There’s a municipal election campaign underway in Calgary. Advanced voting runs until Wednesday, Oct. 11 and election day itself is Monday, Oct. 16. The potential future home for the Calgary Flames has become a surprisingly big issue in this election, with the premise of replacing the Saddledome (and how it would be done) taking a front and centre role in the campaign.

In the interest of providing a bit of information and clarity to folks who see the arena as a big election issue, we decided to go to the source. We sent a short questionnaire about the arena situation to the candidates for mayor so that their stances can be found in one concise spot. Here, friends, are where the mayoral contenders stand.

The process

We sent the questionnaire to nine of the 10 official candidates for mayor via e-mail – the 10th, Stan Waciak, had no publicly available campaign e-mail and so wasn’t invited to participate. We followed up multiple times with each campaign to ensure everyone else had the opportunity to participate. Brent Chisholm and Curtis Olson did not respond to the questionnaire. The survey went out via e-mail shortly after nominations were announced. The majority of e-mail responses came back in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

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The respondents were given no word counts in which to describe their stances. The responses to the questions have not been edited.

The questionnaire

Every mayoral candidate was asked three questions:

  1. Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?
  2. To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?
  3. To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

Jason (GoGo) Achtymichuk

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

Yes the current Saddledome is antiquated, it is the oldest in the NHL and ill-equipped to hold major events.

To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

Overall, I’m supportive of contributions to bridge the gap for what I see the city can offer. I can’t put a number on it without being in the room, but I support hard fiscal contributions.

To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

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It is important to define and understand public contributions. There is a critical distinction between cash and “in-kind” contributions. Non-cash contributions can be helpful, but can also be esoteric and difficult to value. What is the true value of land contribution? Should the infrastructure/LRT improvements be considered a contribution? We must be mindful that in-kind donations and loans are not cash. Additionally, only those items that contribute directly to the actual building should be considered. A new facility will attract both locals and tourists to games, concerts and special events. In addition, I believe the Flames are essential for the vibrancy and economic wellbeing of our city. The current Saddledome is antiquated, is the oldest facility in the NHL, and is ill-equipped to host major events. While there will be primary and secondary financial benefits to the new arena, the potential tertiary effects could be astronomical. Overall, I’m supportive of direct financial contributions to ensure a new facility gets built. I can’t formulate a specific financial plan based on current public information, but I support direct and indirect fiscal contributions.

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Andre Chabot

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

Yes.

To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?

I don’t unless there is a cost recovery method principal and interest.

To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

A full cost recovery of all expenses attributable to the facility.

Emile Gabriel

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

Dr. Gabriel strongly believes that the need for a new multi-purpose sport arena is vital for many reasons including the fact that we are losing business to other city and entertainment is an essential part in maintaining a healthy so city

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To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?
To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

As a person having many years of business experience, Dr. Gabriel will be open to negotiating different options that meets the element of “mutual consideration” that is a basic part of any agreement between two parties. That could include a land offer. The main guiding principle here is to have a win-win arrangement.

Larry Heather

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

The Saddledome does need to be replaced. I favor separate locations for the Arena and the Fieldhouse, Vic Park and McMahon locations respectively.

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To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?

A 50/50% deal with a 35 year team lease without property taxes. I do not like CRL’s as they vacuum tax and investment monies from the rest of the City business… we need to find an alternative to this.

To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

The Land Should be free… and the infrastructure tie-ins a part of normal City duties.

David Lapp

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

Yes.

To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?

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To the extent that we can get a reasonable deal done. I believe we need a Public-Private Partnership (P3) – that’s the only sane way. Common sense. Both sides are going to have to give a little. There’s room to vary a bit on both sides – oversimplification on 3rds, 4ths, or Halves as deal markers are not productive. We need a deal that is good for taxpayers, and I believe we’ll get one. The key is to change who’s in the Mayor’s Office, so that respect can return to the negotiations. I would negotiate directly with CSEC, not through the media – the election circus around this issue was entirely inappropriate. This deal should have been completed MONTHS ago, man to man. We need an arena, and with me in the Mayor’s Office, we’ll get one. Let’s repair the relationship. Let’s make a deal.

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To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

I wouldn’t rule out any options from the City’s side, including those ones; as well, CSEC will be required to move a little as well. Both sides will have to be reasonable. And I believe both sides can be reasonable. If we have a new Mayor.

Naheed Nenshi

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

I think the Saddledome has served Calgary extremely well over its 34 years, and I think it still has some life left in it. However, I recognize that the design presents some challenges for certain uses of the building. My vision for a culture and entertainment district in Victoria Park, in between the East Village and the Stampede, includes a new arena because I understand how it can be an important part of the revitalization of that area. The Saddledome hasn’t been able to be the catalyst for development in that area, but an arena that is part of a larger vision – which I presented several weeks ago and which you can see in full at www.nenshi.ca – could certainly be part of something special that we can build together.

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To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?

As I stated above, I support a new arena, but it has to be the right deal for Calgarians.  I will say it again: the funding model must be based on the principle of public benefit for public money, and large numbers of Calgarians have told me that they will accept nothing less. I believe that The City’s offer where The City, the fans and the Flames would each split a third of the costs is more than fair, especially because there are other aspects that are still open for negotiation (the financing of the ticket surcharge, for example). As long as I am Mayor, The City will be at the table. It is also important to remember that Council as a whole gives direction to our negotiation team; this is not just about me, no matter how much CSEC wants to make it out to be that way. It’s about getting a fair deal for Calgarians.

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To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

The City’s most recent offer to the Flames also included the land for a new arena, the basic infrastructure necessary for an arena’s construction (e.g. utility upgrades), and additional infrastructure that will be essential to a future arena’s success, including the transit access (Green Line station), and I believe that’s fair. There may be other opportunities for this type of contribution, and so long as the overall offer meets my guiding principle of public benefit for public contribution, I would be open to considering them.

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It is important to note here that CalgaryNEXT – which has been touted by some candidates as still being a viable option – has significant costs to the public that fit within this category (i.e not a direct financial contribution). The potential costs to the public of this project are a minimum of $1 billion dollars (likely much more). Yes, the land needs to be cleaned up in any event, but we need to approach that in a deliberate, thoughtful way that respects the needs of the surrounding community. We are also in the middle of sensitive negotiations to determine who will be responsible for paying for the clean-up and how much (the polluter, the provincial government, The City). We can’t rush it for the sake of a legacy project when other alternatives – ones that will take much less time to bring to completion anyway – are available.

Bill Smith

Do you believe that the Saddledome needs to be replaced as Calgary’s primary arena?

There is little doubt that the Saddledome does not meet the needs of Calgarians. I believe a new arena can be constructed with minimal direct cost to Calgary taxpayers. A new arena would support local sports, hospitality and entertainment industries. I also love the Flames and I want to keep them in Calgary without giving away the farm.

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To what extent do you support direct financial contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena?

If we can show a corresponding benefit back to the community, some level of public funding may be appropriate. But right now, there’s no deal and there never will be one under the current Mayor. Like most Calgarians, I love the Flames. But any new deal has to put Calgary taxpayers first.

To what extent do you support other contributions from the City to the construction of a new arena (such as land or infrastructure tie-ins)?

The arena issue has become polarized and politicized. But honestly, the public relations battle of the opposing pie charts has done little to offer real insight into the negotiation process.  Only after seeing all aspects of the negotiations could I form an opinion of what role taxpayers could and should play.  Without knowing those details I could not in good conscience offer an opinion on the merits of city contributions including land, infrastructure tie-ins, road network expansion, or even Saddledome demolition.

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