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Ask Jim Answer Thread - Wednesday

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  • Ask Jim Answer Thread - Wednesday

    Reserved for Mr. Low's answers.

    For those coming in from David Staples blog, Thursday's answers are here

  • #2
    Hi everyone, Jim Low here.

    Thanks for all your questions. There’s clearly a lot of interest in this project and that’s a very positive thing as far as we’re concerned. I’m the lead on planning and development for the project, so I’m going to limit my responses to questions that deal with zoning and development issues. We know funding is a big question, but it’s not a topic we are in a position to discuss just yet other than to say we are working on it and hope to arrive a model that works for all concerned.

    Sonic Death Monkey
    Addicted to C2E

    Hello Jim, and thank you for taking the time to participate in this forum.

    Although I support the concept of the proposed downtown arena and entertainment district, I do have questions, concerns and ideas about what's been proposed so far.

    1. My biggest concern is this: what happens if the arena is built by the city but the adjoining lands are not developed by the Katz Group as proposed? Or if the adjoining lands are simply turned into parking lots? Or the lands are sold off? How then will the arena be funded/taxed?

    ANSWER: We believe the associated development is a really important part of the project from both an urban planning and financial perspective. In fact, the essence of the funding model we outlined some months ago was that we would have shovels in the ground on the private sector development right alongside where the arena was going up to ensure the tax base is there to finance the arena construction costs. I don’t think it’s appropriate or productive to speculate on hypotheticals or get into the business deal.

    2. It's been my observation that an office tower doesn't get built unless there is a major tenant lined up first. Similarly, a new highrise hotel doesn't get built until you have a major hotel chain behind it. To what extent will a major office tower tenant and hotel chain be pursued before construction, and who will be responsible for pursuing them (Katz Group, EEDC, the city)? Or will these towers be built regardless of tenants?

    ANSWER: As the developer the Katz Group would pursue those discussions. We are not at that stage in the process yet, but we have been contacted by a number of potential, and high-quality, corporate tenants and hotel partners.

    3. Other NHL arenas recently constructed in Canadian cities (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) were built with private funds. If the Katz Group cannot fund an arena on its own, why not approach other corporations to help out - Telus, Shaw, Capital Power, Syncrude, Petro-Canada, Westjet, Ford, Toyota, Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, etc?

    ANSWER:I won’t comment on potential funding models, but my understanding is that the owners who funded arenas in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa all subsequently were forced to sell the arenas and teams at a substantial loss. Most NHL arenas (24 of 30) were built with a mix of public and private funding, which is also what Edmonton’s Leadership Committee recommended. Toronto is a different animal given the size of the media market there, among other things.

    The issue here is that, except in a market like Toronto, which also has an NBA franchise, you can't get the revenues off the building necessary to sustain the capital investment being made privately. However, public investment is justified both because of the job creation and the ability to recover the capital costs through the uplift in property taxes that comes from the related private sector development.

    4. One idea I have for other major corporate involvement is revolving naming rights to the arena plus small cut of ticket profit - for 3 years, the arena is named after the biggest corporate donor, then 3 years later it is named after the 2nd biggest corporate donor, and so on. I will let you decide how brilliant an idea that is!

    ANSWER: Same as above. I’m the development guy. That’s not my area.

    5. Why only 18,000 seats? I worry that in 30 years time, we'll be going through the same exercise all over again - having to build another rink to retain an NHL team because it's too small, only having to build in the suburbs because there may be no downtown land available to build on.

    ANSWER:I’m not sure where you got that number. We are in the process of evaluating the optimal arena size and configuration for Edmonton’s market, but haven’t landed on a number yet. The number of seats also depends on how we configure the arena. New arenas have a variety of different seat offerings like loge seats, where you have your own sort of bar table where you can view the ice and get food service, and party suites. We’re working with Icon Venue Group ( out of Colorado to figure out what will work best for Edmonton.

    6. How about an underground parkade under the arena? This may ease some misguided concerns about the perceived lack of parking, but more importantly, it can be another revenue generator for the arena.

