An arena for the ages

The Edmonton Oilers haven’t had much to brag about in recent years. But that should change next year, when the NHL team moves from tired Rexall Place to shimmering Rogers Place Arena.

The Edmonton Oilers haven’t had much to brag about in recent years. But that should change next year, when the NHL team moves from tired Rexall Place to shimmering Rogers Place Arena.

“The facilities are going to be phenomenal; it’ll be world class in every way,” said Patrick LaForge, president and chief operating officer of the Oilers Entertainment Group.

“The arena will be the most iconic of its kind in North America for many years.”

LaForge described Edmonton’s arena project during a presentation at a Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday.

Clad in stainless steel, Rogers Place Arena will have seating for 18,600 and standing room for another 1,500. That compares with Rexall Place’s 16,700 seats, but more impressive is the fact the arena’s size will be about 850,000 square feet, up from the current 421,000 square feet.

LaForge explained that Rogers Place will have a much more open layout, as well as clear sight lines from every seat. There will be private viewing suites, including “opera style” boxes, “loge tables” that overlook the ice surface from the upper levels, and an after-hours nightclub.

The new arena is just one component of the Edmonton Arena District project, he pointed out. Also planned is an adjacent community arena where members of the public will have access to free skating, equipment and even lessons.

Nearby will be a public gathering area, the 63-storey Stantec building, a Delta hotel, and retail and residential areas. There will be some 8,000 parking stalls, including many underground — about double the number serving Rexall Place.

In addition to movie theatres, a massive video screen, a permanent sound stage and scheduled activities, the district will boast a casino and other amenities, said LaForge. The arena itself is expected to draw two million people a year downtown, with these supporting the hotels, restaurants and retailers there.

Many Albertans will see the district as an alternative to Las Vegas when it comes to recreational getaways, he said.

The Delta hotel is expected to open in the spring of 2017 and the Stantec building in the fall of 2018. The entire build-out should be completed by 2019, said LaForge.

Edmonton Arena District will cover about 25 acres, with about eight additional acres nearby earmarked for future development.

“The city is now looking at a projection of about 30,000 people to live in the city centre by 2030, where we had 5,000 in 2009,” said LaForge.

He said the development was made possible by Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, who was willing to use his NHL team to leverage the downtown project. Katz has about $1.6 billion of his own money committed, pointed out LaForge.

“The risk involved in it is significant,” he said of Katz’s exposure. “The faith in the idea is unbelievable.”

LaForge, who has been with the Oilers organization since 2000, is an alternate NHL governor and a WHL governor.

A former chairman of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, he praised the chamber movement generally and urged local members to speak out on issues like the need for poil and gas pipelines to export markets.

“I have two prayers: one to take care of my kids and the other one is, give us a pipeline. All chambers should be involved in that discussion.

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