By Ron Bernthal
On August 1, 2019, when Marriott International announced the opening of the highly anticipated 346-room JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District Hotel & Residences, in the heart of the city, it was almost 80 degrees downtown, so why the ‘all-caps’ ICE in the hotel’s name, and omnipresent in all the district’s signage?
Edmonton’s relatively new ICE District may be named after the city’s winter weather, many locals actually enjoy the often below-zero winter nights, but most likely ICE has to do with the Edmonton Oilers, the city’s revered National Hockey League team, and Rogers Place, the team’s ice hockey home arena and entertainment complex that opened downtown in 2016. Rogers Place is also physically connected to the new JW Marriott’s ICE District Hotel. Ironically, despite the use of the word ICE, both venues are currently the “hottest” destinations in Edmonton’s revitalized center city neighborhoods. (For non-Canadians reading this review, Rogers Place is named after Rogers Communications, a major Canadian communications and media company)
Ice hockey to Edmonton is what soccer is to Rio, or rugby to Auckland. Attendance at Oilers’ games averages 100% every season, so when the Oilers’ moved the team from its former, somewhat isolated, suburban ice hockey arena to the new downtown venue, followed by the opening of the 55-story JW Marriott Hotel and its next-door neighbor, the mixed-use, 60-story Stantec Tower (the tallest Canadian building West of Toronto), the stage was set for the ICE District to begin attracting not only local residents, but healthy increases in domestic and international visitors as well.
“Over the years, I have watched the ICE District come alive and I am proud of the hockey community that has embraced it,” said Wayne Gretzky, a Hall of Fame NHL player who starred for the Oilers from 1979-1988, and continues with the team as a front office executive. “Edmonton carries a proud hockey history and this sport has truly become a cultural benchmark for the city.”
I arrive at the hotel on a late, mid-week afternoon, after driving through the flat and expansive landscape from the airport, 18 miles from downtown. A treeless, Sienna-colored, wind-blown terrain stretches for hundreds of miles from Edmonton in all directions, with cattle ranches and vast farms giving way to suburban malls, housing developments, office parks and, finally, the gleaming glass skyscrapers and green river valley of downtown Edmonton. The large Alberta sky is mesmerizing.
At 5:00 p.m. the hotel’s busy lobby is the first indication that the new property is attracting both local office workers, fancy-suited business travelers and leisure visitors wearing hockey jerseys and Bermuda shorts. The crowd is drinking and snacking at the popular Lobby Bar. With its high ceiling, comfortable furniture and large marble bar, the area is sleek and modern, casual and sophisticated. During the evenings of my visit a DJ or live band will keep the “party” going strong until last call. On the “plaza” side of the lobby, just behind the glass windows, an outdoor skating rink was nearing completion, to be re-purposed as an outdoor extension of the Lobby Bar during the short but sweet summer months.
I make my way to the check-in desk, located in front of a lovely “green” wall in a quiet corner of the lobby, and was in my room within a few minutes. All 346 guest rooms at the new JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District are decorated with three iconic works of art — a framed, multi-panel work of oil rigs on the Alberta prairie, from Crow Design, created with gold leaf on black paper, each panel hand rubbed, and two small sculptures that symbolize the “fire, ice and snow” design concept of the hotel.
The wall-to-wall carpeting is in nice, muted colors, and a 55” Samsung Smart TV offers many Canadian, American and international programming. A beautiful “distressed” wood bench sits at the foot of the bed, and the room contains a comfortable couch as well. Large windows overlook ICE District streets, Rogers Place, and into the windows of the Stantec Tower. Like several other North American cold-weather cities, many of Edmonton’s downtown buildings are physically connected to each other via the city’s 2ndfloor, glass-enclosed, Pedway bridge system.
There is lots to explore within the hotel property. I enjoyed visiting Archetype, a cutting-edge health and fitness club that shares the 20,000 square-foot 5thfloor duplex space with The Spa by JW. Occupying the space’s lower level, Archetype would be unique even without all the brand- new equipment, including Sorinex rig systems, Keiser compressed air technology, Woodway treadmills, ICG 7 spin bikes and a high-end Somadome meditation pod. There are also numerous rooms for group yoga, boxing, spin and HIIT style classes. The fitness equipment is so high-tech, and the workout spaces so large, that the facility has been organizing fitness visits from Edmonton Oiler players as well as visiting NHL teams that have time in their schedule.
The Spa by JW is located in a quiet area above Archetype, accessed by a private interior stairway. It is Edmonton’s only full-service luxury hotel spa, offering many types of facial and body treatments and massages in five treatment rooms, some with private, outdoor balconies. Sauna, steam rooms and a beautiful indoor swimming pool are also within the Spa by JW facility. Both the Spa and Archetype are open to hotel guests and Edmontonians with club memberships.
Guests at the JW Marriott Edmonton have access to four restaurants and bars, including Braven, a high-end dining destination offering Alberta-sourced steaks and fresh seafood flown in daily; Kindred Food + Drink is an all-day eatery focusing on locally sourced, seasonal cuisine; Alchemy is a cocktail bar, with the look of a speakeasy, and with access to its own outdoor patio; and the Lobby Bar is a food and drink venue for business and social gatherings.
I also checked out the hotel’s meeting and conference space, which includes the Wayne Gretzky Ballroom, the city’s largest all-event, high-tech ballroom. In addition to Wayne Gretzky, all the 3rdfloor meeting rooms are named after former Edmonton Oilers players, including the Jari Kurri Ballroom, the Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Sather and Mark Messier meeting rooms.
Dialog, the Canadian firm that designed much of the hotel’s interior spaces, says that the concept of “fire, ice and snow” influenced the design of the hotel. The company’s promotional materials describe how the concept was incorporated into the hotel’s interior design by stating that “icy-blue marble floors juxtapose against towering vertical elements highlighted in glowing metal. Carpets emulate snow drifting across ice. On the walls, mica white pops against glimmering metal screens. Natural materials and neutral textiles provide depth and texture throughout the public spaces, while subdued Oilers’ blue and orange are used as accent colors, sure to make the hotel a hit among the city’s adoring sports fans.”
When fully completed the ICE District will be the largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district in Canada, and already offers major concerts, NHL and WHL hockey, casino gaming, shopping, dining, and winter ice skating in the public plaza. Within walking distance of ICE are other downtown neighborhoods with museums, a new modern library, art galleries, live theater, and a light rail line.