    ANSWER:We are contemplating underground parking to service the arena and the district, but our current thinking is that it will be better to situate it under the adjacent property rather than the arena. The advantage of the downtown location is there are over 12,000 parking spaces within a 10 minute walking distance of the site. These are mostly used during the day and could be used for arena events, which mostly take place at night.

    7. Will the arena, towers and other buildings on the site be reviewed by the Edmonton Design Committee to ensure good architectural standards are met?

    ANSWER: Yes, absolutely.

    Thank you again for your time and attention.
    I've lived in the downtown area for nearly 20 years.
    Never been assaulted. Never been mugged. Never been raped. Never been murdered.

    Thomas Hinderks
    Flying Encyclopedia
    To repeat SDM

    Thank you for taking the time to participate in this forum, it is appreciated.

    Now for a different sort of question.

    While I think the revitalization of the Downtown core is an important to Edmonton I am curious as to what you see the effect of such financially intensive development in the core having on other areas of Edmonton?

    ANSWER: We think it will be very positive. We envision a development that will enhance Edmonton’s image, increase social, cultural and economic activity downtown and help attract visitors, students, head offices and jobs to Edmonton and the region. A rising tide lifts all boats – that’s the idea. Bear in mind too that HOK Sports has estimated it will cost approximately $250 million to modernize Rexall Place (to current NHL standards). We have to assume that would be paid out of tax dollars but would bring no commensurate development activity to the city or any downtown revitalization.

    Targeting a Billion dollar development in such a condensed area makes me wonder if other areas needing revitalization/development will be pushed aside.

    ANSWER:We think this will complement revitalization in other areas rather than displace it. Perhaps more to the point, arenas aren’t suited for all areas. The experience in other cities like Columbus, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and San Diego has shown that comprehensive downtown entertainment and sports districts can work and generate huge benefits for the city.


    Addicted to C2E

    Mr. Low,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions regarding the arena. I have two questions, but the first one is more of a commentary that a question, but I would like your reaction to it. I am not convinced with the concept to have what is really a large pedway over 104th ave and labelling it a “winter garden” is the right think to do. I was very excited about the prospect of a new downtown arena with hope that this will be a step to bring life and activity back to downtown. It appears; however, that those behind the arena project want to make the same mistakes that destroyed a successful City Centre decades ago by creating what appears to be the worlds largest pedway.

    ANSWER:We agree that’s exactly what we don’t want.

    The Winter Garden concept grew out of a very practical need to safely and efficiently moving thousands of people back and forth across 104th Avenue. That “bridge” is critical infrastructure and it requires a certain capital expense. The Winter Garden emerged as way to leverage that investment to create an active all seasons gathering spot and a programmable space for all kinds of events, celebrations, exhibits, concerts, performance and even an indoor farmers’ market during the winter.

    I love looking at old photographs from the 1950’s and 1960’s of Jasper Avenue, 101st street and most other downtown streets flanked with store fronts and packed with people in what looked like a completely different city. In the 1970’s, beautiful historic buildings that housed storefronts and street-orientated uses which contributed to a strong urban environment were leveled to make way for either unpalatable architecture or gravel parking lots. Very little has been done to create places that give our city identity and leave a lasting impression on those people who visit. This is an opportunity to do it right. Jane Jacobs wrote, “orthodox planning is much imbued with puritanical and Utopian conceptions of how people should spend their free time, and in planning, these moralisms on people’s private lives are deeply confused with concepts about the workings of cities.”

    Pedways and shopping malls helped kill the street in the 1970’s and by not learning from our mistakes will not bring a dead street to life today. Call it a winter garden, the fact is it will be a giant pedway that will be used, for the most part, a few hours during game days. A downtown arena can do amazing things for our City, but only if done right. Streets make cities successful, not pedways.

    This is a really important point and I’m glad you raised it. Everyone has focused on what the Winter Garden will be above grade. It’s important to realize that most of the Winter Garden will be located above 104th Avenue. We fully intend to have active street level retail all along 103rd Street,102 Street, 103 Avenue, 101 Street and elsewhere in and around the district. . We know the history, share the concerns and are putting a priority on creating a vibrant street experience.

