The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Edmonton arena district one of North America's top developments: Oilers owner

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EDMONTON - The owner of the Edmonton Oilers says the booming, oilsands-driven economy of northern Alberta is behind the early success of the city's downtown makeover featuring a new arena for his team.

"I don't think there's a better market anywhere to do what we're doing," Katz said Thursday as he unveiled a new website on the billions of dollars on construction planned for the Alberta capital's core.

"From an investment point of view, this is as much a play on Alberta and where Alberta's going — and particularly northern Alberta — as anything."

Katz pointed to $284 billion in investment planned for the oilsands by 2035. Six million people are expected call the province home by then, two-thirds of them in northern Alberta.

"That's our market."

Katz's plans include office towers, condos, retail, a public square, and a community ice rink — all linked by walkways and designed to be used winter and summer. He said a new arena for his NHL team and flush times in his hometown have combined for a "once in a generation" chance to revitalize a downtown that has often been called dowdy, or worse.

"This was the vision from the beginning," he said. "We planned this before we bought the team. It's very satisfying to see it come out of the ground."

Those plans haven't been without controversy.

It took years for city council to come to a funding agreement with Katz, who owns the Rexall pharmacy chain. Councillors wrestled with the issue of putting up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for an arena to house a hockey team owned by a billionaire.

The total tab for 18,559-seat facility is $480 million. Edmonton taxpayers are to pay $219 million, Katz's share is $143 million. Another $125 million will come from a ticket tax.

Work on the arena is now underway.

And More than $2.5 billion in construction has already started or is expected to start in the area in the next six months. More than 9,000 square metres of retail space has already been spoken for.

Earlier this week, engineering firm Stantec signed a lease on space in a 62-storey office tower to be built in the arena district.

Katz said there may not be a development anywhere in the continent that can match the scale of what's happening in downtown Edmonton. Construction is expected to extend into the next decade.

"This isn't just an Edmonton story. This is a Canadian story."

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