After 3 terms in office, Stephen Mandel will not run again. And why would he? No one can say Mandel didn't have vision. I think he can be proud of leading Edmonton forward. Whether it was rapid LRT expansion, City Centre Airport lands, old community revitalization, affordable housing, or downtown revitalization, the big thing everyone will remember, his legacy, was his strong leadership in getting a deal done for the new downtown hockey arena district, which had final City Council approval last week.
The New ArenaWhether you like the arena deal or not, you must admit his dealings with the Katz Group, was politically astute. When the Katz Group asked for millions in annual money from the City, Mandel stood his ground, and it appeared at times that Mandel had the support of absolutely every voter in town. Edmontonians are resilient, strong citizens who don't like to be pushed around and Mandel seemed to personify that character when he called Katz's bluff.
My take on the arena is that we definitely do need a new one and downtown is the best place. We have the 2nd oldest arena in the NHL. The current Coliseum was not designed for concert sound and the concert sound is awful. The seats are too small. The upper bowl is almost dangerously steep. The concourse is way too narrow and again, dangerous. The food available is crap.
NeglectBut one thing he forgot... potholes. The city streets were atrocious this year. Visitors from Kazakhstan said their roads are better.
World Expo? After seeing the long-lasting effects it had on Vancouver until some actual long-term development actually happened, I thought was a futile bid. Maybe we should wait until we have the LRT in place around the city and the arena and museum are done. And maybe that gondola and funicular. Then we'll have some neat things to show off. Don't get me wrong, our River Valley is a gem and a jewel, but downtown is where the action is in regards to Expos.
So while seemingly pet-projects got the city administration's attention, Mandel lost touch with the citizens in our view that neglecting the basics was not appreciated enough.
My Voting HistoryA one-term Ward 1 (West) councillor, I voted for him then, running on a fiscal, community-oriented platform. When he ran against Mayor Bill Smith and Ward 3 Councillor Robert Noce, where many thought Noce would win, I voted for Mandel and he won. The next two times, I would not. Seeing city taxes continually go up in exchange for more potholes, it seemed Mandel lacked focus on getting the basics done. This prompted semi-serious challenges from conservative-type candidates, but none of them even came close. No councillors were stupid enough to go up against Mandel either.
It's no secret that Mandel is a Liberal and sometimes he made that clear depending on who he was attacking. At times though, he sounded whiny when begging for money from the feds or the provincial PCs.
Mandel's Vision - Downtown, Downtown, DowntownHowever, his third-term proved to me that he did have vision. Edmonton's taxes continually go up primarily because we are sprawling faster than most North American cities and the infrastructure to maintain that is massive on a relative population scale.
Mandel's vision was primarily on downtown revitalization. And rightfully so. When I see old photos of Jasper Avenue, it was packed with people! It was bustling. It was exciting. Transit, cars, people, shops, entertainment. But then we built more and more communities and roads outward and onward. All the while, we forgot downtown and downtown suffered.
As a resident and employee of downtown, I am happy to live, work, and play here. I've seen the rapid progress in the last 6 years as something to be very excited about. 104th Street especially and the more and more restaurants, stores, pubs that are popping up all around have brought people back downtown. The revamped Art Gallery, the new Royal Museum approval, and The Quarters district in East Downtown will all bring people here and visitors, especially on the business side, don't need to travel far to experience what the city has to offer. Also, with the airport gone, removing the height restrictions, much taller condominiums can and have now finally been built and that has had a massive impact on the downtown community as a whole. Plus the planned community for the now named Blatchford area on the airport lands is another thing to be very excited about. Picture recent grads and young families living and playing there and folks taking a short LRT ride to downtown to work.
And with LRT expansion going to happen to those areas, Millwoods, West End, Northwest, and continuing South and eventually to the International Airport it's going to be even easier to get downtown to work and play.
There are no downsides to a thriving downtown. Having a downtown that grows "up" massively decreases the need for more outlying infrastructure and thus never ending gross tax hikes. That's not to say taxes won't continually go up with at least inflation, but it reduces the potential burden. Not only that but the environmental impact to outlying farmland can be reduced, commuter traffic is reduced, etc., etc.
Mandel can be proud of this massive accomplishment. We're not done yet, we never are, but he certainly set the direction for Edmonton and area to be placed for greatness in years to come.
Whomever fills his shoes will be best suited not to tamper with that vision that Edmontonians have become accustomed to. I think now, however, we need to get back to some basics while all these projects kick off. Let's be smart. And I'd be happy with any one of these Councillors: Kerry Diotte (already declared), Don Iveson, or Karen Liebovici.
Thank you, Mr. Mandel and best of luck in your future endeavours.