Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Big Trucks and the Downtown Arena
A friend of mine jokes every time he sees someone driving an oversized pickup truck. "Compensation issues," he says, while chuckling. Daryl Katz has compensation issues, and the truck he is driving are the constant threats he makes of moving the Oilers out of Edmonton if he doesn't get his way with the City for the funding of his pet project: the downtown arena. By now, most of you in Edmonton probably know that the Katzmeister dropped another wrench into negotiations, by insisting the City provide a $6 million annual subsidy for the operations of the arena. Let me clarify the indignity of this: the man is a billionaire, and he is asking for a subsidy? For his own project? That will be making him a profit? I am one of the crowd who was against public funds for the arena in the first place. One of my concerns (shared by others) was that as plans moved along, Katz would keep finding reasons for needing more and more City money. Well, I hate to say "I told you so," but - I told you so. At least the City has not acquiesced yet. Yet. This week's bombshell from Katz should be enough to prove to City Council that he cannot be trusted. Yes, he is going to go before Council to "explain himself" - but really, if anything was a warning sign, this is it. What is to stop him from, after ground is broken and construction begins, from finding some reason why more public funds are needed? Or from him pulling out altogether and leaving taxpayers to deal with the fall out? The threat of Katz moving the Oilers - that big truck he is driving - seems real, and is a motivator. Even as someone who is not a sports person, I know losing the Oilers would hurt Edmonton. First of all, I don't think a team can be moved without the administration of the NHL approving the move. The market is saturated and there really are not a lot of places the Oilers could go. The NHL is in the midst of a lock out. No hockey season at the moment. Are cities who actually have NHL teams that win games no longer "world class"? I think not. If Edmonton had no team, it would make us no less world class than we are now. Something else would rise to fill the void. The city is more than hockey. In fact, an arena really makes no difference either to downtown revitalization or the city's standing as "world class" (which I put in quotation marks because, really - what does that mean? Who decides what "world class" actually is? And does it have to be the same for each city?). Over the next couple of months, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney respectively will be performing at the Rexall. In the world of musical entertainment, it doesn't get much bigger than those two. And Edmonton attracted them - without an arena. Who would have thought it? City Council should call Katz's bluff. This isn't "Katzmonton." A billionnaire should not be trying to push City Council around, regardless of how big his truck is. because in the end, the truck is just a prop.