The Edmonton Oilers soon-to-be-former home at Rexall Place is in trouble as it seeks partners to help fund a new proposal or face demolition. Edmonton City Council has been toiling with two decisions — repurpose the land as a community rink or demolish it. Northlands, the entity that runs the property, is in dire straits and has been turned down by the city on numerous proposals for the Oilers previous home of 42 years.
On Tuesday the city council passed a unanimous motion to move forward on a study to repurpose what was the third-oldest arena in the NHL as a community multiplex. The renovations could result in a two-story arena, with potentially six ice surfaces, at an estimated cost of approximate $102 million. The kicker? Northlands has already racked up $48 million in debt and is in dire financial straits. The city wasn’t interested in the group’s proposed $230 million 2020 revitalization plan, which they rejected earlier in the week.
The other issue is the city is growing impatient and didn’t want the process to drag out that long as it looks for partners to invest in the property. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has grown tired of the situation:
“I don’t want this to take three bloody years. I think there’s a window right now. I just don’t want to lose it.” – Edmonton Mayor, Don Iveson
Politics: Northlands Arena Troubles Were Inevitable
Oilers owner Daryl Katz is a shrewd business man, negotiating a non-compete clause from the city in the deal for funding part of the new downtown arena. Simply put, before Northlands and the city can move forward with anything regarding sports or entertainment in Edmonton, the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) and Mr. Katz must sign off on it. This could leave Northlands with few big-ticket customers for a new and expensive renovated entertainment multiplex on the outskirts of the city.
There are multiple arenas in Edmonton but putting another in the north district of the city on the outer reaches seems redundant. Northlands and the city of Edmonton are uncertain what events a new multiplex could hold outside of standard minor hockey and tournaments. It’s possible they could land the Edmonton Brick tournament which is arguably the biggest minor hockey tournament in Canada and held at West Edmonton Mall.
Northlands CEO Tim Reid has been struggling to try and make the current Rexall Place situation work. Northlands uses the arena and surrounding land for hundreds of yearly events including concerts, trade shows, horse racing, slot machines and festivals. The organization has been in constant restructuring and has seen several changes in management all the while racking up $48 million in debt trying to stay afloat.
The study that the council approved on Tuesday, and will be presented to the City Council in early 2017, will outline the scope, costs and timeline for the new facilities, and presumably give Northlands and the city a better idea of what type of business the new facilities can host. There have also been discussions about coordinating and combining the convention and meeting spaces of a new Northlands facility with the Shaw Convention Center offerings.
Historical Arena Will be Missed
A sparkling new arena will undoubtedly mark the start of a new era. Originally known as Northlands Coliseum, the Oilers played there since 1974 starting with their World Hockey Association (WHA) days.
The 16,839 seat arena went through several names also known as the Edmonton Coliseum (1995-98), Skyreach Centre (1998-04) and then Rexall Place (2004-now). Notable events included the Canada Cup (1981, 1984) and World Junior Championships (1995, 2012).
The Oilers won five Stanley Cups during their time there, seven Conference championships, two President’s Trophies and nine Division Championships. Wayne Gretzky scored a league record 92 goals in 1981-82 at Northlands and in 1985-86, at the height of his dominance, scored another record 215 points. There were many historical moments fans will remember such as the Mark Messier Stanley Cup Final goal against the New York Islanders (above). All in all, 14 Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) members were members of the Oilers during their time at Rexall.
The last Oilers playoff game was June 17th against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Oilers won 4-0.