An entrepreneurial city hall

I can’t wait to see the GO Centre this Saturday, Edmonton’s latest recreation facility.  It sounds remarkable – three huge gymnasiums that can be 12 full size basketball courts or 25 volleyball courts.  And a gym for the gymnasts.  It is both a facility for the U of A teams and a community centre. And unlike most recreational capital projects in cities, it came in on budget.  And the price tag was only $38 million.

The funds for the GO Centre are from federal, provincial and city governments. $4 million in private donations were also made by individuals, businesses and community partners.[1] The donations are not what are unique about this project – it is the entrepreneurial spirit within Edmonton that is worth noticing.  One of the two usual suspects –  the City of Edmonton or the University of Alberta – could have built the facility with $4 million dollars in sponsorship.  But what happened here reveals so much more of Edmonton’s creative entrepreneurial spirit.

The sports of volleyball, gymnastics and basketball came together as an unusual partnership: the Edmonton Grads Club, Ortona Gymnastics Club, Edmonton Volleyball Centre Society and the University of Alberta.  As a partnership, they declare that the GO Centre project “harnesses the talents and energy of all partners to address critical issues and to create a prime venue for growth and expansion of recreation and sports opportunities for all people in the Region.”[2] They organize

d themselves to meet the needs of their organizations, their sport communities, the University community and the wider community.

What I appreciate about this project is that the handful of Edmontonians needed to get the project underway stepped up to do it, and chose to look after their own organizations needs, but also that of the larger community[3].  Federal, provincial and city government supported their work.  The GO Centre builds on the City’s Recreation Master Plan and delivers on a trend toward multi-purpose facilities with versatile and flexible spaces.  They take it a step forward and build a facility for sports that are underrepresented.  They are thinking beyond traditional boundaries of partnership: the U of A is served, the community is served, the Edmonton Capital Region is served.

In all of this, I find myself curious about the role of City Hall in this entrepreneurial spirit.  At a minimum , the City is responsible for the basic infrastructure on which we build our city.  The roads to get places, the pipes to move water and wastewater, the waste we generate.  On this we build our city – and our recreation facilities.  In addition, the City brings rules and regulations for what we build and where, and ensure that the minimum standards for construction meet safety and construction standards through the permitting and building inspection processes.  The City provides emergency support in policing and fire protection.  All of this, in the strictest sense, is a service not performed by others in community.  For the provision of these services, the word ‘entrepreneurship’ in City Hall is not about competition, but finding the balance between creativity and efficiency in the delivery of these services.  Outside these service areas, however, entrepreneurship takes on a different meaning.

Case in point – recreation facilities.  The City builds and operates recreational facilities, but unlike the service areas noted above, other players also provide facilities and programs.  The city is a player among many.  That immediately conjures a picture of these players in competition with each other.  But the GO Centre illustrates that that is not what is happening.  Entrepreneurship in this case is big scale collaboration to work in new ways to build what really needs to be built.  Multi-sport facilities already exist for hockey, swimming, indoor soccer (Tri-Leisure Centre, Millenium Place, Terwilligar).  The GO Centre meets a whole new need and compliments the facilities that are already in place.

City Hall could have fought this, with hurt feelings that others are stepping on its feet as a recreation service provider.  The City could have insisted that its role is to build such facilities and missed the opportunity for the community to meet its own needs.

In the end, entrepreneurship at City Hall doesn’t quite mean that it gets more business like.  It means that it recalibrates its authority to make more room for partnerships.  An entrepreneurial City Hall will:

  1. Acknowledge that it is not all things to all people
  2. Recognize that the city knows what it needs
  3. Support partnerships that enable the needs of the community to be met
  4. Provide infrastructure to support the initiatives
  5. Establish (and enforcing) the rules that ensure what we build meets our collective standards.

An entrepreneurial city hall is one that makes room for the city’s creativity – the ultimate entrepreneurship.



For readers interested in Spiral Dynamics integral: The GO Centre partnership is an ORANGE initiative.  To do more of this kind of work, City Hall will have to recalibrate its BLUEness.  It doesn’t lose its BLUEness, but adjusts its focus to provide the structure needed for the city’s entrepreneurial ORANGE spirit to emerge more fully.  What would BLUE in service to ORANGE really look like?
The GO Centre’s ORANGE flavor is also interesting because it fully intends to deliver on PURPLE and RED threads by building community and providing a healthy place for competition and sport.

[1] Scott Hennig, “Partnership, not taxes, the way to GO,” Edmonton Journal, p, A21, September 29, 2011.


[3] Current board members:

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