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Calgary Flames arena saga: the City still wants to build a new one

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
Wednesday’s city council meeting was, in many ways, emblematic of the whole process that got us to this point. Take 15 well-meaning local politicians, supported by a small army of well-intentioned local civil servants, and put them in an awkward situation of someone else’s making that involves them discussing a single topic for the better part of seven hours.
The big takeaway from Wednesday’s marathon: the City still wants to build a new arena, and they’re going to be looking into their options over the next 10 weeks, with a report due back at the next council meeting.
Wednesday’s meeting was, more or less, precisely what it was expected to be.
  • A few members of council ragged on the process.
  • A few members of council ragged on Mayor Gondek for (a) not looping the rest of council in and (b) unilaterally killing the deal. Turns out, neither of those claims were true: several members of council reported speaking regularly to Gondek and her staff prior to the deal’s fate going public on Dec. 21, and the City’s legal department confirmed that the deal ended because neither the Flames nor the City decided to extend the construction deadline.
    • A couple members of council claimed that if there had been an emergency meeting of council to discuss this issue during the holidays, the deal would still be alive. Sure, they’re free to claim that, but unless they found a pile of money or could somehow fix worldwide supply chain issues and construction supply shortages, it wouldn’t have eliminated the massive riskiness of the project.
  • A few members of council got clarification from city administration that the much-maligned climate-related expenses in the project were there the whole time as part of a project mandate – set in 2020 – to pursue LEED Silver certification. So the notion that the City pulled the old switcheroo on the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and dropped in expenses at the last minute while twirling their cartoonish mustaches simply isn’t the case.
  • The sidewalk and roadway expenses recently discussed were due to the sideways and roadways needing to be ripped up more or less completely for the development. CSEC was to be on the hook for the sidewalks within the property line, while the City was going to cover all of the roadway costs.
  • The total expenditures so far were between $23 and $24 million, so CSEC and the City are both on the hook for about $12 million each – the remainder of their funds will be returned to them once everything’s been tallied up.
  • The total price tag for the proposed building was reportedly about six months away from being tallied up. Based on the way the agreement was written, the City and CSEC were functionally being asked to sign off on a construction budget for a budget that wasn’t fully scoped out yet, and construction would’ve begun in January or February without knowing the full cost. (If you ask me, they might’ve dodged a bit of a bullet here…)
(An aside: big stick-taps to city administration for how much work they put into their detailed answers during the marathon meeting. They were asked the same questions several times, and nobody seemed to mind all that much. Those folks are pros.)
So what happens now?
  • The City passed a motion reaffirming that they want a cultural and entertainment district that includes an “event centre” (arena, for those not fluent in City Hall speak).
  • They’re re-establishing the Event Centre Assessment Committee, which struck the original deal, to help shepherd the process towards a new deal.
  • They’re engaging a third party to determine (a) if CSEC is interested in being involved in a new deal and (b) seeing what other options are out there for participants in a new deal.
Council will be presented with the committee’s terms of reference and be asked to vote on formally re-establishing the committee at the Mar. 8 council meeting, while the third party will report back with their findings regarding options for partners for a new arena at that same meeting.
The original arena deal is dead, friends. But the City wants a new arena, and based on the timelines and goals they’ve set from Wednesday’s meeting, it’s going to be a front-burner issue for them going forward.

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