Facing budgetary concerns, the University of Calgary says it can’t be a funding partner to build a field house at Foothills Athletic Park in northwest Calgary.
The announcement came Tuesday in a letter from the university to city council’s Foothills Athletic Park redevelopment advisory committee (FAPRAC).
“Given the current and anticipated budgetary constraints faced by the university, U Calgary does not have the capacity to pay market rent nor the ability to make the capital contribution of the project that would be required to accommodate our various program needs,” wrote U of C president Ed McCauley.
“Notwithstanding a reduced formal university program element within the field house concept, the university remains interested in identifying opportunities for usage of the field house in a manner that contributes to animating the space during non-peak times.”
Coun. George Chahal is chair of the FAPRAC committee and said the city was exploring partnership opportunities with the university and doesn’t consider the decision a setback.
“We are still moving forward, working collaboratively with the University of Calgary as an important stakeholder on the planning of the entire 100-acre site,” he said.
Chahal said the field house has been an unfunded priority for the City of Calgary since 1957 and is a separate stream from the redevelopment of the entire area and will require funding from other levels of government.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he understands the university’s position.
“The post-secondary institutions in Alberta — I could probably be even more blunt than the university presidents can — are going through unprecedented cuts like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” he said.
Nenshi hopes other opportunities can come out of the decision by the university.
“It gives us the opportunity to be a bit more broadminded in making sure we are meeting the recreation needs of the community, because when you’re trying to meet the needs of different user groups, sometimes you have to compromise,” he said.
Last year, city council approved nearly $20 million for planning and the design of a redeveloped Foothills Athletic Park. Part of that master plan had a new field house that would include a 400-metre track, basketball and volleyball courts, as well as a soccer field with capacity for 10,000 spectators.
A field house has been on the City of Calgary’s capital project list for decades. Calgary is the only major Canadian city without such a facility.
The U of C said it is still committed to supporting the work involved in developing a long-range plan for the area.
“The university and city have been exploring options to incorporate university athletics into the field house design. Incorporating university programming would require additional space and dedicated facilities, adding to the scope of the project. University use of the field house would also conflict with community prime time usage, taking away from the facility’s availability for non-university usage,” the school said in a statement.
“While the university has not been asked to make a capital contribution to date, we do not anticipate we will be in a position to do so in the future. The university remains supportive of the field house concept and will continue to explore options for the university community to make use of the facility during non-peak times.”
A Calgary-based development firm has been chosen to come up with a redevelopment master plan.