Monday, January 07, 2008



In a thread many of us have been bickering/arguing/debating in all weekend, University of Alberta Professor Dan Mason dropped by and left some comments. It was greatly appreciated, even if I didn't agree with everything he said. Leaving aside, for now, my quibbles with some of his other points, I'd like to focus on one specific comment.

"For the purposes of disclosure, I have been involved in the process of considering a new or renovated arena for the past 18 months, in several different capacities."

This is interesting. The first time I ever saw the new arena idea being floated about was on November 14, 2006, in an article by Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal. I wrote a post on it that day. That was 13 1/2 months ago. At the time, the idea was being sold as just a suggestion, with some anonymous backers working on it. The fact that the story actually came with images of initial design work by Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd showed that this idea wasn't exactly a random, unvarnished thought, but Mason's comment made me wonder about how long this proposal has been in the works, and who has been working on it. I now have the following questions:

• Was anyone doing work for the City of Edmonton, the Mayor, the Edmonton Investors Group, Northlands Park, or any other interested party in the four and a half months before the Simons story appeared (or even further back)? If so, what were they looking at, were they paid to do such work, and were public dollars involved?

• Has anyone other than members of the Arena Feasibility Committee been doing work for the City of Edmonton, the Mayor, the Edmonton Investors Group, Northlands Park, or any other interested party in the thirteen and a half months since the Simons story appeared? If so, what have they been looking at, have they been paid to do such work, and were public dollars involved?

• Who exactly is on the Arena Feasibility Committee, other than the nine members we already know about? Is Professor Mason? Has he been asked to appear in front of the committee, or provide any documents to them? Has anyone else?

• Are there in fact subcommittees, such as was suggested in this article by City Manager Al Mauer? If so, who sits on those? Does Professor Mason? What exactly have they been tasked with looking at?

I'd like to make it clear that I'm just interested in finding out the reality of what's been going on, especially as it relates to government and the use of tax dollars/public resources. I have no reason to think one way or the other on these things, which is sort of the problem. I'm concerned with the transparency of this process, in particular as it relates to the City of Edmonton and/or any other government agency. For example, I haven't been able to find any answers to a couple questions I asked in April of this year:

• With the Mayor announcing the Arena Feasibility Committee, and the City Manager (the head of the city bureaucracy) serving on the committee, is this an endorsement by the City of Edmonton for this concept. If so, was it approved by City Council?

• How much, if any, public money is going to be spent supporting the work of the Arena Feasibility Committee?

I've been on the City of Edmonton's website, and I can't find any reference to the Arena Feasibility Committee at all. I may just be a terrible browser, but I do not see any schedules, agendas, minutes, orders, budgets, or terms of reference related to that committee. I think this is unfortunate. The proposed new arena is an important and already heavily discussed public policy issue, one that may involve (or already have involved) the use of public funds. I believe Edmontonians therefore have the right to that information. Furthermore, it unnecessarily makes the process look secretive and sinister, which is unfair to any who are involved with what is likely a perfectly honest and legitimate process. There may be a good reason why none of this is being made public, of course--and I'd be happy to hear it--but off the top of my head I can't think of any reasons why a city committee's activities wouldn't be made public, other than maybe the fact that it's common practice, or that it all will be made public once the committee reveals its final report (which aren't good reasons, in my opinion). That leads me to some final questions:

• Will the City of Edmonton make public the schedules, agendas, minutes, orders, budgets, terms of reference, report submissions or any other pertinent information related to the Arena Feasibility Committee (and its subcommittees)? If so, when? If not, for what reasons?

• Members of the Arena Feasibility Committee have visited Kansas CIty and Columbus. Was that trip paid for with public dollars? If so, how much did it cost?

• Members of the Arena Feasibility Committee have also met with H.O.K, a leading architectural firm. Was H.O.K. paid for meeting with the committee, and if so, were public dollars involved?

And finally, just because I'm really curious:

• Now that he has stepped down as both chair and member of the EIG Board of Directors, is Cal Nichols still a member of the Arena Feasibility Committee? If he isn't, has he been replaced by somebody else?



Andy, it might be interesting to send your local councillor, the mayor, city clerk & whichever journalist you think would enjoy being prickly (Barnes?) that list of questions. If they're not answered, send in a FOI request

Nice follow-up man. Gotta give you credit. You are one tenacious dude!

I'd love to hear what Dan Mason has to say...

I'd love to hear what Dan Mason has to say...

I'd be more interested in an answer from city hall. Mason isn't the one responsible for the committee.

What are the committee's terms of reference?
Is the purpose to determine whether we should build a millionaires' sandbox at all? Or is the purpose to figure out how to make it palatable to Edmonton taxpayers?
Because the former would include alternative uses for downtown land and alternative uses for taxpayer funds. The latter is simply window-dressing over private-interest lobbying of politicians and bureaucrats.

Remember when people used to talk hockey on this site? That was cool.

This comment has been removed by the author.

(try again with actual grammar)

I once read a brief blurb about a "new downtown arena by 2012 with 20,000 capacity" (quotes inexact). I don't know which newspaper it was in be in SUN/Journal or that free Sports Magazine at Reds, but within a year I'd peg it at being 2002. Post-Comrie for sure.

I'm glad that Prof. Mason has clarified his position. And such a detailed response makes me happy that I don't have to rely on the Edmonton Journal for, uh, insight anymore.

It seems to me, though, that the complexity of a successful stadium deal has the (un?)intended consequence of obfuscating the economics to the casual observer. I mean, who could be against low income housing in Brooklyn? So, okay, we gotta put up with taxpayer guarantees, but it's not as if guarantees are real money, right? (hint: WRONG!).

Yet if the broad redevelopment cannot proceed without a stadium, then it begs the question why not. Is it because the political will is missing? Or because the generosity of the stadium owner is transferring wealth into the city?

Edmonton, frankly, has been a model as far as developing the downtown railyards goes. This effort required a lot of public money and political will, as well as huge giveaways to CN to bribe them to proceed, yet the final result is a credit to the city. Pittsburgh had similar success with the old Homestead steel mill. Yet, after building the new Heinz field and PNC Park for almost $1 billion, Pittsburgh city declared bankruptcy.

In fact, if there is a common thread in Professor Mason's list of aspirational cities (San Diego, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore), it's in the shockingly poor government transparency and municipal fiscal irresponsibility. San Diego not only defaulted on its municipal debt, but is under SEC investigation for lying about its pension obligations to bondholders. Pittsburgh declared bankruptcy. Cleveland is dead center in the mortgage disaster--in fact, the largest landholder in the Cleveland area is Deutche Bank, according to the BBC.

Yet the New Orleans' of the world still want to replace the Superdome. Throw in some additional hospital funding, tax incremental financing, float a bond issue, and hey! it's free. Not free enough? Okay, how about some public housing. What if we spent the same effort building taller levies? Now that's just crazy talk.

Alberta has a god-given second golden age. It would be typical human nature, but still sad, if we pissed our good fortune away a second time on cathedrals rather than investments. I object to urban renewal projects on many economic grounds, but reluctantly concede that they have a role in sprucing up blighted industrial land controlled by a reluctant landlord. Calgary needs a shot of it for the CP railyards, for example. Such projects don't need stadiums to succeed, and in fact I suspect that they work better when no stadiums are built. You just don't hear about them.

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