Friday, August 28, 2009

Oilers owner Katz buys downtown site

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz has purchased land in downtown Edmonton which could be the site of a new entertainment complex and arena that will replace the aging Rexall Place.

Documents obtained by CBC News show the land at the corner of 101st Street and 104th Avenue was bought on June 24 by Edmonton real estate company Western Asset Mangement, then later sold to the Katz Group.

The land is the current site of the Baccarat Casino.

The Rexall pharmacy billionaire, who is based in Edmonton, has also purchased an adjacent block of land on the south side of 104th Avenue — the parking lot across the street from the Greyhound Bus terminal.

Katz Group spokesperson David Ryan confirmed the purchases in an interview with CBC News. He acknowledged the land is one of the sites Katz is looking at for his complex, but said he couldn't say if it is the final one. However, the Katz group does not own any other land downtown.

"We're not in any position right now to say definitively it's site A or site B or site C," Ryan said.

Katz bought the Oilers in early 2008. After his offer was accepted by the team's former owners, Katz said he would contribute $100 million of his own money for an arena, which he said should go downtown.

That preference was reiterated by Ryan Thursday, who added that the project would be more than a new home for the Oilers. The plan could also include a hotel, casino, condos, restaurants and a small practice arena.

"We contemplated something more than an arena. It is more of a mixed use district that would enrich the social, cultural and economic life of downtown Edmonton," Ryan said.

The recently purchased property is also located on the new northwest line of the LRT. Preliminary work on the line started this year.

The site is a good one, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said Thursday.

"It has a fair amount of merit," he said. "I think it's a reasonably good location. We're putting the LRT right there. I think it has good accessibility. It's a large enough site."

In 2008, a task force appointed by Mandel recommended the arena be funded by a mix of private and public funds. But the idea of spending public funds on a new arena has proven to be controversial with Edmonton residents.

In December, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman waded into the debate by telling reporters after a speech in Edmonton that he didn't think a new arena could be built without public funds. In his speech, Bettman also expressed his preference for a downtown site.

The Oilers' present arena, Rexall Place, was built in 1974, making it the oldest NHL rink in Canada.

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