Opening day of the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District hotel on 102 Street downtown. Photos of the presidential suite and the health club called Archetype on August 1, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / PostmediaShaughn Butts / Postmedia

In the JW Marriott Lobby Bar, the ice cubes are infused with flavours … and hand-carved before being dunked into a fancy cocktail. “It elevates the visual appeal,” says bar manager Kyle Stefanato.

This is not a column about ice cubes. This is a column about the economic impact the brand-new, just-opened, top-of-the-line  JW Marriott Hotel, its 346 rooms, two signature eateries, two beautiful lounges and the fanciest gym you have ever seen, will have on the downtown ICE District and on the city as a whole.

The  hand-carved ice cubes are symbolic, a shining example of what the highest of high-end  hospitality is all about.

The most immediate economic impact of the new hotel is the likelihood, the near certainty, that Edmonton will land more high-end conventions.

Why do we want more high-end conventions? Because when 3,000 to 6,000 delegates come to town, they spend like there’s no tomorrow. Before and after their convention, they are dishing out dollars as tourists.

Between the Convention and Expo centres, Edmonton has plenty of delegate meeting space. The problem, up to now, has been high-end hotel rooms to accommodate those delegates looking for quality without caring much about cost.

The historic Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is beautiful and elegant, but it’s a small hotel.

Opening day of the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District hotel on 102 Street downtown. The hotel lobby on August 1, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia Shaughn Butts /00087980A

Before, we couldn’t come close to Calgary in the availability of high-end hotel rooms. Now, with the JW Marriott, we can. First up is the International Triathlon Grand Final in August 2020 — needing 3,000 hotel rooms per night.

Convention planners emphasize destination amenities. Are there shopping and beautiful spaces, things to do, places to gather within walking distance of hotel and convention space?

“The JW Marriott is an attraction unto itself,” says Edmonton hotel consultant David Keam. “It’s not another generic box hotel. It’s different, shiny, beautiful.”

In about 10 months, the main components of the Ice District’s first phase — its central plaza, skating rink and other attractions — will be complete and will surprise Edmontonians and visitors alike with its vibrancy.  The main entrance of Rogers Place — not yet open — borders the plaza on its north side.

The plaza will be criss crossed by those living in the 261 Legends condos above the JW Marriott, those in the 483 Sky condos above the Stantec office tower.  Plus all the other urban dwellers living in the 10-plus new condo towers around the ICE District.

Rogers Place itself is key, filling the Ice District, for sure, before and after Oilers home games.

Then there’s arena events. “The number of non-hockey events is important,” says JW Marriott sales manager Steve Walton. Out-of-town concertgoers will be attracted not only by the rock band’s concert or Cirque de Soleil, but by the attraction of a mini-holiday out on the newly-happening Edmonton downtown, enjoying the downtown vibe of the ICE District, the neighbouring Arts District, a walk in the river valley, staying at the JW Marriott as a special treat, working out or being pampered in the “elevated fitness experience” of the ultra-fancy Archetype gymnasium and spa.

Opening day of the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District hotel on 102 Street downtown. Photos of the presidential suite and the health club called Archetype on August 1, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia Shaughn Butts / Postmedia

But what’s in it for so many Edmontonians, the vast majority, in fact, who can’t afford all this swish stuff?

Jobs: Thousands of new jobs in the hospitality and nearby retail sectors.

Pride of place: The ICE District will be a grown-up West Edmonton Mall — you’ll be taking your out-of-town visitors down to wander around the district, especially during big events. When the Oilers return to the playoffs, the ICE District is going to be a hoot-and-a-half.

Tourism dollars: With the city reaching a critical mass of attractions and the razzle-dazzle ICE District (and West Edmonton Mall) busloads of American, Chinese and Korean, even Eastern Canadian tourists will show up, before or after they head to Banff or Jasper.

Overall elevation:  The other downtown hotels will have to up their game. That’s what competition is all about.

You’ll enjoy the ICE District. You’ll decide to treat yourself to a fancy cocktail at the JW Marriott’s Lobby Bar. You might even check in as part of a special night on the town.

The fact of the matter: The JW Marriott, Rogers Place and the ICE District represent a coming of age for Edmonton. Coupled up with West Edmonton Mall and Fort Edmonton Park’s future Indigenous Experience, our vibrant arts, the river valley — our city is becoming worthy of mention in the same breath as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Are we becoming less dependent on oil and gas?

It’s a long overdue, and most welcome evolution of our city. Thank you, Daryl Katz.