Stephen Mandel was the mayor of Edmonton as a deal for a new downtown arena was being worked out. Mandel joined me in studio on Inside Sports on Monday night with some memories of the negotiations and how he sees Rogers Place now.
Here you can read some highlights of the interview, with audio of the full interview at the bottom of the page:
Q: Was there ever a point where you thought, “Oh no, I don’t know if this is going to get done?” Did you ever feel that nervous about it?
A: I don’t think so. I always thought there was a deal to be had. You just had to find the right ingredients that would work for the Katz Group, the Oilers, the City of Edmonton and its citizens.
Remember, we’re signing an arrangement with the Oilers for 35 years. So everybody has to do some soothsaying, looking out 10, 15, 25, 30 years. If this would have been a five-year lease, I’m sure it would have been relatively easy to do.
Q: What is your level of satisfaction with the deal?
A: Looking back, I didn’t think it could ever be as good as it’s been. The building is spectacular. It represents the greatness of the city, which we need to have. We have the Oilers signed here for 35 years, and whatever people want to say, there was a relatively decent chance that if we couldn’t find a deal, they would relocate.
Q: What made the arena project one that became rife with misinformation? Why did the arena have to be so controversial and other big money projects didn’t?
A: I always wondered about that. When we started this, I said this shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s a good project. It’s going to help build downtown. It’s going to be creative. But it just came off the rails. There were a lot of tough negotiations. A lot of publicity. A lot of things then materialized. You had some people who were adamantly against it. It became part of a political football and became part of a big news agenda. It became a much bigger issue that I thought it would ever be.
At the end of the day, fortunately, we had councilors who stuck with it throughout the process. A ‘No’ vote at any step along the way would have stopped it for at last a year.
Q: You referenced the arena is going to help in this economic climate. How would you expand on this?
A: The arena itself is a big construction project that has employed a tremendous number of people. The Katz Group had committed to spending $100-million when we started the negotiations. Rumours, what I hear in the newspaper and the media, it’s (turned out to be) $2-billion. That will create a lot of jobs in an economic time that’s been very difficult.
Q: What was NHL commissioner’s Gary Bettman role in the negotiations?
A: Gary Bettman, in my opinion, was absolutely essential in the success of our negotiations. Mr. Bettman deeply wanted to keep the team in Edmonton but realized the complications of the size of our arena, the age of our arena, and knowing that we needed some new facility. He was so good to work with.