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What to expect from Wednesday’s city council arena discussion

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Ryan Pike
10 months ago
Almost two weeks after the agreement to build a new home from the Calgary Flames transformed from “it’s a done deal” to “the deal’s done,” Calgary’s city council will convene on Wednesday afternoon for a discussion.
Here’s what you should expect to see, hear, and not see or hear.

What went wrong?

There’s inevitably going to be some internal finger-pointing and strife among council members. While Mayor Jyoti Gondek couldn’t save the deal on her own – she’s one vote among 15 on council and can’t unilaterally add millions of dollars to the City’s contribution – some members of council wanted an emergency meeting to discuss this thing going off the rails. (Yes, during the holidays.) It seems incredibly unlikely that council would get enough votes to support adding City funds to the existing deal, though.
Besides finger-pointing, there’s likely going to be some discussion about cost overruns, the city’s climate strategy, some soft language in the agreements regarding some aspects of the added costs from the planning commission meeting, and other such things. It’ll be interesting to see if the city ventures to guess a total estimate cost for the building based on today’s expectations of supply chain challenges and expected commodity prices.

What happens now

So here’s the deal, folks: the City owns the Saddledome. The City dislikes the Saddledome for many of the same reasons many of us do: it’s limited, it’s old, and it’s going to start costing a lot of money to keep upright.
The City had $287.5 million (of cash) and a lot of strategic hopes and dreams tied up in the new arena. Some of it was the Rivers District Master Plan goals. Some of it was their hopes to attract more economic activity to downtown and adjacent areas to fix the broken property tax system. Some of it was having a lot of cool stuff in one extended area so it can be supported adequately by infrastructure and transportation systems – Stampede Park will have three train lines within reasonable walking distance once the Green Line gets going, for example.
The City’s needs still exist, and while the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation stepped away ultimately because of uncertainty around costs (and disagreement over specific costs, too), it seems possible that the City could see an additional partner or a replacement partner to build a new facility with.
Plenty of NHL and AHL arenas have been build through unique partnerships in recent years, and word is the City is very curious in exploring their options. Despite the economic downtown, Calgary is a very affluent city and one of the largest markets in the country: surely the City can use their financial stake to find some interested potential partners to build something in the near-future.
It’s going to be a fascinating meeting that could kick off a really fascinating few weeks (or months) on this front.

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