Downtown Arena

I haven't said much about the downtown arena story that erupted last night thanks to a couple of different reasons that I won't comment on -- we have some things to discuss as a Council body before we weigh in on the various versions of the truth that have been offered.

At a philosophical level, I will say with utter certainty and conviction, that I believe that a downtown arena is the way to go.  I have seen multiple cries of "no parking", "too far away (from Timberlea)" and "imagine the traffic", protestations that are completely valid if we were trying to build a major performance arena of the ilk we've seen the past 20 to 30 years.  Yup, if we were measuring our sanity by that standard, you would think we're completely nuts.  However, that is not the case.

The decision to find a suitable location in the city centre was strategic, thoughtful, contemporary, and community-building.  Here are a few reasons why, as I understand them:

1.  First and foremost, this is going to be a performance arena, not a hockey arena.  While hockey will comprise a percentage of activity it hosts, it will only be a small percentage.  From concerts to conventions, from trade shows to circuses, the performance arena will be an activity node for all seasons.

2.  When people come to an event, they will be able to park in many locations, including in the 600-plus underground stalls that will be built under the civic plaza area, stalls used during the weekdays by municipal staff and largely available to the public in the evenings and weekends when most events will occur.  This heated, underground parking amenity will be within blocks of the performance arena.

3.  Parking and walking to the facility will inspire drop-in visits to bars, restaurants, stores and activate our city centre with people in a way that will completely transform and energize the district.

4.  The performance arena will not only be open when something is going on.  The theory is to locate a number of amenities, attractions, and restaurants within the facility on the ground level, and always being open and activated with people.  This constant activity will enhance the level safety and security in the downtown core.

5.  We will be developing a world-class bus system, where you can pick up your mobile device and see exactly where your bus is and how long it will be until it arrives at your stop.  Once you get in the downtown core, you will be able to ride up and down Franklin Avenue on the bus transit way for free. There will also be a transit stop at the front door of the performance arena, adding to the ease of use.

We are attempting to create a more pedestrian and mass transit friendly city centre, that provides a dynamic experience in all seasons, moving away from this notion that we have to drive everywhere we go.  Think about when you visit Whyte Avenue in Edmonton.  You park wherever you can in the area, and walk up and down the streets, taking in the interesting shops, bars and restaurants.

This downtown development strategy is win-win-win.  It is different from what we are familiar with, yes!  But, it will create a livable, walkable, business-friendly district that will be able to sustain small businesses, restaurants, pubs, and many other amenities that we all want and need.  The performance arena is integral to that vision as it will, being properly programmed, be a dynamic hub of activity all year round.


  1. The fact of the matter is the same land challenges have been prevalent for the past 30 years; The Events Centre has been on the RM capital books for 10 years. There have been a couple of studies completed. There are multiple potential locations to be looked at, some previously were………. For example, the lower shelf between Confederation Blvd and Thickwood Blvd across the highway from Ford, the Eco Industrial Park 63 North, MacDonald Island, Syncrude Athletic Park, Abrams Land, Saline Creek, the Snye. There was a study done by the Kinsmen Club funded by Albian Sands that did not even contemplate this current proposed location. Red Deer’s, Event Centre is not in the downtown core yet it is very successful and they are a comparable city to Fort McMurray. The project is well overdue and I am sure Councillor Germain would agree. It’s time for transparency and proper feasibility business case development. This work needs to be done with the community like the work done prior to the MacIsland Redevolpment (Council appointed Community Committee). It isnt acceptable to table plans are created by outside consultants and say here is, look what we have come up with what do you think, thanks for your input and we are now moving forward.

    1. And what was the budget over-run on the Mac Island complex?

  2. Where was the public consultation on this? Why are we reading first about the plans for parking on your blog? Why weren't the plans released to the public and explained in detail before all of this?

