Calgary’s city council appears poised to ratify an agreement with owners of the Calgary Flames to build a new NHL arena that would replace the Saddledome.Council is expected on Tuesday to discuss the deal for the proposed arena, one week after details were released to the public, and vote on whether or not to approve it.The cost of the $550-million facility — owned entirely by the city and leased to Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. for 35 years — would be split evenly by both parties. The city would also kick in $12.4 million, or 90 per cent of the cost, for the demolition of the Saddledome.The majority of council members have indicated support for the deal, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who last week said the arena would create public benefit through “intangibles.”“It’s about bringing community together. It’s about uniting people,” Nenshi said. “This deal makes sense on its own merits.”Coun. Jyoti Gondek said the arena could help “activate that long dead space between the Stampede grounds and all of the wonderful things we’ve done in East Village.”She said it would also give Calgary the chance to play host to new types of events it has never held before.“When you look at League of Legends and Fortnite, two of the most popular (video) games that are out there, those are packing venues in places like Vegas and San Diego because people are going to watch these things,” Gondek said.“We’ve got to stop looking at arts, culture and sport like some sort of a charitable cause, or some sort of a recreational thing that we do. If we don’t understand the market potential of those things … we are going to be missing out on the current economy, let alone the new economy.”Related
The city projects $400.3 million in returns throughout the lease, in large part from a community revitalization levy in the Rivers District and a two per cent surcharge on every ticket sold for events at the arena.But some economists warn that figure is misleading, as it does not account for the deprecation of money over time.Others have also criticized the city for the timing of Tuesday’s vote, which comes just a week after council voted to slash $60 million in services from this year’s municipal budget.“Proponents have been saying that this comes from a ‘different bucket of money,’ but that is just an accounting trick – the money all comes from one taxpayer pot,” stated Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who announced on his Facebook page he would be voting against the deal.“This deal, which has vision and many positives, nonetheless comes at a time when Calgarians can least afford it,” Farkas wrote. “It is perhaps the best deal you’re going to see between City Hall and the Flames ownership. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best deal for Calgarians at this time, and in this present economic climate.”Farkas, along with councillors Evan Woolley and Druh Farrell, have pushed back against the week-long public consultation period leading up to Tuesday’s vote, arguing it doesn’t leave enough time for citizens to provide meaningful feedback.
Coun. Jeromy Farkas stands overlooking the city skyline Sunday, July 28, 2019. He is opposed to the proposed arena deal which goes before council on Tuesday. Jim Wells/Postmedia
Coun. George Chahal, too, said the tight window has been a challenge.“If I were to a buy a car or a house, I’d probably spend more time on the due diligence,” he said.“I’m a big supporter of sports — I think that’s well known — and I’m a huge supporter of the Calgary Flames, but I, right now, still have a number of questions that need to be answered and I’m not at the point yet where I can make a decision either way.”Coun. Sean Chu said he’s already received “tons” of emails, estimating there have been more than 1,000 evenly split responses from Calgarians.He called the deal on the table, “the best we can get.”“Is there a perfect timing or is there a perfect consultation period? You’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” said Chu. “It’s just like when people are having kids. Well, when’s the perfect time to have a baby? You would never find the perfect time.”Coun. Jeff Davison, who serves as chair of council’s arena committee, said that the sentiment he’d been hearing from Calgarians was, “overwhelmingly, it’s about time.”“Let’s get this done,” he said. “The city needs a win and we are prepared to move forward with it.”
From left, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation vice-char Ken King, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, City Manager Glenda Cole and Coun. Jeff Davison pose for a photo after a proposed agreement for a new arena was announced last week. Brendan Miller/Postmedia
The arena, along with the expansion of the BMO Centre and Arts Commons, would help kick off a much-needed entertainment district in Calgary, added Coun. Ray Jones.“I think it’s something that Calgarians will enjoy, not to mention the fact that I don’t want to be on the council that gets rid of our hockey team,” he said.“I think it was very realistic.”Coun. Shane Keating said he’s heard from about 300 of his constituents, a slight majority of whom are in favour of the deal.“That in itself is telling because usually when we get a topic that is of public interest, we often get just the naysayers sending in information,” he said.“When you take the intangible benefits and you take the tangible — we’re getting funds back, we’re getting development and we’re still keeping the social benefits and the civic pride and all of those things lumped together — I think it’s a fair deal.”firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @SammyHudes