City council hears from public on Northlands revitalization plan

City councillors heard mixed opinions from the public Wednesday about the viability of Edmonton Northlands’ new Vision 2020 revitalization plan.

Area residents complained about the prospect of more noisy concerts, but others urged council to adopt the plan because abandoning the site could leave the area derelict.

Northlands, the non-profit organization that runs the arena formerly known as Rexall Place, the Expo Centre and K-Days, is seeking a new purpose now that Edmonton Oilers hockey games and major concerts are moving to Rogers Place.

Northlands CEO Tim Reid confirmed Wednesday that the organization has reduced its workforce by 25 full-time positions through voluntary buyouts. “Rghtsizing” efforts will also affect part-time workers, he said, adding the risk remains of further job losses in future.

Mike Scott, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 30, which represents Northlands workers, said employees were told about the staffing reductions at a meeting Tuesday. Scott said the reductions are tied to an anticipated loss of revenue after Rogers Place opens.

More than 40 speakers registered to speak to council about the organization’s plan at a special public hearing.

Residents from the Cromdale and Bellevue neighbourhoods are alarmed about a proposal to set up what it calls an urban festival area on the site.

Liz Ferguson, who lives in Bellevue, told city council that noise from nearby events like Sonic Boom have rattled her windows.

She said residents are fine with the 10 days of K-Days but other communities need to share the load when it comes to hosting festivals.

“I urge the mayor and council to consider the number of events against the number of weekends in the summer,” Ferguson said.

Melanie Moore, who lives in Cromdale, said she was alarmed to learn about the proposed urban festival site. She wants a quieter, family-friendly use for the Northlands grounds.

“Our community already has more of our share of this type of event,” Moore said. “I don’t want more loud parties and thousands of participants who do not care about our community or park space.”

Some speakers support Vision 2020

But other presenters, including Richard Currie from Concordia University of Edmonton, and Kerry Diotte, MP for Edmonton-Griesbach, spoke in favour of Northlands and the Vision 2020 plan. 

Currie said if council doesn’t adopt the plan, that area of the city may become derelict, which could hurt his institution. 

City administrators have criticized most of the Northlands plan for lacking details about a planned festival site and questionable demand for building a 5,000-seat concert and sports hall in the Expo Centre’s Hall D.

They found Northlands also underestimated the cost of construction, failing to factor in public consultation and design work. Northlands had pegged the total cost of renovations at $165 million. But the city estimates the cost would be $235 million. Northlands also wants the city to forgive a $47-million loan.

Despite these concerns, administration feels a proposal to turn the Coliseum into a multiplex with six ice sheets has merit.

Mark Doram, president of Hockey Edmonton, said the multiplex could be the site of a minor hockey coaching school of excellence.

Doram said he doesn’t want the city to close other ice sheets if the multiplex is approved.

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