A New Arena For Calgary – Are We Doing Enough?

One of the most talked about issues in Calgary right now is the ongoing debate about a new arena and event centre. These are the kinds of debates that capture the imagination and the passion of Calgarians. Negotiations between the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) and The City of Calgary have been ongoing for quite some time now. Last week CSEC made it clear that their ownership no longer has an appetite to pursue a new arena in Calgary. CSEC suggested that the proposal being made by The City simply would not work and that they would be leaving the negotiating table.

As a candidate running for re-election in Ward 12 it is important that you know where I stand on this issue. It is also important that you are given every opportunity to add your voice to this debate.

So here is where I stand:

I believe we need a new arena. I’m even open minded about incorporating public funding into the project. With that in mind, I believe we must fund an appropriate threshold for what is an appropriate public investment. We need to be smart investors here. Any public funds committed to this project need to have a positive return on investment.  While I believe it is critical that we find a way to keep the Flames here in Calgary, I’m not willing to abandon the best interests of taxpayers in Calgarians to ensure that happens.

I don’t think I’m alone with this perspective either. Earlier this year I lead a group of Councillors that commissioned a random survey of Calgarians to get a clearer sense of how the public felt about the prospects of a new arena. You can see the details of that survey here – Survey

Much of the negotiations have been behind closed doors thus far. There are a litany of reasons to keep these detailed negotiations confidential, we still need to find ways to better involve Calgarians in this process. We have reached a point in the negotiations where the public should see what proposals are on the table. Last week Council authorized Mayor Nenshi to unveil the most recent proposal that The City had made to CSEC for a new arena in Victoria Park. Mayor Nenshi unveiled this proposal on Friday:

CSEC is expected to make their most recent proposal public later this week.

The City proposal incorporates a blend of private funding, public funding and a user fees to finance the project. City Administration has been given guidance to study the possibilities in Victoria Park and work to find a suitable agreement with CSEC. Any agreement reached with CSEC must clearly demonstrate the return on investment for public funding. Should an agreement in principle be reached, the proposal must be presented in detail to the public for their involvement.

I do want to challenge some of the public statements that have been circulating after The City proposal was unveiled last week:

Firstly, I do not believe that we can see the development of an entertainment district in Victoria Park without a new arena and event centre. Mayor Nenshi can make that suggestion – I’m not prepared to do the same. If we are going to make Victoria Park into an entertainment district we will need an anchor development – and that is exactly what a new professional sport arena would be.

Secondly, CSEC has suggested that the ticket surcharge should be counted as a portion of their contribution. I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion, in fact their original proposal for CalgaryNEXT included a similar ticket surcharge. A ticket surcharge is a user fee that will fall largely on Calgarians that want to use the facility. I believe you can make a stronger argument that a ticket surcharge is more public contribution than anything else.

Lastly, there has been speculation that CSEC does not want to pay property taxes if they own the facility or pay a lease if The City owns it. I’m stuck on that point as this would have a direct impact on The City’s operating budget. Regardless of who pays for the new facility, there will be an operating impact to several city services, particularly police presence and transit service. Those types of services have an associated cost that needs to be considered. There has been speculation that the Flames would want to see free C-Train service for passengers leaving Flames games. That’s something I simply couldn’t support. While that might seem like a good thing for Flames fans, that would be a significant transit subsidy that would be paid by all ratepayers in Calgary. To pay for that service Calgary Transit would either be required to increase revenues or cut service in other parts of the city. An arena deal would need to incorporate a cost recovery model (lease or property taxes) to ensure that supplementary services are being offered.

CSEC has suggested that they will be releasing their latest proposal later this week. It is important that both parties continue these conversations. This election will be a great opportunity for CSEC and City Hall to hear loud and clear from Calgarians what they want to see happen next.

Over the next few weeks I want to hear from the residents of Ward 12. How do you feel about this proposal from The City? Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? My team and I will be out on the doors between now and election day, and I hope to have some terrific discussion on this topic. You can also share your comments HERE