Unless there’s money coming, provincial government arena support may not amount to much

Ryan Pike
1 year ago
This week, local community radio station CJSW is holding their annual funding drive. They could really use your support. And when they say “support,” while your good vibes are appreciated, what they really are hoping for is money.
That brings us to the letter tweeted by Alberta premier Danielle Smith on Tuesday morning, expressing her support of the ongoing negotiations between the City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment (and the hopeful arena development). While good vibes towards the project are fantastic, what the two sides really are hoping for is money.
If you haven’t already seen it, here’s Premier Smith’s letter:
The concrete action taken was the appointment of Ric McIver to be the provincial representative on the file. McIver is currently MLA for Calgary-Hays, and has served in a few different provincial ministerial positions, including stints as minister of municipal affairs, transportation and infrastructure. Prior to entering provincial politics, he served on Calgary city council from 2001 through 2010, ending with an unsuccessful mayoral run. On council, he was referred to as “Dr. No,” as he tended to vote down extravagant spending.
Beyond McIver’s appointment as the point person, Smith’s letter offers to “assist the city and CSEC in achieving a successful outcome.” The proposed project will likely be located on land owned by the City (and leased to the Stampede). Much of the permitting, transportation, planning and utility work, handled by the City to enable the development, has already taken place. The proposed project partners, and the main parties at the table, are the City and CSEC. There likely isn’t a significant regulatory role for the province in the development of the project.
What caused the impasse that killed the last deal was an escalation in costs, something primarily triggered by the pandemic. Until the two sides can agree on a revised project scope and budget it’s hard to say what their needs are, but based on the shape of the last deal, what would be needed to bring the project to fruition are some tangible financial assistance. (Or a reduction in project costs.)
Without financial commitments, the province is primarily contributing good vibes.
If you want to be cynical, it should be noted that there’s a provincial election slated for May and the current government is behind in the polls, especially in the big urban centres. If you want to be optimistic, it should be noted that the provincial government recently ran a surplus and that the new premier was born in Calgary and lived here for much of her life. The motivation behind the gesture is probably somewhere in between altruism and political considerations. (The previous premier didn’t even offer good vibes, so this is a positive development regardless of what comes out of it.)
Good vibes are great.
But what’s really needed to build a new arena in Calgary is money.

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