Northlands’ new vision Proposed changes are both innovative and risky

The clock is ticking to determine the future of the aging hockey arena and the entire Northlands site.

Northlands’ proposed Vision 2020 strategy for its 160-acre “campus” is a huge gamble. On one hand, it’s a $165-million-dollar “re-creation of recreation,” marked by massive changes to its three main venues. On the other is the spectre of a derelict site inspiring falling housing values and increased crime.

“We don’t want Vision 2020 to be an all-or-nothing strategy, but we also don’t want Northlands to be the next not-for-profit society that is $20-million-dollars in the hole and no way to pay it back,” President and CEO Tim Reid told community league members in February.

“The last area structure plan was in 1983. We have two possible strategic outcomes this time around. We can close Northlands down, or we can restructure. By October of this year, the decision will be made with the City of Edmonton whether to go with Vision 2020 or not.”

The plan targets three areas of the site.

Rexall Place becomes Northlands Ice Coliseum, with seven new ice sheets on two levels opening in 2019.

“The neighborhood will suffer if Rexall Place is left unattended,” said Reid. “Edmonton could become the hockey tournament capital of Canada. We could host other indoor events, including soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse.”

The Expo Centre’s Hall D will be renovated to house a 5,000-seat venue for sports and concerts. A high-end hotel will be included. Both Expo Centre and the Ice Coliseum would include more dining and shopping.

Horse racing and perhaps the casino are on the way out. In their place is Northlands Urban Festival Site, a large park able to host massive-scale concerts, midways, festivals, and rodeos. The site will also be open to the public for sports, picnics, and other gatherings.

An updated agricultural strategy is in the works and may include a farmers market and a craft brewery.

Residential development can also result on the Northlands site and adjacent vacant land. A high-rise student residence for Concordia University is a possible starting point.

“Vision 2020 gives us a great start at keeping the existing infrastructure,” observed Eastwood Community League president Tish Prouse. “It gives me an idea how change will impact my life and our children’s lives. The concept invests more strength into our neighborhoods.”

Deborah Rose, CEO of DECSA, sees the proposal as an opportunity to create employment. DECSA provides employment, education, and training to Albertans with barriers and disabilities. “The changes will also alter the perception of the rest of the city to northeast Edmonton. Vision 2020 is innovative and risky. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could have succeeded,” said Rose.

“Most will see Vision 2020 as a positive thing,” said Dan Rietveld, vice-president of Highlands Community League. “We can use this as an opportunity to get our area back into the conversation.”

“I think our team has done a brilliant job of giving Northlands’ neighbours something to talk about,” concluded Reid.

Northlands will present Vision 2020 to city council on March 17.

Give feedback through a survey at northlands.com/vision2020/survey.

Constance’s writing and editing career spans more than 40 years. She lives in Parkdale-Cromdale.

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