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'Digging a deeper hole': Councillor wants Coliseum demolished as cost balloons to roughly $35M

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It was heaven for hockey fans in orange and blue for more than four decades, but for nearly five years the old Coliseum has resulted in nothing but red on Edmonton's budget.

While the building sits empty, the city confirms Edmonton taxpayers are spending more than $1 million every year to "maintain" the "dark" facility.

At least one councillor feels now is the time, despite tight city finances, to pay the hefty demolition bill for the former home of the Oilers.

"By doing nothing, we’re actually digging a deeper hole," Ward Metis Coun. Ashley Salvador said Tuesday.

"I would describe it as an eyesore. You know, it’s a burden and a blight on the neighbourhood and it has been for a really long time."

The Oilers and Oil Kings left for Rogers Place in 2016. The city took the building over in 2018.

City budget documents state it'll cost about $35 million to remove the old arena, up from an initial estimate of $12 million.

While city staff list the demolition as "not recommended for funding" in the next four years, Salvador is urging action now to save future bills.

"I hope that my colleagues will be able to see that this is, yeah, just the financially prudent thing to do," she said.

OTHER IDEAS HAVE FLOPPED

There have been pitches to repurpose the nearly 50-year-old building that was more recently called Rexall Place, but all have faded away.

Hockey Canada proposed an academy and four community rinks in 2017. There was a vision to transform the Coliseum into apartments in 2018.

And in 2020, a group that included former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel wanted to turn the mothballed arena into a centre for local sports including basketball, volleyball and track.

Mandel told CTV News Edmonton Tuesday that he still thinks the Coliseum is worth saving but "it seems no one else at the city agrees."

The former mayor fears the $35 million demolition estimate from 2019 is much higher now. He also suspects there's little interest in redeveloping the land.

Still, Mandel feels he's done all he could do to make the building an asset rather than a pile of rubble.

Part of what makes it difficult to repurpose the Coliseum is a legal agreement between Oilers owner Daryl Katz and the city that says the Coliseum will not compete with Rogers Place

EXHIBITION LANDS

Indecision also comes with a cost in this case and it's taxpayers covering the roughly $3,400 a day in maintenance fees.

Ward Sspomitapi Coun. Jo-Anne Wright figures that price will rise this winter because of high utility bills.

"I know that for a lot of people, it does have that special meaning for them. But I think there’s much better use that we can make of that property," Wright told CTV News Edmonton.

The city still has long-term plans to turn the former Northlands site into everything from green space to houses to light industrial in a project called Edmonton Exhibition Lands.

"People are ultimately excited by the end vision of a walkable, mixed-use transit-oriented, complete community in a central core neighbourhood. But again, they recognize that the Coliseum needs to go, in order to ultimately realize that vision," Salvador said.

Budget talks resume at Edmonton City Hall on Wednesday, where councillors are trying to squeeze a number of projects and initiatives in while keeping a property tax increase near four per cent.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson

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