    Second Question. The zoning application is to create a brand new zone. The process would be that such a zone would go through the normal process that any rezoning application goes through, maybe with a little more scrutiny; however, once Council approves the new zone, the uses are established and the regulations are in place. At that point, all the power will be in the hands of a City Development Officer to make such lofty decisions on all developments within the zone. Don’t you think that a pure Direct Control, where City Council is the authority, is more appropriate given the nature of the entire concept and what it means to the Citizenry of Edmonton? If not a pure DC, then a DC2 In which case, a detailed plan is submitted as part of that zoning application. This way Council knows what they are approving. Otherwise, it’s just uses and regulations. After all, the funding model, which has been discussed, will rely on public money and ultimately the success of the area to pay down the debt.

    ANSWER: It’s a valid point, so it’s important to understand that we are not asking for anything different in the way of a review process than would apply for other significant projects in the downtown.

    At a more practical level, we need the zoning in order to be able to develop the concept and gauge market demand and opportunity. Having zoning is key to being able to gauge market interest so that you can determine the final size and design of the building. We’re not in a position at this point to draft a developed plan, but we can move to that stage if we have the flexibility the proposed zone provides.

    Last edited by Jasper; Today at 09:43 AM..

    Partially Addicted to C2E
    Mr. Low,

    Although no specific funding plans have been announced, there has been much speculation about public money being used for portions of the arena district development. If indeed public money will be used, what is the preferred funding model for the Edmonton Arena District? Do you have some examples of public funding models for arenas in other jurisdictions that you think would be a good model for the Edmonton Arena District?

    ANSWER: Not my department, but I can refer you to the paper Dr. Mark Rosentraub wrote for the Mayor’s Leadership Committee for a new Entertainment/Sports District for Edmonton. A copy is on our website at

    First One is Always Free

    Jim, I currently have two areas of questions (the first being zoning-related and the second funding-related).

    1. In the zoning submission available from the EAD website, sections 4.e. (page 2) and 6.c. (page 6) refer to flea markets (specifically, to farmer's markets) as a potential usage within the new Arena Area District.

    - Is the intent of accomodating a farmer's market to complement the current downtown farmers market on 104 Street by making available indoor space during the winter months so that said market can operate year-round?

    ANSWER: Good catch. Yes, the thought when we put that in the proposed zone was to accommodate the farmers’ market like we have on 104th Avenue during the winter months. We haven’t had conversations with anyone about that, but that is one of the ideas we have in mind to look at.

    - Or is the intent to have another farmers market that would run in addition to the current downtown farmers market?

    ANSWER: We would hope to accommodate the existing market, which is already an important part of the downtown community.

    - Lastly, do you have an idea as to what part of the Arena Area District a farmer's market would likely go into (the section south of 104 Ave, the section north of 104 Ave, etc)?

    ANSWER: The idea is it would go into Winter Garden.

    2. In the past, the Katz Group has mentioned a development levy as one possible way that the city could recoupe costs if the city were to pay for a major part (or all) of the arena portion of the arena district. However, if the non-arena development of the arena district does not occur (or does not occur in a timely fashion due to market conditions), the city may not have a significant development levy to collect for an extended time period and the city (i.e. the Edmonton taxpayers) could be left "holding the bag" financially for the arena itself.

    - As a way to protect the city (and to incentivize the development of the non-arena parts of the arena district), would the Katz group be open to an arrangement where initially the city gets a cut of the arena revenue in proportion to the city's financial contribution to the arena cost to assure the city a cash flow "to pay the mortgage payments" on the arena? As the surrounding non-arena developments of the arena district are developed and capable of be being taxed by a development levy, then the Katz group and the city could swap a portion of the ownership of the arena revenue for the dollar equivalent of the monies that would be received from development levies.

    ANSWER: Funding….not my dept and we’re not at the point where it would be productive or appropriate to discuss potential scenarios.

    - The above process would be staged as the surrounding non-arena portions of the arena district would likely be completed in stages. For example, once a particular part of the non-arena development is done and is able to generate a development levy of say, 5% of the arena's revenue flow, then the city would hand over its rights to 5% of the arena's revenues to the Katz group since the city will now get an equivalent cash flow via the development levy.

