Edmonton prospers in the new ICE Age

Edmonton after the ICE District.

Edmonton after the ICE District.

EDMONTON — Not that long ago, the land surrounding Edmonton's Rogers Place was a wasteland paved with parking lots. Now that space has be transformed into the ICE District. Steven Walton,

Steven Walton

director of sales and marketing for the JW Marriott Edmonton Downtown, talked to CLN about what the district means to the city and the role the hotel has to play in it.

Edmonton in 2013, before the ICE District.

Edmonton in 2013, before the ICE District.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Walton has seen the transformation of the city over the last 40-plus years. “This project takes it to the next level,” Walton said. “Four and a half years ago, we would be sitting on 26 acres of gravel and parking lot.” 

First came Rogers Place, which is now in its third season. The Edmonton Tower, one of two large office towers, was built within the area as well. With the arena came the downtown community arena and the Grand Villa Casino Edmonton, a 60,000 sq. ft. $32 million casino that opened in 2016. Then came the JW hotel — 55 storeys including 22 hotel floors and Legends Private Residences. The other large office tower, the Stantec Tower, which is the largest west of Toronto at 69 floors, came after that. 

Steven Walton

The CANADIAN ICEhouse and The Banquet are the latest additions to ICE District’s growing list of tenants. The two new eateries will be located in ICE District’s newest development, Block BG – formerly the Greyhound terminal site. Construction is expected to start in early 2020 and the public will be able to enjoy the new restaurant concepts in winter 2021.

“The Canadian ICEhouse, will have an Ice Lounge inside the restaurant itself, entirely made of ice,” said Walton. “Guests will be given  Canada Goose jackets, and they can even get their skates sharpened there.”

Across the road on the south corner will be a large city market with three restaurants, to be complete in 2021. In between the ICE District and the plaza will be three large multi-media towers, for a three-seasons space for outdoor concerts and festivals. There will be an outdoor skating rink and what Walton calls “our little miniature Rockefeller Center.” The goal is to get the public rink ready in time for the World International Hockey Championships that will take place in 2020-2021. Then by late 2021, the plaza will be completed.  That's ICE District 1.0, Walton said.

The Loblaws CityMarket.

The Loblaws CityMarket.

More will come for ICE District 2.0. When it is completed, ICE District will be the largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district in Canada and is already projecting an energy and feeling unlike anything Edmonton has seen before. ICE District is already delivering a new era of entertainment in the form of epic concerts, heart-stopping NHL and WHL hockey and world-class gaming and will soon feature boutique shopping, trendy dining and more. A humming public plaza with year-round programming will host events from festivals to public skating.

All of this is just steps from sophisticated residences, premium office spaces and the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District where the Archetype fitness club is located. Rogers Place was developed by Oilers Entertainment Group and the City of Edmonton. ICE District Properties, the mixed-use development surrounding Rogers Place and Ford Hall, is being developed through a joint venture between Katz Group and ONE Properties.

The ICE District effect has carried over to the rest of the city, Walton noted. “What I can see is buildings renovating outside of the city core,” said Walton. “There are two new office and residential towers. Major towers will be completely gutted, including HSBC, the Enbridge Tower and Hyatt Place.” 

In other words, the ICE District has been a catalyst for development in other areas of the city.

JW Marriott: The living room of the ICE District

Kindred, one of the restaurants at the JW Marriott Edmonton Downtown.

Kindred, one of the restaurants at the JW Marriott Edmonton Downtown.

Walton calls the JW “the living room of the ICE District.” Rogers Place hosted back-to-back concerts for Sir Elton John at the end of September, giving people a glimmer into that this hotel has to offer, he said. “We were sold out on Friday and Saturday, and it was all transient guests. They came in for the show, stayed at the hotel and enjoyed the restaurants and bar.”

Many properties attract business travellers and conferences during the week and leisure travellers on the weekend, with occupancy typically lower midweek. The JW attracts all three demographics — and if there's an event at Rogers Place, occupancy spikes. 

“We've thought through the bed mix,” Walton said. Most of the rooms are kings, but one third of the rooms have two queen beds. 

“The reaction to the hotel has been wonderful,” said Walton, adding that they have been selling the hotel since 2016. “We know there is large local interest and attention to the district itself, and the restaurant and lobby bar have been full since we opened.

Archetype Fitness Club at the JW Marriott Edmonton Downtown.

Archetype Fitness Club at the JW Marriott Edmonton Downtown.

“We're selling a modern, luxury brand in the Alberta market, and there are only three JWs in Canada.” The other two are the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and the JW Marriott Rosseau in Muskoka, Ont. “There were some growing pains selling that concept, as the hotel is very different from what luxury is seen to be in Alberta. Before, luxury meant the Fairmonts, beautiful historic hotels woven into the fabric of the city. People didn't understand how we could be priced similar to a Fairmont. But as people got to know the hotel, there were very profound moments of realization, people saying, 'Oh, I get it now.'

'We're selling luxury without pretentiousness; the JW is warm and approachable. We're not going to tell you what luxury is — you tell us because it is different for everybody, and it is different depending on whether you are travelling on business or with family.”

The JW offers guests with children a wagon with stuffed toys, a tent in the suite, books and puzzles made of chocolate. For pets, they offer a dog bed and treats from a local supplier. For the business traveller staying for 40 nights or more, they offer a “Secret Spot,” a little nook themed with Hockey Hall of Fame memorabilia.