Of mice and memories: A look inside Edmonton's shuttered Coliseum

Largely empty, but home to some mice and bats, Edmonton's storied Coliseum will be demolished in a couple of years at a cost of about $35 million.  (Paige Parsons/CBC - image credit)
Largely empty, but home to some mice and bats, Edmonton's storied Coliseum will be demolished in a couple of years at a cost of about $35 million. (Paige Parsons/CBC - image credit)

City of Edmonton officials allowed media inside the Coliseum on Friday to get a last look at the interior of the 49-year-old arena.

The Roman-inspired rink opened in 1974 and was the longtime home to the Edmonton Oilers, including during the team's winningest era in the 1980s.

It was also the site of countless concerts, shows and rodeos until in closed at the end of 2017.

While most of the choice memorabilia has already been removed, the risers are littered with piles of old seat cushions.

Debris — construction material to concert posters and popcorn bags — is scattered around the building's interior.

WATCH | The end of an era as Coliseum shutters

Yellow caution tape is strewn about, and there's a lot of dust and dirt on surfaces.

The Oilers' locker room has been stripped of its lockers and any remaining souvenirs from the glory days.

However, the washroom and shower area smells strongly of the past.

Mice and bats have taken up residence in the old arena, city officials say.

What else is happening inside?

Not much. The last event to be held in the arena was the Canadian Finals Rodeo in November 2017.

For a while, the Edmonton Police Service tactical team did some training in the building, but once it was officially decommissioned it hasn't been used for anything.

It's costing the city about $1.5 million a year to maintain and secure the property. For maintenance reasons, the building is still heated.

Though several groups pitched various ideas for repurposing the Coliseum, city council ultimately decided to demolish it. The task is expected to cost $35 million.

When will demolition start?

The money approved by city council in December 2022 will be available starting in 2025.

Before the building can come down, officials say it will take about a year to rid the structure of everything that's inside —such as all the lingering wiring, equipment and furniture — and then, the dangerous substances will be tackled.

"Asbestos, mould, lead paint — all these things that were common in the 1970s – we're going to have to remove and tackle remediation," Pascale Ladouceur, the city's branch manager, infrastructure planning and design, said Friday.

Bats living in the arena are protected by wildlife legislation, Ladouceur said, so the city is planning to remove and relocate the winged creatures during an appropriate time in their reproductive cycle.

Are they going to blow up the Coliseum?

No. The old rink will undergo a much less dramatic "mechanical demolition," according to Ladouceur.

"It's a lot of concrete, it's not a good environment for an implosion," she said, adding that it would be difficult to manage the debris in such close proximity to the LRT and major roadways.

That means using heavy equipment to take the concrete structure down in pieces.

She said that work would likely start in 2026, and that a contractor hasn't been selected yet.

What will happen to the land?

City council has approved a plan to redevelop the site where the arena is and the surrounding property into an urban village, complete with a new LRT station and mixed commercial and residential space. It's going to take 20 to 30 years for the project to be completed, and will be built in stages.

Lovey Grewal, project lead for the city's Edmonton Exhibition Lands redevelopment project, said it's expected that the site where the arena now sits will one day become a public plaza.

However, unlike some other development areas, such as Blatchford, the city is planning to hand the reins to private developers to do the work.

"We'll be parceling off medium- to large-size parcels of development land and marketing those to the private development community, so that ultimately it is a market-driven development," Grewal said.

The first two parcels of land that will be developed — currently a soccer field and gravel parking lot near Borden Park — will be going up for sale in a few weeks, he said.