EDMONTON – The owner of the Edmonton Oilers said Thursday he is concerned with the “implications” of the now-defunct deal with the city for a new arena, but stopped short of saying he will revisit plans to move the franchise.
In a two-sentence media release, Daryl Katz wrote, “We are concerned about the implications of the motion passed yesterday by city council.
“We do not yet have a view on what comes next, but we remain hopeful that there is a solution that achieves the mutual goal of securing the Oilers’ longterm sustainability in Edmonton.”
Those hopes took a huge hit Wednesday when city councillors, frustrated over Katz’s last-minute demands for at least $210 million more from taxpayers—coupled with his refusal to meet with them in public to discuss it—voted unanimously to walk away from the deal.
Councillors also asked city staff to look at other options to keep pro hockey in Edmonton, including the city going it alone on a new rink.
Earlier on Thursday, Mandel said while city council would still be open to the original deal the two sides forged last year, it won’t be done anytime soon.
Mandel said council is now moving into budget discussions followed by other responsibilities, duties, and appearances in the Christmas holiday season.
“I don’t know what the timing is going to be, but it’s going to be pushed out quite a distance right now,” said Mandel. “That’s why I felt this (week) was such an important timeframe.
“It was a door, a window, open to try and finalize some things.”
The collapse of the deal revived concerns Katz will move the franchise. The pharmacy billionaire or his officials have in the past met with leaders in Hamilton and Quebec. Last month, Katz went to Seattle to discuss moving the team into a new facility there.
The Seattle trip angered Edmonton fans, many of who blasted Katz on social media sites like Twitter. Katz apologized to them in full-page newspaper ads but the apology did not include a promise to abandon relocation.
Such a move would still need league approval.
In Toronto, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters, “I think everybody needs to take a deep breath.
“The Oilers need a new arena, the city of Edmonton needs a new arena and I’m hopeful that, despite the breakdown in negotiations, reason will prevail and we’ll get it to the right place.”
Negotiations have been ongoing for four years to build a new home to replace the 38-year-old Rexall Place.
A framework deal was reached a year ago, with construction expected to begin in the spring of 2013 and the building done by the fall of 2015.
Under that deal, taxpayers and ticket-buyers would pay to build the $475-million arena and surrounding infrastructure for a total cost of $700 million and rising.
The Oilers, in turn, would pay a $5.5-million annual lease for 35 years and another $10 million or so a year to operate the building.
Katz would keep all profits from games, trade shows, concerts, and the like for 11 months of the year. He would also get naming rights for the building (worth about $3 million) and another $2 million in advertising from the city for 10 years.
Mandel said the deal guaranteed a good profit for the Oilers, but last month Katz brought back new demands to council, saying without them his team couldn’t survive in the Alberta capital.
Katz bought the team in 2008 but says he’s been losing money ever since. Councillors have not been able to test that claim as the franchise has refused them access to financial data.
Mandel said councillors could not agree to the new demands, which included $6 million extra per year from taxpayers for the 35-year life of the lease (for a total of $210 million) to offset costs of running the rink.
Katz, he said, also insisted that city staffers move into a new office building he was building beside the rink to become its anchor tenant—a move that would violate city tendering policy.
Mandel said the Katz team wouldn’t budge on that point or the $6 million.
“If someone says, ‘You must rent office space from us or we we’re not going to do an arena,’ (well) we don’t do that. We can’t,” said Mandel. “It’s (against) our policy.
“And I think morally you can’t just say, ‘We’re going to rent space from you and not offer it to everybody else.’ “
Mandel said negotiations were stopped because they had become pointless.
“Right now it’s we move, we move, we move, we move—and nothing on the other side moves,” he said. “It’s not fair negotiations.
“We can’t be the only ones negotiating.”
As negotiations faltered, Mandel twice urged Katz or his officials to meet council in public to show them why they needed the extra money.
Katz refused both times and neither he nor his staff were at council chambers when the decision to kill the deal was reached Wednesday.
In declining to attend Wednesday, Katz sent a letter to Mandel, urging him to show “political leadership,” and adding that in his opinion all councillors “approached this negotiation based on narrow political considerations rather than a genuine desire to strike a deal that is fair.”
On Wednesday night after the vote, Mandel said that criticism rolled off him.
But there were signs it rankled.
After Mandel finished imploring councillors that it was time to shut down negotiations, Coun. Jane Batty turned to him and teasingly said, “Thanks for showing political leadership.”
In the post-vote scrum with reporters, Mandel said he believes the NHL and Bettman, whom he called a “great friend” to the city in the past, will recognize not only what the Oilers have done for Edmonton but what Edmonton has done for the Oilers.
“We trust the NHL believes in cities that treat the NHL properly,” he said. “This city has treated the NHL like a god.
“I think it’s the fourth highest (in) attendance and the fifth highest (in) ticket prices. You don’t go to a team that comes in last for three or four years in a row and fill the stadium every night—night in, night out, night in, night out—because you don’t like the game.
“I don’t think you’d do that in other cities in the NHL. Go through the list and see what people are paying 10 bucks a ticket for (elsewhere). You don’t get a ticket for the Edmonton Oilers for 10 bucks.”