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DIOTTE: Closure of Northlands leaves hole in Edmonton’s heart

In my view, the end of Northlands came because it was starved of revenue sources in the wake of events that unfolded with the Katz/Oilers agreements with the City of Edmonton.

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By KERRY DIOTTE

There was some very big and sad news this week that barely made headlines in this era of the diminishing quality of mainstream journalism.

After 142 years, the non-profit volunteer organization Northlands announced it’s folding.

The closure of Northlands leaves a hole in the heart of Edmonton — literally and figuratively.

The beginning of the end of the operation began when the City of Edmonton struck a deal to build a downtown arena for the Edmonton Oilers and owner Daryl Katz that saw the team move out of Northlands’ Coliseum after playing the last game there in spring 2016.

Kerry Diotte

For decades, the community organization thrived, putting on major events at the Coliseum including concerts and Oilers hockey. 

Powered by thousands of volunteers and staff over the years, Northlands also produced Edmonton’s K-Days parade, the K-Days exhibition, Farm Fair International, Canadian Finals Rodeo and other sports and cultural events at its massive 200-acre north-side campus.

It also ran the very successful Northlands Park racetrack and the Edmonton Expo Centre.

Now its two marquee events, K-Days and Farmfair International will be handed over to the City of Edmonton to run through its arms-length tourism and events corporation, Explore Edmonton.

I was a member of the board of Northlands from 2010 to 2013 while I was a city councillor in Edmonton, so I’ve got a special place in my heart for the organization that operated in my federal riding of Edmonton Griesbach.

We had a solid bunch of people on the board from all sorts of fields — business, arts, legal, politics and more. I don’t think I’ve met a better collection of folks who cared more for this city.

More importantly, I got to meet many of the dedicated volunteers of the organization. The term “salt of the earth” comes to mind. These folks were some of the best, kindest and most community-minded Edmontonians I’ve ever encountered.

In my view, the end of Northlands came because it was starved of revenue sources in the wake of events that unfolded with the Katz/Oilers agreements with the City of Edmonton. In a nutshell, the deals city council agreed to didn’t allow for Northlands to compete with the new arena by hosting sports or events. 

I was one of only two city councillors who consistently voted against the terms of the downtown arena deal. It’s not that I didn’t like the idea of a new arena being built. It’s because it wasn’t a good financial deal for city taxpayers or for Northlands, a solid, non-profit society that’s older than both Edmonton or the Province of Alberta.

I won’t re-litigate the Oilers/City of Edmonton deal. There’s not enough space in this column for that.

If you want the inside scoop, read Power Play, a book about the controversial deal co-authored by my former council colleague Linda Sloan McCulloch. You’ll learn my in-depth feelings. I’m quoted in that book plenty: https://www.uap.ualberta.ca/titles/960-9781772124934-power-play

I know there are those who long-accused Northlands of being “an old-boys club.” I think that image might have been well-earned at one time. But it didn’t operate that way when I was there. 

Its memorable CEO then was the talented Richard Andersen, a real pro who’d previously been executive VP of the San Diego Padres and GM of its stadium, PETCO Park.

Andersen was one of the best executives and promoters I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen a few.

Check out his appearance on the TV show Undercover Boss. It will tell you a lot about the man and the Northlands philosophy. It’s truly worth a heart-warming watch:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d23lv3pmkvY

The big question we must ask ourselves is this: Is Edmonton better off now that Northlands is gone?

We certainly have a state-of-the-art downtown arena. True. But we’ve also lost a legendary community organization and all of its volunteers. 

The massive 200-acre north-side campus that once was alive with events is now virtually empty.

A perfectly serviceable arena is shuttered as is the one-lively racetrack and casino (The Spectrum).

Just about the only living souls on the site today are folks who are living at homeless shelters set up at The Spectrum and at the former apartments for jockeys.

Cynics would say this is what passes for progress.

As the member of Parliament for the area I’ve been pushing hard to see solid plans to redevelop this site that’s owned by the City and is known as the Edmonton Exhibition Lands.

A well-planned, intelligent development is absolutely critical for the communities surrounding it including Bellevue, Montrose, Eastwood, Parkdale, Cromdale and Virginia Park. The site has huge potential especially since it’s already served by high-speed LRT.

You can be rest-assured I’ll continue to make this development a top priority.

Kerry Diotte is a former journalist, Edmonton city councillor and member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach. He can be reached at kerry@kerrydiotte.com

Opinion

Krahnicle’s Cartoon: January 18, 2022

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KAY: Why is Prince Andrew the only one being held accountable?

“All I am saying is that the price he is paying — a royal castaway, shunned for the sake of The Firm’s continued good health, and relegated to a social Devil’s island — is very, very high, much higher than would have been the case for an ordinary man.”