  3. I am not sure how I feel about this. My questions are less to do with parking and more to do with finance. I have lived here ten years and I like to see Fort Mac grow. This would be nice for the future of our downtown but in the end are the taxpayers paying for something that is not really necessary at this time? Is it a situation where money could be better spent elsewhere? If we had no venues in town, I would probably feel differently, but we have Mac Island, Sports & Wellness etc. The way the economy is going, even Fort Mac is not immune to downturns and sometimes I think we need to slow down and focus on things that are more necessary. I am no expert on how these budgets are created, just a citizen who wonders if this will create a tax increase at the end of the day. Where is the money coming from?

  4. Not sure how there's any difference in parking being inadequate whether it's a hockey game or a concert. I guess that's why he's a part-time srategy expert!

  5. These plans are all lovely, however a structure of this size in the midst of downtown is ludicrous. When is all of this going to happen? Have studies been done to determine if it's economically viable? I think it would be pretty difficult to justify this project given that you'd have to fill it frequently....with 10% of our population. And parking is an issue no matter how you try to gloss it over..600 stalls several blocks away is inadequate for a 8000-10000 person arena (and this wasn't brought up at the hearing, according to the report...or is this just a new thing, or another lie). I have not talked to one person who thinks this is a good idea. Is this why council kept it a secret? Were you hoping to wait until it was too late? If you want yet another entertainment complex why now tear down Penhorwood, finally pay out all those people who are in dire financial straits and build something there....and there is probably space for an attached parkade! You need to let the public decide...after all, they're the ones that voted you in and who you're supposed to be representing. You're going to tear down all of downtown, kick out longterm businesses who have nowhere to go, and then it's going to sit empty for years because developers are laughing at the pretty picture that is the plan! Oh and by the way, if an independant third party expert thought this entire process was wrong, then that is something to take seriously. I can't believe how flippant the city is being about this.

  6. This is crazy
    How about building another hospital
    Something practical
    Where is the money coming from
    You can't even park now let alone another 2000 cars
    And no one is going to want to get on a bus to get there
    The open court yard will turn into the new shooting gallery for the druggies
    I hate to be negative but they are living in fantasy island on this one
    Take a look at the apartment complex by the theatre that has been stalled getting finished taking 5 years and counting
    There will be a hole I'm the ground for the next 5 years before that even gets built

  7. Another pipedream by GL. Send him home and have someone with some business sense run the city.

  8. How to avoid negative publicity?
    Undertake major projects responsibly and with transparency.
    Treat the landowners and tenants with respect.
    Represent your constituents.

    It has become clear that this specific location was chosen not based on merit, but rather as to 'who' would benefit...and the other landowners/tenants in the area are expected to just suck it up and get out with very little communication/negotiation. And to where should they go? There are no suitable buildings for sale in Fort McMurray (I was curious and took a look around), so they'll probably be forced to close down and leave the community or take a huge financial hit (capital gains & loss of rental income) and have to lease space elsewhere at exorbitant rates. If the city had properly planned this project they should have made accommodation for everyone not just their own. Wouldn't it have been logical if they could have created a new business area first and then done simple building swaps for the owners with rental space for the tenants?

    The city is going to have to pay way more by expropriating property than if they'd negotiated with the owners. And the empty block will stay that way for years.

    This is your legacy.

  9. Anyone can say anything with conviction at a philosophical level. And there is quite a bit of theory involved as well. Solid project plan.

  10. Can we put a 10th of the ostentatious arena budget into the homeless problem in Fort Mcmurray? Maybe another alcohol/drug treatment center? Or is that not in the city councils plans to show how awesome we are...

  11. Only the folks at the city agree with this plan. They have to because if they disagree they get let go.

  12. Stupid idea. Who could justify this? There isn't enough room for an arena downtown let alone parking space to fill the darn thing. I like the idea of a Whyte Ave type space but having lived in Edmonton I don't think it will work here. They have parking all around Whyte Ave and not only do you have to pay (that'd never fly here) but there still isn't enough despite their truly amazing bus system. Speaking of your plans for a "world class bus system". I laugh, I take the bus to work. The new heated stops have been brutalized. The teens (I really wish it was ONLY teenagers)use them as private smoke shacks, graffiti them and break the heaters or the glass. Where is the city's police collecting tickets from these individuals? And yet even if you could maintain a bus system that good you still couldn't convince people to give up driving their giant hick trucks to come use this arena or learn to park like civilized people. Good luck council. Thanks for refusing to ask the people.

