Artist’s conceptual rendering of the Event Centre, a year-round, permanent gathering place for all Calgarians. The Event Centre will replace the Saddledome, the current home of the Calgary Flames, which was built for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
Calgarians are evenly split on a tentative pact for a new NHL arena, though naysayers appear more determined in their opposition, a new poll shows.In the poll of 645 people conducted last week by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc., 47 per cent of respondents voiced support for the 35-year deal, with the same number in opposition.But among those against the agreement that would see the city and Calgary Flames owners evenly splitting the $550 million construction cost, 26 per cent were strongly opposed, while 14 per cent of proponents were strongly in favour.Most of those surveyed — 58 per cent — said they supported replacing the early 1980s-vintage Saddledome, with 35 per cent opposed to the idea.Council could approve the agreement on Tuesday after one week of public consultation, but 60 per cent of the poll respondents said that wasn’t a long enough public consultation period.Meanwhile, city officials had extended the deadline for public submissions on the issue from noon on Sunday to 4:30 p.m. Monday.The city would also pay $12.4 million, or 90 per cent of the cost to demolish the Saddledome, a detail opposed by 65 per cent of those polled.Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (which owns the Flames) would receive an option to acquire valuable land near the site of the proposed event centre in Victoria Park and would increase the amount it funds local amateur sports to $75 million.That latter detail earned high marks among those polled, as did the notion of keeping the Flames in Calgary, noted ThinkHQ president Marc Henry.“There is a lot of goodwill in Calgary toward the Flames. People are proud of the team, they recognize their contribution to the city both in terms of economic impact and community good, and there is support for replacing the Saddledome,” Henry said in commentary included with the poll results.But he said the timing of the deal just as city council is cutting emergency service and transit budgets have soured many on it.“Wow, talk about bad timing,” said Henry. “Public confidence in council is staggeringly low right now, and if a quick approval leaves voters feeling unheard by their elected officials on a big project like this, watch out.”With the next civic election 812 days away, city councillors should feel nervous about the decision, he added.The survey also polled public perception of city council, which showed approval at just 23 per cent compared to a disapproval rating of 69 per cent while eight per cent were unsure.That’s a 50 per-cent-drop in approval since June 2017, states the survey.Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s approval rating came in at 35 per cent versus disapproval of 59 per cent.In a tweet Monday morning, Coun. Druh Farrell said council is playing with fire on the arena issue by pursuing budget cuts while also seemingly favouring spending on a new arena.“Regardless of our opinions on the proposed deal, council agreed unanimously to do one thing and are instead doing another,” she stated.“Our word/policies/approved direction have lost meaning. We’re losing public trust, the most valuable thing in a democracy, as a result.”A newly-formed small business group raising the alarm over massive business tax hikes has begun a petition to back a notice of motion it hopes city council will consider before it makes any changes to its budget this fall.It wants the city to clarify how $1.5 billion in spending on a host of major projects, including the event centre and BMO Centre expansion, will impact tax rates.“We want to know how small business owners and Calgary citizens can expect to pay for all of this; how is it going to affect our taxes when it’s gone up by 300 per cent,” said Kelly Doody of the Calgary Small Business Alliance.The ThinkHQ poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.BKaufmann@postmedia.comon Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn