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Mailbag: It's Funny How You Never Admit You're Wrong

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@Stantec

This morning when I opened my email I found a new message with a subject line that immediately caught my eye, "When Will You Admit That You're Wrong?" Since all of the words were spelled correctly and the email didn't seem to indicate that I'd won a Nigerian lottery or was being sold generic Viagra I decided to give it a read. It turns out that the sender thinks that I'm wrong about the arena and decided that the yesterday's announcement of a 62-storey building planned for the arena district was as a good time as any to let me know about this.

Before I get to the email itself I feel like I should explain that, honestly, I wasn't sure if I should respond to this email on this site or just to the sender. I had avoided (as best I could) arena related tweets yesterday in the wake of the announcement for the exact same reason: I'm not sure it serves a purpose anymore. In the end though I decided that this likely won't be the last email or tweet I receive along the same lines, and sooner or later I'm going to respond, might as well do it now.

From James:

Ryan,

You always have something to say, it’s funny how you never admit you’re wrong though. Take the arena announcement today, the Stantec building, there’s the development that you never said would happen, and look at that it happened just like everyone expected. And what do you do? A couple tweets and no mention of how wrong you were.

This is a project that made too much sense not to pursue and for some reason you felt the need to crap all over it at every turn. Maybe you’re an idiot, maybe you’re just jealous of a successful businessman like Katz, I don’t know, but I can tell you that if you ever want to be taken seriously that you’ll admit that you were wrong about this project.

James

Thank you for the email, James. I appreciate that you took the time to write to me, unfortunately I think you may have misunderstood what my issues with this project are.

I really don't think I ever said that there would be no development in the area surrounding the arena. What I said is that an arena should be viewed as a magic bullet that will make development happen just by its mere presence. There are reports dating back to the mid 1980s that detail the limited economic impact of sports stadiums. I didn't, and still don't, think it wise to ignore what has happened with other projects like this that have been undertaken in other cities around North America.

That's not to say that the arena won't have a impact on Edmonton's downtown, it most certainly will, but having lived downtown for a number of years, my opinion is that the arena will do little more than accelerate what would have happened anyway. For example, with or without the arena I think Stantec would have looked to consolidate their offices into a single location at some point. Would that have been as the anchor tenant in a 62-storey building set to open in 2018? It might not have been, but something would have happened, the arena project likely just accelerated it.

What all of this comes down to is how I view the allocation of the risk and the reward in this project. From where I sit Katz got a great deal, good for him he's a businessman and he should try to make every project he takes on as profitable as possible. I'm not jealous of him in the slightest though, in fact he's almost irrelevant to my final evaluation of the project. What I ask myself is "Is this a good deal for Edmonton?" I don't think it is and I'm not the only person who thinks this way.

Really though, it's a matter of opinion. You can think that "this is a project that makes too much sense not to pursue." And I can look at the economics, flaws in the funding model, and even whether or not it's the city's problem in the first place, and reach a completely different conclusion. I don't know that this makes either of us wrong, just that we disagree. And even if things work out better than the biggest arena supporter could have hoped for I will look at the risk in much the same way. Think of it like hitting on 20, even if you draw an ace it doesn't change the risk associated with hitting in the first place.

So James, I wasn't avoiding saying that I was wrong, I don't think that I am wrong.