Very cool. This week, the new JW Marriott hotel will open next to Rogers Place. It’s one of the two new towers you see across 104 Avenue from the arena. It is the shorter of the two (the taller one slightly further south is the Stantec office tower). And the hotel is just one of three properties in Canada from Marriott’s most-prestigious brand, named from their founder, John Willard Marriott. Marriott bought a root beer stand in 1927 at age 27 and his first motel in 1957. When he died in 1985, he owned 1,400 restaurants and nearly 150 hotels. The coolest thing? Even Calgary doesn’t have a JW Marriott yet. The new hotel also helps prove I was wrong. I objected to city council committing hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to the new home of the Oilers. Some of the largest, most-expensive sports facilities in the world have been privately funded and succeeded. There was no reason to believe our arena needed public funding, either, in a hockey market as passionate as Edmonton, where residents are also committed to attending concerts and indoor rodeos and trade shows. The old Rexall (Northlands Coliseum), was among the 10 busiest event venues in North America. With a built-in revenue stream like that, plus a whole bunch of new corporate boxes and a host of premium seating and dining options, there was no reason to think the Oilers Entertainment Group couldn’t have covered the mortgage on their own. There still isn’t. But that argument is over. What I was wrong about was the impact of the Ice District development on downtown. I have maintained all along – and will continue to maintain – that the No. 1 thing that drives downtown revitalization is residential construction. It’s not giant public projects or truckloads of public cash. It’s not bike lanes or fanciful urban parks or even LRT from far-flung suburbs. It’s people living in the core. Most people shop, eat and recreate where they live. Period. Want a vibrant street life after office hours? Convince people to live downtown. It’s that simple (and that hard). Our administration and council have a “If you build it, they will come” mentality. I understand why they think that way; it puts them in control. They believe they have the wisdom to reshape our city. However, North America is littered with arenas and stadiums that have lifted up their immediate neighbourhoods, but at the expense of other neighbourhoods just beyond a ring of 1.5 to 2 km. They suck life out of other parts of their cities on game and concert nights, then sit like abandoned temples on “dark” nights. That may still be the case for the Ice District. Perhaps it will still prove to be lively only on event nights, dead the rest of the time. And there is no evidence yet that its vibe will ripple out as far as Oliver or Cromdale or even the city’s so-far underwhelming Quarters area. However, it really does look as if the Ice District is going to generate new economic activity in our city. Six years ago when administration and council were trying to convince Edmontonians that it was worth their while to plunk nearly $500 million down for a new arena, there were estimates the project would generate nearly 4,000 new jobs and add $1 billion to the city’s economy. Those remain gross exaggerations because the loss of business and jobs elsewhere in the city was not subtracted from the total. There were plenty of new residential condo towers going up or planned for downtown before the Ice District came along. But it does seem as though the buzz downtown is greater than the sum of business drained away from other parts of Edmonton. The Ice District should be a success.