Was anyone really surprised by the Katz Group’s announcement that it was going ahead with planning for a downtown arena? I suspect not.

The development of an arena cum entertainment complex replete with retail stores and student housing looks like just the thing for helping punt Edmonton’s downtown into the 21st century.

Revitalizing the downtown has been the mantra of every mayor for the past 20 years.

Developing the space around the Baccarat Casino would certainly improve the look and feel of an area that is a major contributor to Edmonton’s urban blight. I also think it would kick-start further development in the area.

However, we must remember that this is Edmonton, a city with a long history of doing exactly the wrong thing, especially when it concerns the downtown. Examples of what I am talking about are easy to find. Sir Winston Churchill Park is a case in point. A lot of tax money went into removing trees and grass and replacing them with soulless concrete. This is the city that let a suburban shopping mall be placed in the centre of downtown.

Our municipal mavens also thought the ugly planters that divide Jasper Avenue were a good idea. Examples of architecture that wouldn’t be out of place in a “how not to design a building” manual abound in Edmonton, all of which were approved by City Hall.

But maybe now things will be different. Maybe we can mandate a downtown arena that’s a signature building with real architectural merit. We have a mayor that has said he doesn’t want to see any more crappy architecture in the downtown. That would appear to be a good sign.

However, when you look at the aluminum cladding that was added to the addition on the old Bay building, one has to wonder if that statement is anything more than just words.

For the record, I support a downtown arena. The more reasons for people to come to the downtown the better. However, I don’t support developing an arena that will end up being the focal point of a parking lot. I’d rather look at the Baccarat Casino than thousands of square metres of pavement.

If it is decided that this plan should get the city’s seal of approval, it should come with all kinds of development standards that ensure it is truly an asset to the downtown.