ICE ICE DISTRICT (PLAZA)
Editors note: This blog post was written by Andrew Olsen, our newest hire at Eins. We are very excited to open up our blog space to employees and friends to explore and share topics that are important and interesting to them. Hope you enjoy Andrew’s first post.
We are massive Oilers fans at Eins Consulting, so it seems only natural to discuss the home of the Edmonton Oilers, the ICE District. The ICE District has always been a development that has been close to my heart as it was the project that got me interested in urban planning and I have had the pleasure of watching it grow and develop throughout the years. With the 2022-2023 hockey season upon us and the ICE District Plaza officially open, now seems like a good time to explore what’s new in the ICE District Plaza and what is still to come.
The ICE District Plaza was probably the part of the ICE District I was most excited about as the lack of things to do before and after an event at Northlands Coliseum was what bothered me the most about the venue. For years I envied other cities arena districts and dreamt about having a proper arena district in Edmonton. Other cities I visited like Baltimore, Glendale, Toronto and Los Angeles all had interesting and exciting arena districts complete with plenty of food and entertainment options within walking distance of their respective arenas. The ICE District Plaza is the heart of the district and will provide what I have been wishing for after all these years, a pedestrian-friendly district where people can gather after an event at Rogers Place and a place that can provide unique entertainment and dining options in downtown Edmonton.
Two new bars/restaurants opened in the ICE District Plaza over the weekend and should provide interesting food/entertainment options for those spending time in the ever-developing ICE District, I’m sure both were packed with Oilers fans needing some positivity after losing to the Flames. The Canadian Icehouse is a new concept from The Canadian Brewhouse and is the first and only location in Canada. There are several features of the Icehouse that differentiate it from its Canadian Brewhouse relative. The Iceroom is a unique concept that offers vodka tasting in a -35-degree room. The cold temperature is supposed to enhance the taste of the vodka as it retains the purity of the product. It combines two things I strongly dislike, vodka, and cold temperatures, so I probably won’t be rushing out to try this anytime soon, but it’s still a very cool addition to the Ice District and offers a unique experience to those spending time in the district. The Canadian Icehouse also offers Rapid Shot Hockey which allows guests to practice their hockey shooting skills, and a Batting Cage attraction which is coming in 2023 which will offer baseball themed fun to guests.
The second new restaurant/ bar is called The Banquet and was the business that I was the most excited about in the plaza as it looked like something that would be completely unique to The ICE District. However, after a quick google search, I found that there were already locations in both Calgary and Fort McMurray. Still, it’s a relatively unique concept and is the first one to open in Edmonton, so I imagine it will be a popular place for those visiting the ICE District for years to come. I got the chance to visit The Banquet after an Oilers game recently and while I didn’t try out any of the games it was still a cool spot with a great atmosphere. My favourite parts being the indoor string lights, and the deceptively real looking fake trees and plants inside.
An Oilers Team Store, named “ICE District Authentics” was also recently opened over the summer this year and was a perfect addition to the ICE District in my opinion. There was a Oilers Team Store before but it was located directly in Rogers Place and was only open during Oiler Games. I always enjoy visiting the team stores in the many arena districts I have visited so this will be a popular spot for both tourists and Edmontonians alike. The store offers a wide selection of Oilers merchandise, most of which seems exclusive to the store which will help keep people coming back. My favourite part of the store is the section behind the doors from Rexall Place that the Oilers walked out of where game-used Oilers equipment is bought and sold.
The plaza itself felt very incomplete up until recently. Over the summer, some high tables and chairs were placed throughout the plaza, which became the go-to lunch spot for me and many others. I love this addition as it encourages the plaza to be used year-round and not just before and after events and games. In the winter months, the plaza will become a skating rink which is a great way to activate the space during the months of the year when the plaza would be underutilized.
While I am impressed overall with the ICE District Plaza, there are a few things I am disappointed with. There is an abundance of banks located in street-level retail bays directly in the ICE District Plaza. While there are a large amount of people living and working in the ICE district that these banks will serve, I can’t help but think it was a missed opportunity for something more exciting to go into these spaces and place the banks just outside the plaza. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I doubt many people walking are into an arena district with the intention of getting some banking done. While I find this disappointing, those living in the Stantec or J.W Marriot towers will likely find these banks convenient, even in the age of online banking. There is still some vacant retail space that could be used for more exciting commercial uses so I am optimistic that the right mix of uses in this plaza can be achieved.
The other major concern I have with the ICE District is the scaffolding that you are greeted by when entering the plaza off 103rd Street and it has surrounded the Stantec Tower for quite some time now. Something tells me this is here to stay for a while as the scaffolding was put up over safety concerns of panels falling off the Stantec Tower. Someone will have to sign off on removing the scaffolding coming down and I’m not sure what needs to be done to ensure that it is safe to take it down, but it will likely be a lengthy process that involves a lot of lawyers. The scaffolding has caused Rexall to temporarily close their store meaning there is another vacant retail bay at street-level in the ICE District Plaza and overall, the scaffolding is just an eyesore that makes the plaza look unfinished.
In my opinion, while still unfinished, the ICE District succeeded in helping revitalize Edmonton’s downtown and an area of downtown that was previously heavily underutilized. After watching it grow and develop over the last number of years, it’s exciting seeing the district start to feel finished even though it is still growing and developing. As an Edmontonian, I now have somewhere that draws me into downtown outside of work and I can proudly show off the ICE District to my relatives from out of town. I know after years of waiting for the plaza to open, I will continue to visit often year-round and experience everything the plaza has to offer and hope many of you do the same.