City council could throw Northlands a lifeline on Wednesday. A merged convention centre operation will be proposed at a public hearing to cut operating costs, and give hope to have a new hotel built on the property.
A proposal, first published on a blog by Mayor Don Iveson, and supported by several members of city council, suggests bringing the Shaw Conference Centre downtown, and the Expo Centre on the Northlands 160 acres of land, come under the same management.
“It would be substantially better,” said Coun. Michael Oshry, who is council’s rep on the Northlands board. “Not only would there be significant cost savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, we could attract bigger events, we could have a coordinated marketing scheme, it would just be over all a much better thing for the city.”
City council is expected to hear more about having a hotel on site, to help generate new revenue, to offset the loss Northlands is facing with its concert business moving downtown to Rogers Place.
“I think we have lost convention shows at Expo Centre because there isn’t a hotel there,” Oshry said. “So there has been some expressions of interest of developers for that whole site, and a hotel on that site seems to make sense.”
“That’s very good for the convention centre, which is not just new jobs at the hotel but it’s net new business,” Iveson said.
“Because if you get a big trade show with 5,000-10,000 people, which we can accommodate, this is the largest trade show centre west of Toronto, and we haven’t leveraged it sufficiently. If we can get a hotel in there we can increase its volume considerably which will go a long way to dealing with the deficit that Northlands is currently dealing with both operationally and paying the mortgage on it.”
Northlands has been working with a list of potential developers that began with over 20 expressions of interest, and has been pared down to half a dozen. Coun. Tony Caterina, who’s ward Northlands sits, said there has been pent up demand from the development industry that is set to go, once city council makes up its mind.
“Certainly people are waiting to see what the decisions will be and the direction that the city along with Northlands EEDC and everybody needs to know which direction we are going,” Caterina said.
“Everything sort of lines up and makes sense. You’re on the LRT line, next to the Expo Centre. Ideally if you had a hotel on site, close to the Expo Centre or close to the Coliseum, absolutely it makes perfect sense that the private sector would be interested in building and selling their rooms.”
Converting the Oilers home of the last four decades into a multi-sheet recreation and tournament complex is something else that could create demand for a hotel. Caterina said it’s possible to have one located next to the Coliseum.
“That part of it will have to be discovered on who the interest is from, what kind of interest that is, are we re-purposing the Coliseum for community events and amateur sports, that will drive a lot of the decisions I imagine that the private sector will want to know.”
The four part motion that Iveson said will be tabled at the public hearing will address the Coliseum’s future, the merger of trade and convention space, forgive the debt Northlands owes the city for one year on the Expo Centre, and will call for a redevelopment plan for the 160 acres.
“At the end of the day for the first time in years I think everybody is on the same page that we need to have these two centres not compete with each other,” Oshry said.
A report from Northlands, called Vision 2020 called for an outdoor festival site where the racetrack now stands, an expansion of the arena inside the Expo Centre to host concerts and minor sports, along with the Coliseum multi-plex idea.
A city report last week rejected all of those ideas, noting problems with revenue projections. Iveson then picked up on the tournament hockey idea for the Coliseum.