The Real Arena Question – Under What Conditions Could Calgarians Support Public Investment?

There are a lot of things I really like about my job. There are also a few things I dislike. My least favorite thing about my job is how conversations on issues like a new arena are often dominated by hard-line opinions that get more dug in as a conversation progresses.

I like to think that I’m a pretty reasonable guy. I believe that very few issues are black and white and that a well-balanced approach is in the best interest of tax-payers. I’ve heard from folks that think we should not support a new arena in any way. I’ve also heard from folks that think we should cut the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Company (CSEC) a cheque tomorrow for whatever they want. I do not believe that either of those opinions is reflective of the majority of Calgarians. Coming to the best possible outcome means working within the grey area.

I believe that we need a new stadium. But I also believe that we need to protect the public dollar and assure Calgarians their tax dollars are being used in the most responsible way possible. I am not of the opinion that those two things are mutually exclusive.

I think we can have a really meaningful negotiation with CSEC. I think it is imperative that we hear from Calgarians throughout our negotiations. We need Calgarians to give us a sense of how they value the contributions CSEC has made to our city. Council needs to understand under what conditions Calgarians would support The City making an investment in a new arena project.

We need a new arena but we also need to ensure any public funds committed to the project are paid back.  Exploring how to make that happen should be a significant component of our negotiations. As examples, The City could offer a loan to CSEC to construct the facility and get paid back with interest over time or CSEC and The City could enter a revenue sharing agreement to ensure any City contributions are paid back. I’m sure there are plenty of other good ideas out there and by exploring those ideas I’m sure we can reach an outcome that protects public funds while delivering a world class facility that could provide significant benefit to our city.

I want this to be a discussion about ambitious ideas, but also finds a way to pay for them. I want this to be less about rhetoric or ideological perspectives and more about working together to find solutions. I do not believe that off the cuff remarks about moving hockey teams or premature proclamations that a project is dead add value to our negotiations. We have a lot of details to sort through before a decision is ultimately made – and we need to be prepared to be thoughtful about that process.

My commitment is to approach this issue as I approach all of our important issues on Council – with an open mind. If we take the time to put all of our ideas on the table and listen to Calgarians, we can make a decision that best serves our city.

Additional information:

My blog in August 2015 –CalgaryNEXT …What’s Next?
City of Calgary page with information and timelines – calgary.ca/calgarynext