Yesterday the City of Edmonton voted to take control of the Coliseum and the Northlands Park. The next City Council will have to – very quickly – determine what to do with these two facilities.
The guiding principles that need to be applied to this project are simple - does the project serve Edmontonians, and does it serve the immediate community.
As it stands, Northlands is in a lull, and not serving either of these two principles.
There is no question the Coliseum has fallen into disrepair in the last few years. Northlands was cash-strapped, and there just was not the resources available to maintain and upgrade the building.
The heating and ventilation systems need upgrading, to be sure. But its primary deficiencies are largely aesthetic. Precast exterior walls with no windows are a legacy from a bygone architectural era. Stained walls. Chipped floor tiles.
Worse, it has no viable future as a 16,000 seat arena. Even if we wanted to, you cannot maintain and operate an area on the basis of six rodeo events a year and a curling event every eight years or so. As an arena, the building is not viable.
But the Coliseum has great bones. Its structure is sound. The ice plant is less than ten years old.
And ... it is bought and paid for.
We need to remember that the cost of a five storey building with a 70,000 square foot roof is not trivial, and to simply blow up this building might be a rush to judgement.
What else can we do with this building? What else can it be?
Can it become the hotel that the Expo Centre needs to improve its viability? Can it be renovated to provide a combination of covered parking to serve the Colisuem LRT station, and multi-family housing? Can we put two rinks in the basement at minimal cost, using the relatively new ice plant that sits there today, and add other recreation centre activities on new floors above?
It is distinctly possible that the viability of any renovation of this building does not make economic sense. But I believe we need to explore all potential possibilities. The City of Edmonton struggles with the costs of constructing new infrastructure. We simply don’t have the money to build all the structures we might want as a city.
Does it makes sense to demolish a building we already own, with a strong, sound structure that will last for decades to come?
On the other hand, there is no other reasonable choice for Northlands Park than to repurpose most of the facility into in-fill housing. Most of the barns are falling down already, there is nothing to be saved there. The grandstand roof has failed. We might look at preserving the grandstand seating and repairing the roof, but only if we identify a need for a small scale, outdoor arena with a seated capacity of 5,000-10,000 people. Even at that, renovation of the grandstand may be less viable than simply building a new facility.
The land which the grandstand occupies has value as another in-fill opportunity. In the early 2000’s, land along the south and east edges was converted primarily from single family residential homes to parking, to support the Expo Centre project to come. That land could be converted back to residential uses, however the services now there serve a parking lot, not residential use. Repurposing this land will require development that resembles a new development.
That isn’t a bad thing, its just something to remember as we discuss the best path forward for the south end of the old Northlands site.
The return of the Northlands site to city control is an exciting opportunity for us. We need to find a way to acknowledge the significant role that these lands played in the evolution of Edmonton. Going back to the Sales Pavilion and the Edmonton Gardens, these lands have play host to countless events central to the development and growth of our city.
Let's try to find the balance approach that pays tribute to this history, while at the same time leveraging these assets for the greater good of our city.