Just before the vote on the downtown arena project at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel summarized the situation: "I think we need to be clear we have given administration directions that, if they meet these obligations, we've got a deal," he said.

But Mandel said more. And in there, somewhere, is the real, sad story.

In a city that on Thursday was awarded a $340-million downtown Royal Alberta Museum, to go with an $88-million Art Gallery of Alberta and a $112-million refurbishing of Commonwealth Stadium (with another $12 million, now before city council, to come for the long-overdue replacement of seats), the $450-million downtown arena and entertainment district project has been ugly and messy.

Mayor Mandel made that point.

"One of the things that's been lost in this whole discussion is a place called Edmonton.

"This is an opportunity for Edmonton, not just Mr. Katz and his hockey team.

"I wish we'd talk about this more as a redevelopment of our downtown, a vision for our downtown and an opportunity to see Edmonton as a place that can be very special," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime way we can build something very special."

Mandel said lost in the debate, too, was the fundamental need.

"What got lost in this whole process is that we do need a new arena, because you have a 37-year-old arena, which will be a 40-year-old arena which can't be fixed because of the way it was built. That's an important part of quality of life in cities in North America."

Throughout the process of choosing the wording and tone of the motion, Mandel kept urging council to "keep it friendly — that's the intent here."