Every time I tell the Edmonton story, from Hangzhou to Helsinki, from roundtables of 10 to audiences of 1100, people are fascinated how we evolved the Edmonton brand and engaged our whole community in the process. They ask, “How did you guys do it? How did Edmonton manage its way through the recession so well? How did you evolve the brand in such a short period of time? How did you grab the attention of the media? How did you rise so fast in the rankings?”
Every time I’m asked, I stop and give pause, and I share an important story that seems to be forgotten – a story that gives credit to those who took the risk to fundamentally change the face of our city.
Five years ago, our city was at an impasse. City Council was divided over whether a downtown arena would generate the economic benefits that were being claimed, and Edmontonians were divided as to whether a partnership with Daryl Katz could be trusted and whether it would be in the best interest of our city.
Five years later, we should all be celebrating. What’s been accomplished in downtown Edmonton is a model for public / private partnerships that has attracted envy from cities across North America, and has transformed the mindsets of local and institutional investors looking to invest even more into the Edmonton economy.
Edmonton has forever changed.
And, no one wants to change back.
The partnership between the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group sparked $5.5 billion in new investment, created over 30,000 new jobs, generated over $750 million in new taxes, increased residential density by 20%, added 15% more restaurants and bars, all while improving the brand and reputation of our city and the pride of Edmontonians.
And Daryl Katz delivered. What was originally a $100 million commitment (subject to commercial efficacy) in the Arena Master Agreement has now turned into more than $2 billion of personal investment in our downtown. And he kept investing in Edmonton while oil prices plummeted and margins were squeezed, building confidence in our city as we told this story around the world. Katz Group delivered the tallest tower in western Canada (Stantec Tower), the Edmonton Tower, the JW Marriott Hotel, Rogers Place Arena, the Winter Garden (Ford Hall) with excellence, and they continue to invest with more buildings planned in our near future.
Yes, these investments result in a return for the Katz Group, but they also carry significant commercial risk. The bigger winner in this partnership has been the City of Edmonton. With the ICE District development already at 75% of the original 20-year projection, and trending better than ever expected, the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) has generated property tax revenue from new development and rising property values that has allowed the City of Edmonton to green light more than $230 million in new capital investment projects in the downtown core – a direct result of the arena partnership. That’s huge after only three years, and it puts the City’s investment of public tax dollars in the downtown arena project into a very positive view.
But we are not done. Downtown is not done. Edmonton is not done. Partnerships like these need to continue in order to accelerate our growth, to create a city that is built on excellence and to position us as an exciting city to watch. Additional partnerships are needed to continue investing in our public spaces, like a world stage Plaza in front of Rogers Place, public art on our streets or new hotels attached to our conference centres. Partnerships work, the CRL works, and they should form the foundation for the next phase of our downtown vision.
City of Edmonton and Katz Group is a partnership between City Builders. No party could have created what’s been created on their own. It took cooperation, trust, wisdom, vision and courage. And we need more as we keep growing.
So, as I reflect back on the past five years, on the shoulders which carried us through the recession and on the foundation which helped us shape our brand, I give credit to the City Builders behind the City/Katz Partnership, and I encourage us all to continue investing in, and honouring, these partnerships for years to come.