  13. We already possess three hockey arenas, one in each part of the city and we just recently finished the work on Mac Island. Now you are talking about putting in a new arena as part of some city centre revival, why didn't you plan around that before you did the improvements to Mac Island? It seems like a huge waste of tax payer dollars to revamp an aging facility that was theoretically supposed to draw people to the core only to put in a new one. Maybe a public forum might prove helpful? I know for myself I have so much to say about this and sending out an e-mail with a billion one-sided questions really won't help any. Let me know if I got any details wrong. Thanks for listening.

  14. Russell there is a good discussion on this topic at
    Including some ideas of how to achieve a vibrant downtown. You are invited to participate.

  15. My vote is to take that money and finish the highways.. People are dying on the highways.. That's a need
    This is a want and the downtown core can't support this right now.. Cool a parking lot.. There's still only a number of roads that get you to that parking lot and some businesses that have been here longer than most of us have in your arenas spot.. Always measure a need before a want.. Build things that keep people from having to travel the highway.. Daycares, etc

  16. Part 1

    I am one of the parties affected by the Municipality’s decision to proceed with expropriation of downtown properties in support of the arena project. I have had a chance to review the blog of Russell Thomas from March 19th and would like an opportunity to respond.

    It is interesting that he starts by admitting that he has heard concerns about the lack of parking, the distance from Timberlea and the traffic. As you may know, because of the objections under the Expropriation Act, a four day hearing was held from March 4th to and including March 7th, 2013. Under the Expropriation Act, the city was required to provide all of the evidence in support of the expropriation as there is an obligation under the Act for the city to prove that the expropriation is fair, sound and reasonably necessary for the municipal purposes. An inquiry officer was appointed by the Province under the Act and it is my understanding that this inquiry officer has been conducting these hearings for more than 30 years. The hearing is a quasi judicial hearing and the evidence from the RMWB was by sworn evidence. After hearing all of the evidence, the officer came to the decision that the expropriation did not meet the tests set out in the Act. As part of the decision, the hearing officer indicated that the expropriating authority (the RMWB) did not proceed fairly with the owners with respect to the extended expropriations. In particular, he indicated that under the Act, an owner is not just the land owner, but includes any other person on corporation which is a tenant or has an interest in the lands. He came to the conclusion that fairness includes advising the owners and other interested parties of public hearings with respect to the intended project, clearly identifying the required lands and the purpose for which the lands are required and that fairness includes advising the owners of the intended use of the lands and providing to them sufficient information about the project and land requirements.

    He also held that the intended expropriation was not sound for a number of reasons. He found that;

    (a) details of the proposed project are not sufficiently advanced for the expropriating authority to make a reasoned decision as to the appropriateness of the project and the identification of the required lands;

    (b) there is no evidence of preliminary studies having being conducted to ascertain that adequate utilities, parking and transportation will be available for the project;

    (c) there is no satisfactory evidence to indicate that the request for proposals will be successful, that the expropriation lands will be required for the actual detailed design or that a satisfactory and reasonable private public partnership agreement can be entered into.

    After hearing the evidence, he found that even though the notice of intention to expropriate indicated that the proposed use of the land was for constructing a sports and entertainment facility, the actual reason was for the purpose of issuing and obtaining a proper response to a request for proposal and that there is no reasonable assurance that the project will ever proceed. Accordingly, he held that the expropriation of the lands was not reasonably necessary at this time.

    He went on to say that he appreciated that the redevelopment of the downtown of Fort McMurray may be necessary, but that the use of private public partnership to fund and accelerate the construction is not a sufficient reason to deny owners of their property rights. He did indicate that the use of expropriation may still be available after all necessary studies have been completed by the successful postponement or by the Municipality.

