Northlands Coliseum, the storied former home to the Edmonton Oilers, will close permanently at the end of this year when the building is turned over to the City of Edmonton.
"The Coliseum will come back to the city because Northlands simply cannot sustain it, fiscally," Mayor Don Iveson told reporters Wednesday after council voted unanimously to approve the move.
"That's really what's driving this. We're on an inevitable course to the Northlands Coliseum coming back to the city because of Northlands' financial situation."
But the final fate of the building where the Oilers built their dynasty in the 1980s remains undecided. Even those councillors most committed to the old Coliseum say they can't necessarily save it from the wrecking ball.
"I just wanted to make it very clear there was a lot of us on council that said, 'We do not want to bulldoze that building,' " Coun. Mike Nickel said after the meeting. "But we'll see what happens with the ARP [area redevelopment plan] because that will make or break it."
The ARP is a master city plan that will dictate development around the old arena.
Northlands is a non-profit organization that was previously responsible for a site that encompasses a horse-racing track, the Edmonton Expo Centre, the Coliseum, and grounds that hosted major events such as K-Days and Farmfair International.
Northlands has been under increasing pressure since it became clear that a new home ice for the Edmonton Oilers would be built downtown — and that Northlands would not only lose its main arena tenant, but that it would also not be permitted to compete with Rogers Place for events such as concerts.
But Northlands has also been struggling with millions of dollars in debt since taking on a hefty and ambitious renovation of the Expo Centre. The Expo Centre operations were delegated to the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation last month.
In a statement Wednesday, Northlands president Tim Reid said the organization looks forward to continue hosting K-Days and Farmfair International on the current site.
"Northlands is committed to the highest degree of professionalism through this transition and ask all involved to respect the impact on our 2,800 employees and 1,500 volunteers," Reid said. "Our organization is optimistic for the future and will be a provincial leader in agriculture, food and events."
End of city sponsorship agreement
Under a memorandum of agreement between the city and Northlands, the area known as Northlands Park will revert to the city either on June 30, 2018, or on a date that falls 30 days after horse racing is no longer licensed on the site.
The moves are designed to provide "greater certainty for the future of Northlands and the communities that surround it," the city said in a news release.
"The release of the Coliseum back to the city allows Northlands to proceed with a viable business model that honours and returns the organization to its agricultural roots."
The city said it has also renegotiated its sponsorship agreement with the Oilers Entertainment Group. The city has been released from a $17-million sponsorship commitment and that funding may now be considered by the city for other opportunities including amateur sports.
Iveson called the sponsorship agreement "the most problematic portion of an otherwise good deal for the city" that saw the Oilers move downtown to Rogers Place.
"It's been a goal of mine since the arena deal was passed, to see changes to the deal to end the sponsorship agreement, because I thought it was really inappropriate for the City of Edmonton to use operating tax dollars to sponsor a professional sports team," Iveson said.
"It made it awkward for the other sports teams in town who said, 'Why don't you do that for us?' It was unprecedented, as near as I can tell, anywhere in North America. And it was the element of the deal that I think many of us, certainly — I can only speak for myself — ultimately choked the hardest on in the decisions before."
The Jan. 1, 2018, transition date for the Coliseum mirrors the date when the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation commences operation of the Expo Centre.
A report submitted to city council five months ago recommended the City of Edmonton consider a partnership with Hockey Canada to repurpose Northlands Coliseum as a Hockey Centre of Excellence at a cost of $102 million.
The report proposed the building be refitted with four ice sheets, a 200-metre running track, a training area, classrooms and administrative space to support sport and athlete development.
However, one month later, city staff suggested that tearing down the Coliseum and building a new facility on the site would be a more cost-effective option.
The city estimates the cost of demolishing the building at $8 million.
Rink opened in 1974
The arena on 118th Avenue opened in 1974 as the Northlands Coliseum. Over the next four decades it was known as the Edmonton Coliseum, Skyreach Centre and Rexall Place.
While playing at the arena, the Edmonton Oilers won five Stanley Cups over a decade.