Smith hopes event centre doesn’t become election issue, Notley wants deal details

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s new event centre sparks mixed opinions as details remain unclear'
Calgary’s new event centre sparks mixed opinions as details remain unclear
WATCH: Many of the details surrounding Calgary’s new event centre still need to be ironed out, but one thing is for sure: opinions are very mixed when it comes to the financial breakdown and benefits of the plan. Adam MacVicar reports. – Apr 26, 2023

The day after the agreement in principle for a $1.2 billion event centre and area development was announced for Calgary, UCP Leader Danielle Smith said she hopes the $330 million coming from provincial coffers doesn’t become an election issue.

And the Alberta NDP are calling on Smith to release all of the details about the deal before Albertans cast their ballots to select the next government.

On Tuesday, Smith said she hoped Calgary would give the UCP “a clear mandate to proceed with this arena deal” on May 29 – election day.

“I’m hoping that this doesn’t become an election issue,” Smith said at an unrelated UCP press conference Wednesday morning.

“I would hope that in the spirit of unanimity, we would see the same kind of approach of all the political parties in supporting this deal.”

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Click to play video: 'Believers and skeptics weigh in on Calgary’s proposed event centre'
Believers and skeptics weigh in on Calgary’s proposed event centre

Smith reiterated that Alberta’s commitment was to infrastructure in the area surrounding the arena in order to “respect provincial taxpayers.”

Smith noted there was a $312-million gap in capital project allocations in the last provincial budget, but balked at the city’s request for $200 million for downtown revitalization and claimed those funds would go to private companies headquartered mostly in Toronto.

While Calgary’s greater downtown plan does include financial incentives for office building owners to retrofit their properties into residential to help take up some of the near 30-per cent vacancy rate, renovations to the Arts Commons buildings and Stephen Avenue amenities are also part of the plan.

Click to play video: 'Timing of Calgary event centre deal comes with political implications'
Timing of Calgary event centre deal comes with political implications

Smith called the new deal that included provincial funds a “second stab” at making the Rivers District masterplan a reality after the Flames owners backed out at the end of 2021 over unexpected cost escalations.

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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley called on Smith to release all of the details of the deal.

“We learned today that there exists a confidential financial agreement between the parties that identifies additional financial liabilities by taxpayers contributions beyond the (funds) announced yesterday,” Notley said Wednesday afternoon.

Notley claimed the full details of the agreement will be kept confidential for six to eight weeks, “which just too coincidentally, lines up with right after the provincial election.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary, Flames ownership, province agree on $1.22B arena, area redevelopment deal'
Calgary, Flames ownership, province agree on $1.22B arena, area redevelopment deal

“I think it’s disrespectful to voters for Danielle Smith to try to make this an election issue for Albertans at the same time that she’s working to hide the details of the deal.”

Smith said the province’s commitment for infrastructure improvements around the event centre maxes out at $300 million currently.

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“The cost overruns are something that will have to be worked out between the Flames and the city of Calgary,” the UCP leader said.

But her NDP counterpart said there’s no way to know whether the province could be exposed to further liabilities.

“It’s super hypothetical at this point because we don’t have all the details,” Notley said. “We don’t know what the exposure is. And we know that there should be opportunities, real opportunities, fiscal opportunities for taxpayers. That’s where the business case for taxpayers has to come into play.”

More than just a land swap

A briefing released by the city that was originally given to Calgary city council on Tuesday morning outlined how the land will exchange hands between the city, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and Calgary Stampede.

The new city-owned and CSEC-operated event centre would sit on a 10-acre parcel, along with the community rink and plazas. The city would receive four commercial development parcels. And Calgary would retain ownership of the road rights of way around the 10-acre parcel along with ownership of the Saddledome parkade.

The Calgary Stampede would receive ownership of the current Saddledome site, the Weadickville site and “cash, based on current appraisals, from the sale of parcels to the province.”

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The Flames ownership group would come out with options on four potential commercial development parcels and the right to first offer to develop the Calgary Transit Victoria Park garage lands. That maintenance garage was slated for closure as part of the Green Line LRT construction.

Click to play video: '‘Let’s get it done’: Danielle Smith optimistic for new arena replacing Calgary Saddledome'
‘Let’s get it done’: Danielle Smith optimistic for new arena replacing Calgary Saddledome

Luring out “shy” voters

One political strategist called the agreement in principle a “win” for the UCP and Smith.

“There will be some resistance to the deal, but overall, it’s showing that she’s made Calgary a centerpiece of her commitment over the coming election period. And she obviously wants this to be a point of discussion and sees it as a win,” Evan Menzies of Crestview Strategy said.

He suggested Smith still has some “brand loyalty” with fiscal conservatives in the province, but recognized the UCP leader has suffered some “brand disconnect” in Calgary.

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“This is a way for Danielle (Smith) and her campaign team to say, ‘Listen, we care about Calgary and Calgary issues and we’re going to be there for Calgary all the way.’”

Click to play video: 'Calgary Saddledome replacement: Mayor announces deal reached to proceed with new arena'
Calgary Saddledome replacement: Mayor announces deal reached to proceed with new arena

Recent polls suggest a dead heat between the two parties, with a significant portion of the electorate undecided.

Menzies said the UCP are searching for ways to give reasons for what he calls “UCP shy voters” a reason to head to the polls at the end of May, especially in battleground Calgary.

“I think there’s a segment of the UCP shy voters that see that the province is getting a deal done for Calgary, where that may get them off the couch on Election Day.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton city councillor questions Calgary arena project funding'
Edmonton city councillor questions Calgary arena project funding

A ‘political stunt’

One former Calgary politician whose ward included the Saddledome is panning the new event centre deal.

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“Calgarians support a new facility, but they want to make sure that they’re getting a good return on investment out of that,” Jeromy Farkas said.

“I think that for all of the flaws that the original deal had — we were committing about half the money and were getting most of that money back in the long term — whereas this is just giving away the farm.”

Based on the few details made public, Farkas said it looks like the city left money on the table by not getting a ticket tax or naming rights.

The city said the finer points of the agreement like naming rights are still being negotiated.

Like Notley, Farkas wants to see more details on the agreement.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Election: Minister ridings at risk and political impact of Calgary event centre'
Alberta Election: Minister ridings at risk and political impact of Calgary event centre

“Calgarians deserve to know how much money of theirs is being spent. They deserve to know what they’re getting. They deserve to have the information around these land dealings because the arena is just a building.”

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And the one time mayoral-hopeful questioned the timing of the announcement — the week before the writ drop.

“The timing of this announcement makes it a political stunt,” Farkas said.

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