  17. Part 2

    Unfortunately, his decision is not binding on the Municipality. Further, from the interviews with Mr. Taylor conducted after the decision was released, Mr. Taylor has been suggesting that the Municipality intends to proceed with expropriation despite this decision. We have been advised that the matter will likely be in front of RMWB council on April 9th to make a final decision to proceed with the expropriation, even though the hearing officer decided that the expropriation did not meet the tests set out under the Act.

    In reading the March 19th blog, I am left with the impression that studies have been done regarding parking and transportation for this arena in the downtown core. This is absolutely not the sworn evidence that was given by the RMWB at the inquiry. Further, after hearing the evidence the hearing officer came to a finding of fact that studies had not been conducted.

    Mr. Thomas refers to the arena not being just a hockey arena but holding concerts, conventions, trade shows and circus’. He also refers to 600 plus underground stalls that will be built on the Civic Plaza that will be available to assist with this parking.

    The evidence given by the city at the hearings was that this would be a 7,000-8,000 seat arena with additional on ice seats of 1,500 for total of up to 9,500 seats and that it has been approved on the basis of zero parking requirements. The evidence indicated that the expectations of the RMWB would be that parking parkades may be constructed in the downtown core and that other commercial structures would be built with parkades as part of those structures where parking may be shared on off hours. The evidence was that the RMWB would attempt to utilize on street parking whenever available and that these future parkade structures would likely provide parking in support of the arena. There was no mention at the hearing about the 600 stall underground parkade under the Civic Plaza area.

    The hearing officer specifically held that parking studies have not been conducted. The question that any reasonable person has to ask themselves is how many parking stalls are reasonably required for a 7,000-9,500 seat arena. The evidence given by the RMWB at the hearing was that at least 2,000 to 2,500 parking stalls would be required. There was also reference to a previous Fort McMurray study for an arena project which estimated that parking stalls equaling one third of the total number of seats would be required to service an arena.

    The reality is that these parking stalls do not currently exist. The RMWB intends to expropriate people’s lands and businesses to submit a proposal in hopes that a developer will move forward with the construction of the arena, knowing that none of the parking currently exists to allow patrons to occupy the seats in the arena. The evidence of the RMWB was that the successful developer/proponent is expected to finance, build, own and run the facility. What reasonable commercial business owner would go ahead with the project knowing that none of the parking currently exists that is necessary to support the arena, beyond whatever on-street downtown parking can be accommodated?

    Further, the evidence given by the RMWB at the hearing was that the developer/proponent is expected to secure the hockey team to play in the arena. So not only is a developer/proponent expected to move ahead with a commitment to build and run the facility without current adequate parking, they are also expected to move ahead with this project even though a team has not been secured to play in the arena once it is constructed.

    The evidence as determined by the expropriation hearing officer is that the parking and transportation studies have not been completed. To read Mr. Thomas’s blog, one would assume that such studies have been completed, but that was absolutely not the evidence given by the RMWB at the hearing. It was also not the finding of the expropriation officer.

  18. Part 3

    Mr. Thomas mentions the “world class bus system”. While we all support the concept of improving the transit system, how far away is Fort McMurray from achieving that “world class bus system”? Realistically, how many of the 7,000-9,500 patrons attending a hockey game or other event does Mr. Thomas expect will arrive by transit? It was clear from the expropriation hearing that those studies have not been done.

    I have worked in the downtown core of Fort McMurray since 1990. While I admit that the construction of the bridges will assist in traffic congestion, what will be the actual impact of trying to get 7,000 to 9,500 people into and out of the downtown core for arena events? Again, this matter has not been studied and unfortunately it is only conjecture. I suspect that there will be mass gridlock every time an arena event is held. One needs only to imagine being in a 300 or 400 stall parkade when a hockey game ends at 10:30 at night and every single occupant of that parkade is trying to exit the parkade at the same time, making their way onto the side streets and then onto Franklin Avenue and then onto the highway to get back home. I know of many Fort McMurray residents who avoid coming to the downtown core every time there is a trade show at Mac Island, unless they are planning on attending the tradeshow, simply to avoid the traffic. I suspect that this traffic congestion for the arena will be much worse than the Mac Island tradeshow traffic congestion, but again, no studies have been completed according to the evidence at the hearing.

