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An illustration of the Edmonton Arena District. (EAD JV INC.)
An illustration of the Edmonton Arena District. (EAD JV INC.)

Dreams of a thriving new downtown Edmonton start to edge into reality Add to ...

The Globe’s Real Estate Beat offers news and analysis on the Canadian housing market. Read more on The Globe’s housing page

It takes a lot of imagination to picture roughly four million people hanging out in Edmonton’s downtown each year, all visiting in the name of entertainment. The dreams exist, the blueprints exist, but the buildings do not.

Negotiations are in their final stages. Diggers are digging. And Daryl Katz’s real estate ambitions are at skyscraper levels.

When the billionaire talks about his plans to revitalize Edmonton, he has lists of numbers. Lots of numbers. He rattles off the amount of money that will be poured into Alberta’s energy sector – the oil sands, refineries, pipelines – in order to back up numbers off a second list. That list is the one that requires creative thinking, and a lot of new buildings.

Mr. Katz calculates Edmonton’s new arena, dubbed Rogers Place, will be hit with 2.2 million visits annually, with people going there for Oilers’ games, rock concerts and other events. Rogers Place is the anchor of his Edmonton Arena District (EAD), but foot traffic to the district will extend beyond its doors.

The developers, led by Katz Group, expect annual visits to the cinemas to hit 750,000. The same goes for the planned casino. Both are included in the first phase of the project. This phase, Mr. Katz hopes, will be a huge draw for tourists and locals alike. If you really like it there, you can buy one of the proposed 1,000 residential units. (Boosters for the EAD point out that Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square only has 872 units).

Rogers Place is under construction, with people working on the second-level concourse. The ice surface has taken shape. You can almost see the Oilers shutting out the Calgary Flames when the arena opens in 2016. (Mr. Katz is the billionaire owner of the Oilers and the man behind Rexall pharmacies.)

Office workers will be milling in the plaza in just a few years. Work on the $500-million Stantec Inc. tower is under way, with room to host 3,000 workers when the doors open. The City of Edmonton’s $280-million building will house 2,500. Combined, the buildings contain 1.3 million square feet. Between 75 and 80 per cent of this space has been leased. Another 3,000 employees will work at Rogers Place.

Then there is the hotel. Mr. Katz and his 10-per-cent partner in the revitalization project, WAM Development Group, are in final negotiations with a hotel chain and expect to make an announcement in the coming weeks. Details are scarce, although the enthusiastic Mr. Katz promises it will be fancy and come with luxury residential suites.

The EAD is being built on ugly parking lots and on the space where a Staples big box store once stood. While the area will be serviced by Edmonton’s light rail system, there will still be plenty of places to park. The first phase of development calls for 3,000 underground parking spaces for the public and an additional 350 underground reserved spots at Rogers Place.

Put it all together and phase one will cost $2.6-billion and cover about seven of the district’s 10 hectares. Build it and they will come?

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Follow on Twitter: @CarrieTait

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