    I live about 5 blocks from the proposed arena district and do want to see additional revitilzation to the downtown core that this district would provide. However, as a city taxpayer, I also want to ensure that the city is protected if a development levy route for funding the arena itself is used (and if the district's non-arena developments do not happen after the arena itself is built).

    I look forward to your reply.

    Partially Addicted to C2E
    I don't think many Edmontonians would like to see another above-ground parkade in the downtown core. Is there any possibility of going the route of City Hall, the Citadel and the Library with an underground parkade? Since you'll likely be sinking the rink beneath ground level anyways, you may as well excavate down a few more floors for parking and save the additional street space for public space and shops.

    ANSWER: We are looking primarily at underground. If there is to be any above grade parking, it will be screened with active commercial space at grade where it fronts the street and upper levels will be screened within the architectural style of the building. In other words, you won’t see a parking structure; you’ll see either street level commercial or architectural screening of the parking structure.

    PLEASE get some architectural planning and design concepts in place before asking our representatives to approve the whole thing unseen.

    ANSWER: We understand the frustration, believe me, but that will come at the development permit stage. This is a large, complex project that will be developed over time. It’s unrealistic to be able to show with any certainty the exact design detail of all components at this stage. The reason we have applied for zoning as we have is to provide for the flexibility to respond to market conditions and opportunities. The specific form and type of the development will evolve but it will all go before the City Design Committee and Planning Department according to the standard development review process.

    Partially Addicted to C2E
    Hi Mr. Low!

    Thanks for taking our questions.
    I have a few questions that I hope you will be able to shed more light on.

    1. The winter garden seems like a repeat of city center mall. It sucked the life off the streets and put it inside. Why is it necessary in the project? Would widened crosswalks not be sufficient, as in hundreds of other pedestrian oriented cities?

    ANSWER: Like I said to the earlier question, that is exactly what we don’t want to do. City Centre Mall is geared to a retail shopping environment. The Winter Garden is geared to being a meeting/gathering/event space and a connecting point to LRT, arena, Pedway system and rest of downtown. The fact is we have to cross over 104th Avenue. The Winter Garden emerged as a way to get the full value of the investment it will take to build that connection. The incremental investment will create activity area that will help build community and an opportunity for an iconic structure in a very visible location. I’ll also repeat what I said earlier: in addition to the Winter Garden, we plan on having a lot of street level commercial activity along the streets in the district.

    2. We have heard from Katz Group that the arena and district will be "iconic". Can you elaborate further on this? Will the architect be given free reign? Will the whole complex be designed as iconic, or only the arena?

    ANSWER: We have seen how iconic architecture can build identity and create economic value, whether it’s the Bird’s Nest arena in Beijing or the High Level Bridge in Edmonton. Our goal has been to use this opportunity to create an iconic landmark for the city that helps people recognize Edmonton as a vibrant and confident Northern city. Whether the iconic feature is the arena, the Winter Garden or both has yet to evolve through the design process. One of our other goals has been to integrate with adjacent neighbourhoods and rest of downtown so no one will be given free rein in that sense. This should be iconic, but it has to be about Edmonton.

    3. Big names like Calatrava have been thrown around. Is Katz Group still committed to a "starchitect"? What specifically will the architect be designing? Will they master plan the entire thing, or only design the arena itself?

    ANSWER:“Starchitect” is not a term I would ever use. We are committed to iconic design; to creating a landmark image for the city and an identity that will help drive the success of the adjacent real estate development. Our goal would be to retain an architect well-suited to achieve those goals.

    4. Can you share who might be in the running for architectural firms to design this?

    ANSWER: Nope.

    5. What design credentials do people on the Planning & Development team have? Can you tell us about previous projects you or others involved have worked on?

    ANSWER: It’s a fair question. The first thing I would say is that from a Katz Group perspective, we know what we don’t know and we know we haven’t developed anything like this before. For that reason, we have brought in a team experts with world-class experience.

