Report shows economic benefit to developing Calgary’s Rivers District

An up-close look at what Victoria Park would look like under the Rivers District Master Plan.
An up-close look at what Victoria Park would look like under the Rivers District Master Plan. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation

Members of the Calgary city council’s events centre assessment committee say a report from a consultant proves the economic benefit exists to move forward with three major projects in the Rivers District master plan.

Ernst and Young put together an economic impact assessment for the area. It states the numbers are positive for going forward with an events centre and the expansion of the BMO Centre and Arts Commons. The report references more than 6200 jobs would be created through construction and operation of the facilities and nearly $2-billion impact to the economy.

Lance Mortlock, a strategy partner with Ernst and Young, told the committee the report is very conservative and didn’t go into a cost benefit analysis.

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“These numbers are positive. These numbers are good and there’s probably a lot more numbers you can take away from that,” he said. “We can’t be certain what those numbers are but there’s only upside from this bulletproof assessment.”

The report also states there will be additional investment in the area from the private sector as the result of the developments that take place.

It based that conclusion on studies done on other cities that have gone through a similar process, namely Edmonton, Nashville, Columbus and Denver.

Michael Brown, president of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, agrees with the assessment.

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“Just based on the fact we have a sea of empty parking lots and also the activities that are going to exist within those structures.

“I actually know you will attract the necessary follow on investment — you saw it with the East Village in the investments that we made”

The economic impact assessment of the Rivers District will go to a city council meeting on Monday where councillors will discuss the three projects and a proposed fieldhouse. Council will need to decide on what order they are built and how they will be funded.

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Councillor Ward Sutherland said he envisions going forward with the BMO Centre expansion and events centre first as a catalyst to attract private investment dollars.

“What’s going to generate that outside investment to pay the dollars for the whole area,” Sutherland told reporters after the meeting. “They are the anchors of whole Rivers District. It’s already mentioned there’s hotels that are lined up to go in.”

During the meeting, the consultants were asked what impact there would be if the Calgary Flames were to leave before a new arena is built. That drew city manager Jeff Fielding in to the discussion with some advice.

“That you not use the threat of a team leaving as part of your discussion,” Fielding said.

“I think that would be totally inappropriate because it’s speculation and it puts everybody in a defensive position.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation chimed in with a call for a referendum before funding for what they call a professional sports arena.

That call was dismissed by Ward Sutherland.

“From what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said, in my opinion, a lot hasn’t been accurate. They give inaccurate numbers all the time,” the ward 1 councillor said. “We make investments all the time as council.

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“This is about the Rivers District. Having a plebiscite or anything like that is ridiculous.”

Sutherland said this the difference between the previous discussions and what’s happening now are night and day.

“Because we’re talking about a building that the outside is just as important as the inside because it’s a gathering place and you can have festivals occurring, you can have E sports E entertainment. So what we’re talking about is not even close to what we were talking about three years ago.”

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