Chances are you’re well aware that Edmonton’s most anticipated day of the last three years has all but arrived. That is, the opening of the Katz Group’s Ice District crown jewel. The city’s news releases have been firing out like Chris Pronger slapshots (throwback), the news cameras have been fired up, and the shiny, red Rogers Place emblem now adorns all corners of the mammoth, metallic complex. Unless you’ve been living in a sealed oil drum, the hubbub surrounding the opening of Rogers Place had been pretty much unavoidable. It’s not hard to forget that other things exist in that neighbourhood and, though I’m as excited as anyone about the investment, potential and sheer marvel that the arena has brought to our city, it’s important to remember the other guys.
There are people and places and businesses that existed long before Daryl Katz and his crew broke out their cheque books to purchase the freshly beleaguered Oilers back in 2008. Some of them have already disappeared, like the Baccarat Casino. It’s been replaced by the bigger, more modern Grand Villa Casino, owned by the same group that owned the Baccarat and set to employ more people than the Baccarat did. There was also commercial and residential property in the area with rent much lower than now and the rising prices have already pushed people out of the area, like the artists that occupied the Drawing Room art studio on 97 Street. New downtownians, wallets in hand, will move into the surge of downtown condo towers built on the confidence the arena project helped create. Other, less-fortunate Edmontonians will feel the need to leave an area defined by a culture they no longer feel a part of.
With projects like Rogers Place, the benefit of many will always come at the loss of a few. The multi-year incubation period of the project did result in some strides taken to ensure the protection of those few – a community advisory committee was established to keep local neighbourhoods in the loop but, according to some neighbourhood representatives, the committee served the purpose of advising without having the power to act on community suggestions and concerns, despite its mandate to “create and maintain community involvement in the downtown arena project.”
A few months ago, the Downtown Community League set a good example, when they worked to oppose the creation of two large-scale bars in the area that had many residents concerned about drunken noise and behaviour. The glamour and hope surrounding the arena are going to attract a lot of attention and interest over the coming years, and it’s important that the people and city of Edmonton come together to ensure that the glamour and hope benefit as many people as possible.
– Connor O’Donovan, Sports Editor
Image from Sports Net