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.

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