Danielle Smith: Public scrap over arena benefits no one

Steam rises from buildings near the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
The Calgary Flames have cancelled plans to build a new arena. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Incumbent Mayor Naheed Nenshi surprised everyone on Monday by launching his vision for an arts and entertainment district that appeared to include plans for a new arena.

Then on Tuesday, the president and CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), Ken King, dropped an even bigger bomb when he said the ownership group was done talking with the city because they were getting nowhere in discussions after two years of trying. What happened?

Having watched the Edmonton arena deal play out over several years and witnessed the incredible success it has been since it opened, I have been surprised by how difficult it has been for the city to come to similar terms with the Calgary Flames franchise.

LISTEN: Ken King explains why the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation won’t pursue a new arena

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Rogers Place arena opens in downtown Edmonton to great fanfare

As reported in Metro News, the latest “Plan B” proposal was structured with owners paying a third, a ticket tax covering a third, and the city kicking in a third of the total $500-million project. Like in Edmonton, the city’s share would come from the incremental tax revenues generated from all the new construction that would build up around the arena, not from homeowners’ property tax bills.

READ MORE: Ken King pens open letter to Calgary Flames fans amid controversial comment

Keep in mind, once that share is paid, all those additional incremental new dollars would go into general revenues for the benefit of all taxpayers. I have no doubt that the city’s upfront investment of $165 million would be paid back many times over, in the 40-odd-year lifetime of the new arena and surrounding district.

Instead, it’s turned into a public bun-fight that stands to benefit no one. Callers to my show were almost unanimous in their belief that the blame rests with the city and the mayor. The question is, can the discussions get back on track – or are we all going to be cheering for the Oilers in a few years’ time?

Story continues below advertisement

LISTEN: Many callers shared their thoughts

Sponsored content