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It was with a pang that I was informed by People.com that “Queen Elizabeth strips Prince Andrew of [his eight] military titles and patronages amid sexual assault lawsuit,” as the headline read. A day after a judge rejected Prince Andrew’s attempt to have a civil lawsuit quashed, alleging sexual misconduct against him in 2001 by one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre, the axe fell.

Thursday, the royal palace announced, “With the Queen’s approval and agreement, The Duke of York’s military affiliations and royal patronages have been returned to the Queen.” Although still nominally a prince, Andrew will no longer have the right to be addressed as His Royal Highness (HRH). No more public duties for the dozens of charities for whom he has been a patron. “The Duke of York is defending this case,” the statement informed us, “as a private citizen.”

Why do I shudder slightly at those words, “private citizen,” and greet the news in general with a “pang,” though? Prince Andrew is nothing to me personally. He got himself into a very tawdry mess through his own appallingly bad judgment. The allegations surfaced in 2019, so this was no surprise. And it is not the first occasion in which bad judgment and a sense of entitlement has led “Randy Andy” into temptation of one kind or another, and thence onward to, at best, unethical behaviour, and at worst — oh dear, oh dear.

Let us not, though, count the ways that make this ultimate disgrace a deserved punishment for Andrew’s sins. Or rather, let other commentators — those who experience an uprush of joy or schadenfreude in their hearts when white males of extreme privilege are brought low, instead of a pang — do that.

When I unpack my pang a bit, what comes to mind is I know this had to be done; I know he deserved it; I know he is a wastrel. But oh, the mortification! And not for love, like Harry’s for Meghan or his great-uncle, Edward VIII’s for Wallis. At least they got to ride off to the colonies believing at the time they made the decision, anyway, their lives as royals were well lost for the glittering prize that had chosen them.

Even though he was of weak character — a suspected Nazi sympathizer, amongst other cases of bad judgment — Edward, Duke of Windsor was still a duke in exile. He was given royal sinecures to keep him busy. He was still a social asset outside Britain. Harry isn’t technically a Royal; he gave up his title voluntarily, but he’s good enough for Hollywood. So he has all the perks of royalty — money-making sinecures, constant attention, lots of social adulation — and none of the tedium. And when he comes home to visit, he still gets to mingle with the family. He has disappointed his family by quitting The Firm, and embarrassed them by foolishly airing private laundry, but he has not brought shame on the House of Windsor. He was not cast out. He left.

But for Andrew it’s the opposite. He cannot leave, but he has been “effectively banished.” There is no corner of the English-speaking world in which he can relax and just be himself. Himself? What would “himself” look like, stripped of what has defined him as a human being for all his 61 years? A turtle without a shell to retreat into. And no natural habitat. His gorgeous military uniforms will hang lifeless in his closets. Forever. I am trying to imagine what a future social life might look like. But I can’t.

Of course, there’s the saving grace of ex-wife Fergie to keep him company. Nobody is less likely to be judgmental, or more likely to empathize with the results of bad judgment in a buddy than Sarah Ferguson. I suspect she will eventually be remembered for her loyalty to Andrew in exile. He will have company watching Netflix. (Do you remember the scene in The Crown where the Duke — played by the wonderful actor Michael Kitchen — and Duchess of Windsor are watching Elizabeth’s televised coronation from their home in France? Oh, the suffering etched on Kitchen’s face.)

Andrew is often referred to as his mother’s favourite child, and that is how he was portrayed in The Crown as a boy on the cusp of manhood. He was buoyant, confident and ready for adventures of all kinds, military (at which he excelled) and prankish — even then, a bit of a wild card, but endearing to his mother on that account. In Philip’s general mold, but without Philip’s maturity, intellect and sense of duty.

But back to my pang. Consider: Stupid as he was, the woman accusing him of being party to her sex trafficking was 17 at the time of the alleged encounter. The age of consent in the U.K. as well as in 32 U.S. states is 16. A lot of other rich and famous men palled around with Epstein and made use of his private plane and visited his island home(s). How come their names didn’t come up in Maxwell’s trial? So maybe my pang has something to do with the murkiness surrounding the alleged encounter, and the fact that Andrew seems to have been cut from the herd to keep all eyes on him and all eyes off the American guys.

The only other man Giuffre publicly charged with sexual assault was celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz in 2019, who had defended Epstein in his 2005 sex-trafficking charges. Dershowitz immediately counter-attacked Giuffre in his typical take-no-prisoners style, and that turned into a nightmare of a legal circus that is apparently still unresolved. I imagine Giuffre took a lesson from her challenge to a lion. Next to Dershowitz, Andrew must look a lot like a sacrificial lamb.