    Mr. Thomas’ blog also refers to the arena holding concerts, conventions, tradeshows and circuses in addition to hockey. Any developer/proponent, before moving ahead, is certainly going to want to investigate the demand in Fort McMurray for these types of activities. It will be the developer/proponent that will need to make profit on the running of this arena in sufficient amount to repay the construction costs and provide a reasonable rate of return to the developer/proponent. Keep in mind that based upon Mr. Thomas’ blog, the arena will now be competing directly with MacDonald Island, Keyano Theatre, the Syncrude Sports and Wellness Centre and the Casman Centre for some of these events. How many non-hockey events are likely to be attracted to Fort McMurray that need a 7,000-9,500 seat venue (including floor seating), after taking into account the existing other venue competition that already exists? Again, the studies have not yet been done to evaluate this.

    Even assuming that a developer/proponent is prepared to come forward, they will almost certainly expect major financial concessions from the RMWB to assist with the cost of constructing or running the facility or both. Again, at the hearing, the evidence given by the RMWB was that the public private partnership funding policies have not yet been established by the RMWB. One needs only to look to the City of Edmonton and the ongoing negotiations they have been having to try to work out the appropriate P3 funding arrangements for the new arena in Edmonton. Despite ongoing and protracted negotiations, they do not yet appear to have successfully negotiated a funding arrangement to allow an arena to go ahead in Edmonton. Is it realistic for the RMWB to expect that these matters will simply fall into place between the RMWB and the developer/proponent?

    It is my belief that detailed studies on a downtown arena need to be done to determine all of these questions. How many people are likely to attend the arena by way of public transit, cabs and/or walking? Where will these future parkades come from that are expected to service the arena and when will they be built? Can a team even be secured to play in this arena? What will be the impact on downtown traffic every time there is an event in the arena? How many concerts or tradeshows can realistically be expected to come to a 7,000-9,500 seat arena?

  19. Part 4

    Most importantly, what will happen if the RMWB takes away the ownership rights of the owners and businesses in the affected properties and no developer/proponent comes forward to build the arena because of these uncertainties? What is absolutely clear is that the city centre area redevelopment consultations and the new land use bylaw consultations did not specifically disclose that an arena would be built in the downtown core. There has been no public consultation on this issue and I am absolutely perplexed as to why the RMWB felt that hiding this issue from the public was the right approach to follow. If this is such a wonderful concept for our city, then why was there not full disclosure and discussion with the public in an engaged fashion, so that the public consultation could be obtained on the idea? I have personally spoken to many, many people since the arena project was publically disclosed in December (when the expropriation notices were sent out). I have not spoken to one single person who endorses this project on an unqualified basis. I have certainly spoken to some people that support downtown revitalization, but the question is to whether an arena is the right vehicle to accomplish that goal is obviously something that needs to be debated.

    After hearing the evidence given by the RMWB at the expropriation hearings, I am more than ever convinced that it is absolutely inappropriate for the RMWB to proceed to expropriate the lands and businesses at this time with all of the unanswered questions that remained to be solved before this project can ever proceed. The hearing officer appears to have come to the same conclusion after hearing the evidence and I am certainly hopeful that the RMWB municipal council will not approve the expropriation until these questions are answered.

    1. I wholeheartedly support your objections Ryan!

      The notion that most of the events will be held in off-peak hours is negated by the claim that that the proposed arena will attract more Trade Shows and conventions.

      Our downtown is situated on a narrow strip of river valley land. Why not make the most of its potential beauty by ensuring that future development is designed around river-side parks and medium-density residential re-development?


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