From left, Calgary Stampede CEO Warren Connell, CSEC vice chairman Ken King, Mayor Naheed Nenshi and City Manager Glenda Cole pose after the City of Calgary and Flames ownership announced they’d agreed to a deal for a new NHL arena to replace the Saddledome on Monday, July 22, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia
Many event centre critics, suspicious that a company might actually make some money, would kiss off $275 million from the Flames owners.But nobody else in this city — no business, individual or even government — is offering to spend that kind of money on a facility the public will own and use.Will Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. make a profit? Of course. Otherwise, why would business people agree?The real question should be what the city gets for the $275-million public share.The event centre will anchor development in Victoria Park, now called the Rivers District, as part of a grand design that’s been years in the making and is now fully approved by city council.
A map being presented to the Calgary Planning Commission outlines the Rivers District Master Plan.
The centre itself will be occupied not only by the Flames but by the Stampede, the city, and the big entertainers Calgary no longer attracts.Dozens of top performers, from Taylor Swift to Paul McCartney, go to Edmonton but skip Calgary because the Saddledome isn’t up to modern concert technology.Flames CEO Ken King once warned: “We are about to witness something none of us ever thought we’d see — second place.”He said that a few months before Edmonton’s Rogers Place opened in fall of 2016. The three years since have proven him right in every category except actual hockey.Many critics fail to see that CSEC approval of the new Rivers District deal is a major victory for city hall.
Ken King, Vice Chairman, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation speaks to reporters on Monday, July 22, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia
When King made his comment, CSEC was developing the CalgaryNEXT plan for the West Village between Bow Trail and the Bow River.A grand project to cost upwards of $900 million, it was envisaged as the site of the Flames rink, a football stadium for the Stamps and a field house.CSEC’s problems — decline of the Saddledome and McMahon Stadium — were tied up in one tidy solution. And the city would finally have a field house.There were concerns, notably the big price tag and creosote contamination on the site. It was never clear who would pay for cleanup.The Flames group thought all this could be resolved. CSEC spent many months and a lot of money doing research and working up plans.But the majority on city council, and senior officials, always wanted the new rink to be in Victoria Park outside the Stampede gates.They saw it as the ideal spur to Vic Park redevelopment that hadn’t gained traction despite decades of effort.In March 2017, Mayor Naheed Nenshi indelicately declared CalgaryNEXT to be officially “dead.” He invited CSEC to come up with something of “public benefit.”The Flames crew were quietly furious. In the civic election campaign that fall, when Nenshi implied CSEC was onside with a Victoria Park location, they declared another death — of any negotiations for a new arena.The Flames appeared to favour candidate Bill Smith. But Nenshi won handily. It seemed there might never be a deal with him in the mayor’s office.Eventually, the players calmed down. Talks restarted, more sensibly and quietly. The new agreement was reached and Nenshi endorses it enthusiastically.Related
King sounded a bit nostalgic Thursday when he talked to the CBC.He said the West Village plan was compelling “but that did not turn out to be . . . we were invited to come to the East Village and the Rivers District.“We weren’t nuts about it. We weren’t crazy about it. But we’re pragmatic, too.”They are indeed. CSEC will definitely make a buck or two over the years.But those who condemn this deal out of hand might consider that city hall always had a larger civic goal — and won.Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Heralddbraid@postmedia.comTwitter: @DonBraidFacebook: Don Braid Politics