Reason #94 of '101 Reasons Why I Heart Edmonton'

Ice District

By Emil Tiedemann

I spent a brief time in Toronto in 2005, and would head downtown each day I spent there. It was full of people everywhere, browsing around in shops, sipping on wine and chugging beer in the pubs; busy hot dog stands were on every corner, Chinatown poured out into the sidewalks, buskers performed in the streets, gray-haired men played chess in the parks, City Hall brimmed with crowds, and outside diners shared the concrete walkways with tourists and their expendable cash. That’s what I wanted for my city. For our city. 

In 2010, as the lengthy debate over whether or not Edmonton should fund the proposed downtown arena project was heating up, I penned an article highlighting all of the reasons why we did, in fact, need it! 

“So much uninhabited space, unused infrastructure, ignored charm in such a large portion of a region that is supposed to be the hub of a metro,” I wrote about the state of our downtown in 2010. “This absence of activity is not only off-putting, but triggers reluctance in new ventures to set up shop in the area, which could also help explain the closure of some downtown businesses.” 

It seemed, at the time, as though there was nothing but naysayers who concentrated on finding reasons not to build the new arena, focusing in on the rising costs of construction. I remember writing about how desolate the area was during the evenings and weekdays, and that in no way was it the vital hub a downtown core is supposed to be, though something like the arena district would spark revitalization in the region. And it did! 

What has now become known simply as Ice District is far beyond just the arena and the new home of the Oilers. It is Canada’s largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district, spanning 25 acres in the heart of the city. It is a $2.5 billion development plan that has snowballed into numerous other billion-dollar area projects for work, for living, and for play. 
It is a destination for everyone, and a symbol of prosperity and sustainability that will carry Edmonton well into the future. 

But what is it, exactly?! Well, Ice District is anchored by the 18,500-seat Rogers Place arena, surrounded by a pair of office towers, luxurious high rise condos, a four-star JW Marriott hotel, an LRT & bus station, a community ice rink, and the 50,000-square foot public plaza that will include a movie theatre, casino, grocery market, fitness centre, restaurants, shops, cafes, public art, and of course the Winter Garden pedway. 

Just as important as the District itself, further development in downtown Edmonton ignited, and at times, we had the fastest-growing downtown on the continent! Ice District transformed what our inner city was and what Edmonton as a whole had settled for. It allowed our humble town to grow into itself and into that potential that I always knew we had. All it needed was that spark. #icedistrict


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