    So, I have 37 years of planning and land development experience in Alberta and British Columbia. I’ve worked with municipal government as a planning consultant and in the private development industry. I’ve participated in a broad range of planning and development projects, including inner city revitalization, downtown improvement programs, suburban planning and commercial, industrial and residential policy planning, subdivision, zoning and development work. The real estate arm of the Katz Group, have been involved in everything from corporate-owned pharmacy sites to larger mixed use developments

    In addition, we have enlisted the services of: AEG, Stantec, Bunt, Icon Venue Group, Rossetti and others. Here are links to each company’s website for more information. Together, I think it’s a very experienced team well-suited to the opportunity and the current stage of the project’s development.

    That is all, and I wish you the best of luck with this project. We are all counting on Katz Group and people like you to do this right! Thanks again.

    Thanks for your support. It may sound trite, but this really is about Edmonton so it’s very important to get your views and know that we have your support.

    Addicted to C2E
    What do you think will happen if this project does not get off the ground.
    I sincerely hope it does-but-what if.
    Developers, by their nature, are optimists, so we’re confident the project will succeed and we’re going to work very hard to make it happen. One of the reasons we think the project will succeed is because it’s totally aligned with the City’s own vision for itself and with the goals of the proposed Capital City Downtown Plan, which is the product of more than two years of planning and public consultation. The plan identifies a downtown entertainment and sports district as of the catalysts for the transformation of downtown. It’s also totally aligned with the recommendations of the Mayor’s Leadership Committee Report, which said we need a new arena, the arena should be part of a mixed-use district developed with a mix of public and private funds, and that it “must be downtown.” A copy of the report is available on our website at

    Addicted to C2E
    Mr. Reality Check

    To echo some of the previous comments, first off, thanks for being here…

    Now that you are here, like many others I have a number of questions for you.

    Firstly, I wondered if you can you comment on the extent of “the arena district” insofar as it relates to your use of the term? By that I’m asking if it is restricted to those parcels covered by your rezoning application or does it include “the other side of the streets” fronting the perimeter of your site or does it extend one block in any direction from the perimeter of your site? Or…?

    ANSWER: We are referring to 16 acres specified in our zoning application, though we certainly expect there will be significant benefits for downtown revitalization and that this project will spur additional development.

    Secondly, assuming that the arena district - regardless of its defined area - will impact an area that will extend well past the actual perimeters of your site, how much consultation has taken place with the owners of those affected parcels to engage them in the integration of your proposal and to manage its impact on their sites and the long-term development of their sites with your proposal?

    ANSWER: We have had extensive discussions with several adjacent property owners and community members. That process is ongoing. We still have lots of people we need to talk to but so far we have been really pleased with the support we have received from downtown business groups, property owners and community associations.

    Thirdly, your website is accessed under a banner that doesn’t talk about an arena or even about an arena district but instead is labeled “”. This seems to be a theme which is presented consistently on the site and in many of the presentations on the arena and even in the language used when discussing a new arena. In the last few years alone, we have seen the following projects in and around downtown Edmonton (a list which I am sure is far from complete):

    Illuminada 2
    Icon 1 and 2
    Sobey's on 104th
    Enterprise Square
    Alta Vista II
    River Vista
    Alta Vista
    Robins Health Sciences Centre at Grant MacEwan
    Parliament Condos
    Federal Building
    Professional Building/Intact Tower Renovation
    Epcor Tower at Station Lands
    Sir Winston Churchill Square
    The Art Gallery of Alberta
    Sobey’s at Jasper and 104th

    This is by no means a comprehensive list but - even if it was - even long time downtown arena fans and supporters like myself would be hard-pressed to present the arena - or even an arena district - as “the” solution for revitalizing downtown and not just another piece of the puzzle. A potentially integral piece of the puzzle certainly, but one single piece of the puzzle nonetheless in a puzzle whose completion is already much closer to having critical mass than was there a decade ago.

    ANSWER: I don’t think we’ve ever said we think we’re the only game in town, or that the arena district is “the” solution for revitalizing downtown. To the contrary, here’s what we say on the website (which, for the benefit of others, is actually “Together with some of the great redevelopment projects already under way (as shown on the map above), the District will help revitalize our downtown core and make it a great place to live, work and play.”

