Arena news may (finally) be coming as pair of November deadlines loom
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA Today Sports
By Ryan Pike9 months ago
The deal between the City of Calgary and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation to build a new arena in Victoria Park was terminated officially by both parties on Jan. 1. Since then, city council has reiterated their desire to replace the Saddledome and formed the Event Centre Committee to spearhead negotiations with potential partners.
Seven months after the deal was dissolved, there isn’t a new one. Not yet, anyways.
That’s not to say that nothing has been done. As a matter of fact, a lot has been done. Behind the scenes, city administration has been preparing for negotiations with potential partners. You know how hockey teams prepare for contract negotiations with players by studying comparable deals and essentially developing a playbook for the process? That’s what administration has been done, including some informal discussions with CSEC regarding what they would be willing to contribute to a future deal. (Admin has been trying to figure out the size of the budget hole they need to fill.)
Administration and the Event Centre Committee also recruited a trio of experienced real estate deal-makers to act as the city’s “third party” intermediary when searching for a deal. Having these individuals in place officially was delayed somewhat by the contracts process – acting in such a position involves any number of complexities and exposure to sensitive information from a bunch of different parties, so the contracts likely weren’t simple to draft and finalize. Additionally, arena deals are weird. Even if you’re experienced in real estate deals, arena negotiations are a completely different animal, and the third party trio had to be brought up to speed with the file’s background, potential partners, and the overall landscape of deals throughout the continent.
There remains a good deal of optimism at City Hall about the process, but they also have their eyes on two potential pinch points in November. One is arguably a bit more of a hassle than the other.
The first pinch point is the start of budgeting for the 2023-26 cycle, which begins nominally on Nov. 8 but really get into deep waters during the week of Nov. 21-25. This probably isn’t a huge obstacle since the majority of the ear-marked $287.5 million of proposed arena funds were from residual funds and reserves (and wouldn’t have a material impact on the city’s operational budget), but we could get a sense regarding how the process is going depending on how those funds are treated in the city’s capital planning within the budget. Given council and administration’s repeated pronouncements about the importance of the arena to the cultural and entertainment district, it seems unlikely that they’ll propose putting the arena money to other uses.
In terms of the development permit, the original Nov. 18, 2021 approval is good for three years (rather than the originally-believed one year), and it can be extended twice for two years apiece. If you recall the summer and fall of 2021, the arena design went through the entire planning and permitting process and aside from a few minor disagreements about the budget, the project was essentially shovel-ready. (Thanks to the City for clarifying.) So the budget cycle piece may be the biggest deadline pushing things forward.
The committee has meetings scheduled on Sept. 14 and Oct. 19. To this point, the public updates have been minor, but based on the confidentiality involved in the proceedings the public updates represent the tip of the iceberg of actual activities going on.
It’s been a long, quiet year in terms of meaty news on the arena file – to this point, the last substantial piece we got was the news of the prior deal being dissolved. But after months and months of things happening beneath the surface, the next few months could (finally) provide some significant developments and a step forward in the process.
Here’s hoping, at least.
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