Omar Mouallem explores what makes Edmonton a great city.
Downtown arena still causing a stir
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I promised myself I wouldn't write another word about the downtown-arena debacle. But promises are made to be broken.
I started out thinking that the downtown arena was a good idea. But when the financing issues arose, I began to have second thoughts. Then the issues with Northlands came to the fore. Expecting that organization to give up on Rexall Place and roll over and die seemed a bit much.
Then there was the CRL issue, the cost of providing services for the development and who knows what else. What should have been a straightforward proposition has spun wildly out of control. The question is why.
The arena issue has been nothing if not divisive. On the one hand, there are supporters who seem willing to sell their grandmothers if it puts an arena in the downtown.
On the other, there are those who don't want the city to subsidize the moneymaking ventures of someone who is already a billionaire. And in the middle, there are people like me who are completely baffled because they do not really understand what either the city or Mr. Katz are up to.
If I had to answer why I think the arena issue has turned into such a boondoggle, I would have to lay much of the blame at the feet of Mr. Katz.
Prior to his purchase of the Oilers, not many of us knew he even existed. Even with all the media coverage around the arena, he still remains Edmonton's Howard Hughes. He doesn't speak to Edmontonians about what he wants and needs and why - and that comes across as arrogance on his part. I have no idea whether he is, in fact, arrogant, but as any public-relations practitioner will tell you, perception is reality.
I think many people do not trust Mr. Katz. That's not a surprise. It's hard to trust someone you know nothing about.
Because of that lack of knowledge, Mr. Katz has become a symbol rather than a person. I believe many Edmontonians see Mr. Katz as the epitome of greed, a poster boy for the privileged, someone who thinks he is rich and powerful enough to make a municipality do his bidding.
I am not sure any of those things is either fair or accurate, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I am not surprised when I hear people express such opinions.