    Fourth, in regard to the financial commitment of 100 million that has clearly been understood to be a commitment to the arena (not to additional development opportunities surrounding or attached to the arena), it should be noted that 100 million - while a considerable sum of money on its own - is not a particularly large sum when related to large downtown projects whether or not they include an arena. Station Lands alone will have spent 3 or 4 times that on the first phase alone for the EPCOR Tower. Without getting into a detailed financial model - which I’m sure you are not yet in a position to discuss anyway - can you comment on the advantages to the city of private ownership of the arena even if some public monies are invested in it directly or indirectly in the adjacent infrastructure? As examples, property taxes would be payable to the city under private ownership that would not be payable under public ownership and there may be advantages in financing the arena and/or adjacent future development where the arena (and its revenue streams) is privately owned?

    ANSWER: You are absolutely right – I’m not in a position to discuss the financial deal.

    Fifth, from an urban planning perspective, when the city has gone to such great lengths to eliminate above and below grade impediments to our urban edges at the street level (i.e. removing the rat hole and the bridges at 101st Street and 105th Street and the CP Bridge over Jasper, why does your proposal and the zoning which you have applied for still seem to include a block long “winter garden” over a full block of 104th Avenue which is one of only two gateway east/west entries to our downtown core (the other being Jasper Avenue)? These things never work from a pedestrian/street perspective and one only needs to look at the tunnel 98th Avenue feeds into at the legislative grounds or the tunnel 118th Avenue takes at Rexall Place or even the two sides of 100th Street under the widened City Centre Pedway (which looks good from a distance and which is very successful at the “plus 15” level but which is a disaster on both sides of the street it spans).

    ANSWER: I think I’ve addressed this in answer to some of the earlier questions, other than to say we understand that this design concept is a challenge and has to be executed properly, especially at street level and in the space underneath the Winter Garden. 104th Avenue is a major pedestrian corridor and traffic artery and it needs to be done right. To your other question, the City will have its say through development permit process and the process by which we would seek to obtain rights to that air space.

    Sixth, there seems to be a good – and growing – grass roots support for a downtown arena albeit tempered somewhat by the questions surrounding the ultimate financial model. I have been a vocal “member of that camp” for more than a decade and have seen nothing that would make me want to reconsider that. But, having said that, what will happen adjacent to or nearby a downtown arena will happen whether those things are an integral part of an arena project or not. And whether they are an integral part or not they should be subject to the same scrutiny of design and the same requirement for strong active and lively urban edges. With that being the case, why have you chosen to bundle the certainty of the arena with the uncertainty of adjacent hotel and office and commercial and residential development timing? Would it not be easier to plan for those things and to acknowledge and allow for that independence and their reliance on market conditions? That would seem to allow “the arena development” to proceed without being encumbered by “the arena district” and would allow the review process administratively, politically and publicly to focus on the core element for which there seems to be public support (and an acknowledgement that it is likely to need some public investment regardless of the final model) and not have the arena sidetracked on the “what ifs” surrounding the adjacent development. It seems to me that you would be better off “under promising and over delivering” than setting up what could only happen the other way.

    ANSWER: Not quite sure what you’re asking here but we share the Leadership Committee’s view that Edmonton has a great opportunity to build not just an arena but a vibrant, mixed-used district downtown. In calling this an arena and entertainment zone, we’re recognizing the impact an arena will have, although most of the uses in the proposed zone are already permitted in the current zone. But the new zone has additional regulations and design guidelines that ensure its developed in a comprehensive and coherent way that has been approved by City Council.

    Lastly, regardless of your answers, I would like to wish you every success in arriving at the best design solutions from a planning perspective and from an architectural perspective for a truly iconic element for the City of Edmonton and in getting it built for the 2014 season.

    really just cranky, miserable and disagreeable on principle but happy to have earned the title anyway; downtown arena fan; edmonton 2017 world's fair supporter.
    Lead, Planning & Development, Edmonton Arena District