Daryl Katz came as close Saturday as he ever will to admitting he acted like a jerk when he made a public display of visiting Seattle after a tiff with Edmonton city council over a new arena.
When council did not immediately open its wallet when the Edmonton Oilers owner demanded more public money for the $450-million downtown arena, even though he agreed months ago on how the project was going to be financed, he hit the road for Seattle. With executives from the Oilers and his development company, the Katz Group, in tow along with Edmonton icon Wayne Gretzky, Katz toured Seattle’s old arena on the same day that city approved a plan for a new $490-million (U.S.) arena it hopes will eventually house NBA and NHL franchises.
It was the usual move for an NHL owner who is trying to squeeze a sweetheart deal for a new playpen out of the local politicians. It also didn’t fool Edmonton hockey fans, who soundly booed Katz on the talk shows and various other media.
Gretzky also came under fire for appearing to be either a willing dupe for Katz or a callous turncoat to the first NHL fans who worshipped him. He beat Katz to the half-hearted explanation, although he turned to a Toronto radio station to lamely say he was just in Seattle because his Oiler buddies invited him to an NFL game later that night.
Katz finally got around to a sort of apology on Saturday when he bought ads in the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun to run a public letter to the fans. Well, I guess I acted like a jerk, the letter said, but it was only because city council made me do it.
“I was upset when certain confidential information was leaked and by comments that I thought were unfair and called my integrity into question,” Katz wrote in the letter. “I reacted by trying to send a message to city leaders that they should not take my support for a new arena for granted.
“In doing so, I took for granted your support and your love of the Oilers.
“That was wrong and I apologize.”
Katz met with administrators from the city of Edmonton on Thursday to get negotiations for a final agreement on the 18,500-seat arena started again. They broke down when Katz, after dithering for months, finally demanded more money. He wanted $6-million annually to pay the arena operating costs and a licence to operate a casino among other things. He also said the cost of the project was now $475-million.
Originally, the Katz Group was to pay $100-million with the city paying $125-million and another $125-million coming from a surcharge on tickets. Both Katz and the Edmonton politicians are hoping the province will cover the remaining $100-million.
Katz is to get the arena rent-free along with all the revenue from tickets, concessions and parking while he pays the operating expenses. There will also be real-estate development opportunities for the Katz Group.
In his public letter, Katz says he will continue to work on a “win-win agreement” with the city administrators. Presumably the double-win reference is to himself and the Oilers.