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Calgary councillor poses scrapping arena deal amid budget deliberations

Evan Woolley wants to reopen Calgary arena funding deal
WATCH: Councillor Evan Woolley has tabled a motion to reopen an agreement for a new arena that will house the Calgary Flames. Gil Tucker reports.

As tense budget discussions continue on for a third day at Calgary city hall, one councillor is saying in light of the financial reality the city is in, the deal for a new arena should be reconsidered.

Ward 8 Councillor Evan Wooley said on Wednesday he’s planning to put forward a notice of motion on Thursday asking council to “reconsider its decision to provide $290 million of public funding for the Flames arena, and instead redirect much of the funding to the Green Line.”

READ MORE: Should Calgary’s Green Line be split into 2 legs? Committee considering options

“Council has said everything is on the table,” Woolley said in a Facebook post. “We can’t, in good conscience, move forward with significant cuts to the budget without reconsidering the arena deal.

“Giving $290 million to the owners of the Calgary Flames in our current economic climate is both irresponsible and shortsighted.”

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Calgary city council voted in July to build the new event centre — which would include an arena where the Calgary Flames would play — at a price tag of $550 million to be shared with the hockey franchise. Woolley was one of four councillors who voted against the deal.

Woolley said the city’s portion of the bill — $290 million — should be redirected “to the construction of the critical city-shaping Green Line transit project, a much-needed downtown police station, and badly needed renewal of our affordable housing.”

Calgary city council continues discussion on tax hike or cuts to services
Calgary city council continues discussion on tax hike or cuts to services

Through this week’s budget deliberations, several options have been proposed to help the city deal with its financial troubles, including raising property taxes and cutting the police service’s operating budget. Council has been hearing from citizens about services they see as essential.

“This week Council has heard from Calgarians about the importance of public transit. The Green Line is a transformational project that would serve hundreds of thousands of Calgarians and the project is in jeopardy due to the province withholding funding,” Woolley said.

Woolley also said that due to rising crime rates and the absence of a downtown police station, “it is the duty of elected officials to ensure the safety of both people and property in our core.”

“Building a police station downtown would provide a permanent police presence and would help alleviate the safety concerns I hear from citizens and business owners every day,” he said.

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Woolley also said a portion of the $290 million should be used to renew city-owned affordable housing.

“I don’t want children to grow up in a city that prioritizes subsidies for NHL Team owners, but ignores those who can’t afford a place to live or a way to get around our city,” Woolley said.

READ MORE: ‘Just no way to absorb a cut’: Calgary police chief says cuts to city’s police budget would impact citizens

Here’s a breakdown of how Woolley wants the city to spend the money promised to the event centre construction:

  • $200 million towards the Green Line
  • $45 million toward the Calgary Police Services to build a station downtown
  • $45 million to help cover the cost of deferred capital maintenance for Calgary housing
What’s next for the Calgary arena deal?
What’s next for the Calgary arena deal?

Councillor Jeromy Farkas said he would second Woolley’s motion, adding that even at the time the arena deal was approved, he didn’t think it was the right move.

“Based on what I’ve been hearing from my residents, we can’t proceed at this time,” Farkas said. “We have so many other pressing needs in our community, things like a downtown police station – we’re one of the only cities in North America without a permanent brick-and-mortar police station [downtown] – that needs to be the priority.

“I can’t fathom council proceeding with something that’s more of a nice-to-have at a time when potentially, we may see significant cuts to our police and fire.”

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On the other hand, councilors like Ward Sutherland and Jeff Davison think scrapping the new event centre would be a bad move for the city.

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“It’ll be thousands of jobs,” Sutherland said, adding that the Stampede, BMO Centre and event centre will bring more than $1.2 billion to the local economy yearly.

“It is a fantastic investment,” Sutherland said.

READ MORE: By the numbers: How does Calgary’s proposed new arena stack up against other NHL rinks

“We’re looking at overall reducing the size of government, but we have to do investments that have an ROI.

“So it’d be no different, in some of the spin then — well all the arts, arts commons, everything we participate in and give grants to because they lose money – well maybe we shut them down because everybody else needs to have a job and do this and that. It’s not the right approach, these are capital investments, this will grow Calgary.”

Calgary councillor urges city council to quit avoiding the tax shift problem
Calgary councillor urges city council to quit avoiding the tax shift problem

Davison said the city should “absolutely not” cancel the deal.

“Council made a very proactive decision to move forward with a project that will have an extensive uplift for all Calgarians,” he said.

Davison said while the provincial budget is having an impact on the city, it had “no impact on the event centre itself,” because there was no provincial money being given to the project.

“When you think about other capital needs that the city has, this isn’t an ‘or’ type situation; this is an ‘and’ type situation,” Davison said.

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“The event centre coupled with the Green Line are going to be something that is very impactful and very beneficial to all Calgarians and so we really have to be mindful that we’re considering all capital projects in the greater scope not as one-offs.”