."
We agree wholeheartedly, and can assure him and others that such a process has been underway in various forms for a number of years. In the broadest sense, this began with the City of Edmonton's Municipal Development Plan, which declares its support for "...a more compact and urban form [that] strengthens the downtown as the centre of art, culture, entertainment, employment and transit for the city and region." This work was carried forward in 2007 and 2008 by Mayor Stephen Mandel's Leadership Committee for a New Sports/Entertainment District for Edmonton, and by Mark Rosentraub, a leading expert on the power of sports and entertainment districts to revitalize urban centres.
A copy of the leadership committee's report and Rosentraub's research paper, titled "Sports Facilities, A New Arena In Edmonton and The Opportunities for Development and A City's Image: Lessons from Successful Experiences," are available on our website at www.revitalizedowntown.ca.
These three documents represent years of study and analysis, and have formed the foundation of our own work at the Katz Group. Over the past two years we have worked closely with developers, urban planners, civil engineers, traffic consultants, arena programming experts and others at firms like AEG, Stantec, Bunt & Associates, Rossetti and Icon Venue Group, as well as the City of Edmonton's Planning Department. We have also been engaged in an ongoing and increasingly active set of discussions across the community. Our goal from the outset has been to design a district that is livable, walkable and sustainable, well-integrated with the downtown core, complimentary to the surrounding neighbourhoods; and accessible by foot, car and mass transit.
In this regard, Johns is mistaken when he says the proposed new arena site has no LRT access and "must rely on automobile traffic for its success". Quite the opposite, the proposed site can be connected via the Pedway to the high-density core of downtown and sits within a 10-minute walk of MacEwan University's growing campus, the thriving Warehouse District, Epcor Tower, City Hall, the Alberta Art Gallery and other civic and cultural institutions. Livability and foot traffic will be further enhanced by the plans we and others have for new student housing and residential units on and around the site.
As for mass transit, the site will be well-served by the city's new LRT line, which has a planned stop at the northwest corner of the proposed site, as well as by a nearby east-west line also being planned. The proposed site would be ideal by almost any measure on these grounds alone. The fact that we have been able to secure 16-acres of undeveloped and contiguous real estate in the heart of our city will greatly increase the entire district's prospects for success. And it will do so with far less cost, time and disruption than would be required on an alternate site that already has a number of large buildings and operating businesses owned by any number of different parties, as Johns has proposed.
A comparison to Glendale Arena in Phoenix must also be questioned. Glendale Arena is located in a suburb of Phoenix an hour's drive from the Coyotes' fan base. If anything, Glendale is a near-perfect argument for a downtown arena district such as the one we are proposing - and the ones that have transformed cities like Columbus, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Johns' critique also asserts that the current site is "landlocked with other services around it already that are not public-oriented and will not likely disappear soon." I look out my office window at the site and with a few exceptions what I see are surface parking lots adjacent to surface parking lots and other eminently developable parcels of land.
Third, the site will indeed "be surrounded with public life". In addition to the many exciting things happening with MacEwan University's campus, the transformation of 104th Street, the revitalization of Jasper Avenue, the Epcor Tower, Stationlands, and more, we will be bringing all manner of public life throughout the district. This will include a vibrant street level presence - the importance of which we absolutely agree with Mr. Johns.
Fourth, the Winter Garden will be more than just a "public amenity." It will be that, for sure, but also a vital pedestrian bridge over 104th Avenue to the arena and the MacEwan LRT station. It will connect the arena, hotels, casino, entertainment retailing, offices, and residential developments with the downtown core - serving to attract and disperse people throughout the broader community. It will be an iconic piece of architecture that creates a new identity for downtown, and a programmable and brandable public open space for ceremonies, markets and entertainment. And it will serve as an active informal public space and meeting place with food and beverage services and other entertainment retailing attractions to activate the space.
For all that, there are many things on which we agree with Mr. Johns, and none more strongly than this: This is indeed a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Edmonton and we need to get it right.
We welcome this kind of feedback and constructive dialogue. We are very pleased by the support we are receiving from across the community. We are committed to following the city's zoning application process and public consultation requirements. And we are confident that this development can be the catalyst for Edmonton's future that we all want it to be.
Robert Black is executive vice-president, Sports and Entertainment, Katz Group