Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

FGD: a potential arena deal comes to City Hall

Without exaggeration, Monday could be one of the most important days in Calgary Flames franchise history. During Monday’s City Council meeting, council will review a tentative deal with the Flames to construct a new arena. If they like it, things could move ahead pretty rapidly.

Considering this process has been dragging on since 2005, that could be great news… (if the deal isn’t awful for taxpayers).

Council is slated to get a closed door update on the tentative deal around 3:45 p.m. – it’s a really packed agenda which is already scheduled to drag into Tuesday, so that time might bump back a bit. But if everything looks palatable to council, they could vote on it and make some details public.

Here are some questions everyone should be asking when details come out.

How much public money is going into the arena?

This week’s meeting also includes a sure to be fun discussion of how the city’s going to cut $60 million out of their operating budget – in the middle of the operating year – to keep property taxes down (scheduled for Tuesday afternoon). Obviously, anybody impacted by tax hikes or service impacts of the budget cuts – we’ll call them all “citizens of Calgary” would prefer zero public money go to a new arena while the tax system is so nuts.

So between the “Calgary needs to redo its budget mid-year to keep tax hikes down” context and the broader context of how other jurisdictions have funded their arenas recently, the big question is how much money the city is investing. The obvious follow-up question is “What’s the justification for that level of investment?”

For reference, the previous level of public investment in the 2017 version of negotiations was $185 million. The justification for that investment, as it will probably be this time around, is using the arena as a mechanism of attracting outside investment into the Cultural and Entertainment District – the same justification they had for putting public funds into the BMO Centre expansion in the spring.

Where is the city’s share coming from?

Back in March, the city approved a plan to fund the four major projects – the BMO Centre expansion, the arena and future plans for the fieldhouse and Arts Common expansion – with $1.5 billion of funding from the city’s cash reserves, grants from other levels of government, and the Rivers District Community Revitalization Levy.

The CRL funds are going towards the BMO Centre expansion, so that begs the question of what funding source the arena funds are coming from. In the 2017 proposal, the funds were coming from leftover money from other infrastructure projects (culled together during the Infrastructure Calgary process). The city declined to detail the funding sources in the spring due to not wanting to impact negotiations with their partners. But now that negotiations are almost done, does that change their stance?

Who owns it? Will the Flames pay property tax or rent? What does the lease look like?

You’re probably familiar with the phrase “the devil’s in the details.” Well, these are the important details.

The Saddledome is currently owned by the city and functionally leased to the Flames (via the Saddledome Foundation) for $1 a year, plus commitments to donate inflation-indexed amounts of money to Hockey Canada, the Parks Foundation and Winsport. If the city continues to own the new building and the Flames operate it, the terms of the lease are hugely important to ensuring that it’s a sustainable piece of public infrastructure.

Considering that we’re likely to see details of a tentative deal, it’s unlikely that these answers are fully known yet.

What if everything gets approved? What’s next?

If council likes what they see and moves ahead, it’s likely that the specifics of the deal will be hammered out and formalized. Back in March, council approved plans to conduct formal public engagement about any arena deal, so that likely follows whenever the deal is sufficiently hammered out.

If the public engagement process doesn’t sufficiently terrify city council, presumably that would be followed by a vote to execute whatever agreements they need to in order to get shovels in the ground. Apparently the public engagement could be pretty brief.

When can we expect to see the building open?

We’ve been hearing about this “future arena” for a decade and a half. When will we finally be able to, y’know, go inside of this thing?

As far as timelines:

  • Chase Center (San Francisco) took two and a half years.
  • Rogers Place (Edmonton) took two and a half years.
  • T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas) took two years.
  • Little Caesars Arena (Detroit) took three years.

So… somewhere between two and three years. Assuming shovels get into the ground in 2021, plan for three years – a potential opening in time for the 2024-25 season – and act surprised if it happens any earlier than that.

  • buts

    This city council couldn’t run a kool aid stand with one price and one flavour. Add Nenshi’s ego and I bet we get a request for further studies, reports and consulting on things like public benefit. Wasn’t there a study on revenue generated by having a nhl team to the city? 80 million usd cap paid to players, with additional dollars over the cap, how much tax goes to city, provincial and federal tax revenues from players, coach’s, owners, employees, how much goes to spin off business like hotels, restaurants, transportation etc? Never mind the flames foundation that has renovated numerous public facilities many southern alberta citizens use. There’s lots of benefits if you look.

    • The Iggy complex

      And yet Nenshi refuses to provide money to arena, because it provides no Benifits to the city? Yet spends all this money on artwork and a new library which actually doesn’t provide money to the city

  • Longshot1977

    As always, I feel incredibly torn on the arena issue.

    On one hand, as a Flames fan, and someone who spent the majority of the the first half of my life in Calgary and the remaining portion within a short trip, I really do want a shiny new stage to show off my favourite hockey team and hopefully attract great entertainment to town.

    On the other, I know the financial and economic issues that are being faced by Calgarians of many stripes; not just the taxpayers themselves but also local businesses and levels of government.

    I sincerely hope something gets done, and I further sincerely hope that a way to move forward has been found that won’t unfairly put a financial burden upon those people and organizations that can ill afford it right now.

    The devil is in the details, indeed. Those details will either make this a project to rally around and celebrate, or a burden on the neck of Calgarians for decades.

    • Al Rain

      Longshot: I think your post sums up how many thinking people feel about a new arena. There’s the exciting appeal of something shiny and fun and it competes with a more pragmatic and responsible side.

      Everyone will have their own opinion on what’s proper for public money. But we all share a responsibility to be suspicious: suspicious of those who tell us not to enjoy our team. And suspicious of those who appeal to our emotional side and downplay our responsible urges for their own benefit.

  • Widemans Anger

    I don’t think anyone understands the gravity of the economic impact a building like this has. It’s a thirty year driver on commerce and cutlure. The businesses everywhere will reap the Benefits. I am in construction and there are over 8 full blown sky rises slated to built in the Edmonton ICE district. The area and businesses are in good shape, I guess you don’t really need a new arena Or an NHL hockey team…

  • The GREAT WW

    All the money the city has waisted on express bus routes would have paid for their share of the arena.

    Really really bad management in the city of Calgary right now….


  • Derzie

    There’s frugal and then there is silly. Study after study is not the way to go, no matter which side you are on. If you don’t feel a proper stadium (and a proper library) are important to a city you probably are better suited to live in the country.
    It’s ALL about who pays what. The city, CLSE & fans all need to pay. It’s just a matter of how much and who gets to spend it/earn it. That’s it. Spending money on another study to see how much money to spend is wasteful as can be. Google would give you the info you need in a half hour search session on government funding of stadiums. Dear god, get it together.