I won’t lie, I knew nothing about hockey. But I knew Jarome Iginla. So I blended into the crowd pretending to understand the game, just waiting for my opportunity to cheer as others cheered - albeit always a second late as I was playing catch up. I did not know much about Calgary - but this was my trial by fire, or should I say trial by flames.
The Saddledome is an iconic part of Calgary’s skyline and woven with memories of great moments.
The rushed arena “deal” was never a deal for Calgarians
The now stalled-out, over budget new Flames arena was never a deal for Calgarians.
In July 2019, on the eve of the City of Calgary’s massive $60-million budget cuts to emergency services, transit and affordable housing, the Flames ownership strong-armed City Council to rush through the approval of a $290-million public subsidy for a new arena. This occurred in an unprecedentedly short single week of public “engagement” — while many Calgarians were off on vacation and otherwise not paying attention. In comparison, City Council spent years on public consultations for comparatively minor projects like bike lanes.
Pushed by proponents like Councillor Davison —who chaired the committee that oversaw the City of Calgary simply accepting the Flames owners’ original demands— City Council handed over $290-million in public subsidies to the wealthy Flames owners, including $100-million worth of exclusive real estate development opportunities for the Flames owners on City-owned land.
A catalyst for anything but public sector investment
After two years, a secretly arranged, taxpayer-funded 1,000-stall gravel parking lot is all that has been realized for redevelopment of East Victoria Park.
Perhaps recognizing that few Calgarians would support a $290 million public subsidy to the wealthy Flames owners, proponents of the arena deal tried to sway public opinion by touting the arena’s role as a “catalyst for development” in East Victoria Park. However, two years after the “deal” was inked not a single new dollar in private development has been announced in East Victoria Park.
Instead, the Flames’ ownership has now come back asking for more money and less oversight.
The City of Calgary’s new arena infographic touted the project potential as a “catalyst for attracting private sector investment into the Culture and Entertainment District” as justification for massive $290-million in public subsidy to a professional sports team valued at $440-million and owned by private billionaires.
A secret land deal (exposed only this past spring) involves a massive, taxpayer-funded 1,000-stall surface parking lot in the heart of the new Culture & Entertainment District beside the arena. This is also the site of the future Green Line station, making for an unfortunate disregard of transit-oriented development in the middle of our downtown. Under the terms of the secret deal, the parking lot is required to remain for a minimum of 8-years. It is troubling that the details of this secret land deal have not been publicly released— it is estimated to be worth as much as $63-million.
Over budget, the Flames owners are now attempting to squeeze more money out of Calgary taxpayers
In April, we found out the project is now substantially over budget and that the owners of the Flames are now working behind closed doors to squeeze an additional $70-million subsidy, more free land and the removal of public oversight by the highly regarded Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) from the project. At a time when Calgary is faced with a massive fiscal-hole driven by the loss of approximately $16-billion in downtown property value due to the shrinking footprint of the oil and gas sector, Calgarians deserve the opportunity to weigh in on any further billionaire bailouts by their City Council - not just because the Flames’ ownership is asking for more money, more land, and more power, but because Calgarians were never really given the opportunity to weigh in on this deal in the first place.
Funding communities is what will revive Calgary’s economy
Calgarians know better than to believe that massive public subsidies to private billionaires will revitalize our economy.
I love the Flames and I want to see Calgary thrive and succeed. In order to do so, we need strong leaders on the next City Council that know that if we are going to spend money, it needs to be on our communities, not just subsidizing billionaires.
Imagine how much support we could’ve provided to our communities. Instead of subsidies for the wealthy, I will fight for:
- Investing directly in Calgary’s amazing arts and cultural organizations to expand programming and make Calgary into more of a magnet city home to the best festivals and events
- More investment in recreation facilities for Ward 8 communities, given recent closures including the Eau Claire YMCA and Beltline Pool
- Investment in transit, including building the Green Line and improving frequency of bus and train service
- Building amenity-rich neighbourhoods with revitalized parks and public spaces.
If you believe in public engagement, if you believe in prudent spending of public money, if you believe in transparency of our local government, then we must press pause on the arena project.