In the end, it was an 11-4 blowout in favour of building a $550-million new event centre and NHL arena in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.Half the city is happy, the rest furious. So it is with these projects.Yes, I’m happy too, if only because I’ll get to crow about a great arena to the Edmonton relatives.By the time ours is built, theirs will be starting to age. Ha! Take that.But it’s about more than just hockey and inter-city rivalry. Far more.There’s the sense that Calgary is rolling again. There’s the realization that political leaders can show backbone when faced with a momentous but divisive decision.Several councillors did some mandatory moaning about short consultation time.They criticized an agreement among all three negotiating parties — the city, Stampede, and Calgary Sports and Entertainment — requiring that a yes-or-no vote had to be held Tuesday.Yet the negotiators set a hard deadline because councillors have shown what happens when they have excuses to delay and dither.They have often fought each other to the point of paralysis. They have created crisis through indecision. Their failure to reach a tax support deal on May 31 amounted to a collapse of civic governance.There was a choice Tuesday — many more months of “conversation,” including plenty with those who would reject the arena under any conditions; or, simply getting the job done.So, the negotiators pushed council to the wall with their deadline. In effect, they shut the exit doors.And most councillors seemed glad of it. Ward Sutherland even mentioned the tax mess as a turning point for council’s attitude.By a whopping majority, councillors sent a clear message that Calgary is still a big-league city, both in hockey and urban development.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Ken King shake hands with L-R, councillors, Ward Sutherland, John Bean. President & CEO, Jeff Davison and Shane Keating as council voted for a new arena in Calgary on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Many people will always feel there wasn’t enough information, that council is hiding things, that this was simply sprung on the public.That is largely mythical. The Rivers District plan has been publicized and explained for many months. The arena deal was always part of it. Step by step, council approved the overall plan, identified the projects, and set aside the funding.It’s also well-known that the city contingent, led by Coun. Jeff Davison, was in heavy negotiations with both the Flames and the Stampede.All this activity was made abundantly clear at every step. When the deal was done, council immediately released the main elements, including a long explanatory city manager’s report.And then, sudden uproar, because it’s about hockey owners — the ones who want to spend $275 million to build an arena they won’t own, who agree to stick around for 35 years, who are ready to spend many millions more on real estate development in the Rivers District.That’s what the Rivers plan needs — private investment. Now Calgary has it. Horrors! Must be an evil plot.CSEC was largely invisible in all this. CEO Ken King spoke very little. The owners remember the animosity of 2017 when both parties went public with duelling offers.The organization appeared before council that time. Not now. The owners let the agreement speak for itself. They left the selling job to enthusiastic councillors.
Councillor Jeff Davison is congraduated by Ken King. Vice-Chairman CSEC as council voted for a new arena in Calgary on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
And it worked, partly because the deal is fair, but also because most of those involved understood it’s likely the last chance. There would be no third try with these owners.After the decision King said, “This was a very strong vote not just for the project but for all Calgary. It’s a good deal for everyone, and I believe that over time it will exceed Calgarians’ expectations.”Just as encouraging, city council finally made a difficult but clear decision. The alternative is “engagement” into eternity, whether we’re talking about a pipeline or an arena.It also helps, of course, that it’s the right decision. Had it gone the other way, a terrible aimlessness would have settled over council and the city.Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Heralddbraid@postmedia.comTwitter: @DonBraidFacebook: Don Braid Politics