Andrew is what he is, and I am not making the case he shouldn’t have paid an appropriate price for his bad behaviour — bad whether he slept with Giuffre or didn’t. All I am saying is that the price he is paying — a royal castaway, shunned for the sake of The Firm’s continued good health, and relegated to a social Devil’s island — is very, very high, much higher than would have been the case for an ordinary man. There is no court of appeal for this lifetime sentence.

Barbara Kay is a senior columnist for the Western Standard.
kbarb@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter: @BarbaraRKay

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THOMAS: Gondek’s legacy could very well be an empty parking lot

“There can be no doubt that more than a few Calgarians, who are against using public money to help build the Event Centre, have benefited from the owners’ largess.”

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Most of the people who have held the office of mayor of Calgary probably hoped to leave a legacy that people recognize as a positive contribution to the city.

Some did. Some didn’t. A couple of ‘dids’ come to mind. 

As mayor from 1980 to 1989, Ralph Klein’s legacy is as being part of the team that brought the 1988 Winter Olympics to Calgary, which resulted in the Saddledome being built, which brought the Calgary Flames to the city.

Dave Bronconnier, mayor from 2001 to 2010, also left a legacy near the Saddledome.

East Village: It’s the area directly east of city hall, stretching to Fort Calgary, with the Bow River on the north and 9 Ave. southeast on the south side.

When ‘Bronco’ took over the mayor’s chair, East Village was the most dangerous area of the city. Totally run down, it was a centre of illegal drug activity and the ‘office’ for sex workers. In earlier years, it served as the Calgary dump. It was not an area you wanted to be in, especially after dark.

Bronco, vowing to clean it up, approached the development community to gauge any interest in participating. 

There was no interest. Developers told him the cost to remediate the area was too high, but if the city undertook the task, there would be interest in building condo-apartment buildings. 

So, the mayor introduced the Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) program, with the blessing of the Alberta government. The way a TIF works is, an area for redevelopment is identified and for 20 years, all taxes collected in that area are used to pay infrastructure costs incurred by the city to get the job done. 

No tax money comes out of the city’s general revenues. Only money from taxes collected in the designated area. 

It obviously worked. The TIF helped pay for, among other things, the new central library, and East Village is now an urban oasis of apartments and retailers.

The TIF worked so well, city council decided to expand the area it financed, calling it the Rivers District, which runs from the banks of the Bow River south to 25 Ave. S.W., with Macleod Tr. as its western border. Eventually, the Bow Building was added to the Rivers District because of the high taxes it would pay, which would contribute greatly to the TIF, now renamed the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL).

Here, from the City’s website, its (abbreviated) definition of the CRL. 

“(The) Community Revitalization Levy substantially funds the delivery of the Rivers District Revitalization Plan. The levy provides a means to segregate increased property tax revenues in the Rivers District, which result from redevelopment into a fund that will be used to pay for the new infrastructure required. The end result is improvements in the Rivers District are self-funded without any additional tax burden on the balance of the city, and at the end of the CRL period, the amounts that were charged under the CRL would become general property tax revenues and flow into the general revenues of the city and the province.”

There’s a lot of work going on in the East Victoria Park area within the Rivers District, including the RoundUp Centre upgrade, the demolition of the Corral and a lot more to come. Plans include homes for 8,000 new residents in the community, with approximately four million square feet of absorbable mixed-use development, a Stampede Trail retail street and the LRT Green Line extension. All of this development might even give some justification to converting the empty downtown office buildings into residences. 

Up until about a month ago, the plans included a new Event Centre, to be built on a couple of mostly empty parking lots north of Stampede Park. The cost of the centre would have been shared by the Calgary Flames organization and the City of Calgary. 

That deal is dead.

How vital was/is the Event Centre to the success of the Rivers District? 

If the district was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Event Centre would be Tom Brady.

The Event Centre would be home to more than the Calgary Flames. It would put Calgary in the big leagues in attracting major concerts and other events (hence the name). Under the dead deal with the Flames, the City of Calgary would have received a percentage of ticket sales to every event. There are other opportunities for revenue generation for the city that are now in jeopardy.

However, without the Flames as a partner in some fashion, there isn’t likely to be an event centre.

The Flames ownership group is first and foremost a collection of very successful and astute business people. They are not the billionaire robber barons some Calgarians claim them to be. 

Bringing NHL hockey to Calgary was a great contribution, but their greatest contribution is the millions and millions of dollars they have donated to charities, to build major medical facilities and more. There can be no doubt more than a few Calgarians who are against using public money to help build the Event Centre have benefited from the owners’ largess. 

Without a new, reasonable deal would the ownership group move the Flames out of the city? 

They absolutely would.

That would be Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s legacy.

Myke Thomas is a Western Standard contributor. He started in radio as a child voice actor, also working in television and as the real estate columnist, reporter and editor at the Calgary Sun for 22 years.
mykethomas@live.com

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