'You're asking us to spoon-feed it to you': Mayoral hopeful says Flames arena deal was never going to fly

Both Bill Smith and Naheed Nenshi also responded Thursday after the Flames' released their proposal for an arena deal to the public.

Coun. Andre Chabot says he thought middle ground existed when deal was put before the city

Andre Chabot says there was likely a middle ground that could have been found between the city and Flames' proposals for new arena. (CBC)

Calgary councillor and Mayoral hopeful Andre Chabot is pulling no punches in calling the arena deal put forward by the Flames unfair to the city and its taxpayers. 

As a city councillor, Chabot had been privy to the details of the Flames' proposal before it was made public Thursday. When he met with individuals from the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. originally, he says he told them the deal would never fly as it was.

"It's one thing to say you want your cake and you want to eat it too, but you're asking us to spoon-feed it to you," Chabot said. 

"It would be an insult to Calgarians for us to foot that much of the bill without some sort of recovery from it whether that be through taxes or rent, or something."

The potential for a new arena in Calgary has become a municipal election issue as voters head to the polls on Oct. 16.

The deal

The details the CSEC released Thursday stated the corporation had been willing to pony up $275 million in up-front funding. The remaining $225 million would be covered by a community revitalization levy, or CRL, managed by the city.

The total cost estimate of the Flames proposal was $500 million.

CSEC president Ken King said after years of fruitless negotiations with the city there would be no further proposals made for a new arena. 

The city publicly released its own proposal last Friday, which estimated the total cost being $555 million but included the costs to the city of demolishing the current Saddledome and the land the new arena would be built on. 

Nenshi responds

Chabot wasn't the only mayoral hopeful to speak out against the Flames deal. Incumbent Naheed Nenshi said Thursday the deal CSEC released was somewhat misleading. 

"The proposal I read about this morning was a little bit news to me. It wasn't quite what we thought was on the table," Nenshi said. 

Specifically, he took issue with what was being called "up-front" funding. Nenshi said a portion of what the Flames classified as the $275 million they had been willing to pony up consisted of a user fee or "ticket tax" of $150 million.

Nenshi said that $150 million would have been financed by the city.

"In their proposal they pay zero rent, zero property tax, and they get 100 per cent of all of the revenues from all sporting events, concerts and special events," Nenshi said.

"I'm not sure where that turns into a 50/50 partnership." 
Incumbent Naheed Nenshi says the deal the Flames released Thursday wasn't as simple as it was laid out. (CBC)

Bill Smith responds

Bill Smith, former president of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party, is also considered to be one of the front runners of the mayoral race. He had refused to comment on the city's proposal released last week until he'd seen the proposal from the Flames. 

On Thursday he distanced himself from both deals saying, "It's hard to make a decision based on two pie charts." 

He said principally the deals compare different things. On one hand, the Flames deal doesn't include the costs of upgrades to transit or the demolition of the Saddledome. But on the other, the city deal didn't consider a CRL, Smith said.

Smith said he would support tax dollars going towards a stadium if the deal was akin to the one reached in Edmonton, where it lead to the development of an entire sports and entertainment district but he wasn't clear if either of these deals met that mark. 

Smith has weathered accusations from some quarters that his campaign donors include the Flames' ownership. 

In an interview with Calgary News at Six host Rob Brown, Smith was asked if the reason he wasn't coming out against the Flames deal was because he was accepting campaign donations from the Flames ownership, to which he unequivocally said, "No."

Under provincial law, campaigns must disclose donors by the March 1 following a general election, however Nenshi has released his list of donors and challenged other candidates to do the same before the Oct. 16 vote.

Smith has said he will not provide a public account of who is donating to his campaign until after the election. 

Candidate Bill Smith had refused to comment on the city's proposal for the arena until the Flames' proposal was released. (CBC)

Community revitalization levy

Both Nenshi and Chabot took issue with the Flames proposal allotting $225 million to come from a CRL.

The levy is essentially a loan from the province, paid down with property taxes generated by new development in a given area. The money needed for the arena in Victoria Park would theoretically come from the city's current CRL for the Rivers District. 

"It's fully committed. We have plans on building stuff with it and there's no extra money left. ... So to suggest that we use CRL money, means that either we would have to get an extension of this CRL or drop some of the things that are currently planned to be built," Chabot told CBC News.

Chabot said an extension from the province was unlikely, and some of the projects that money is currently allotted to include elevating the area above the floodplain and expanding the BMO Centre. 
The area marked with a red outline is the area included in thecity's community revitalization levy initiative. (City of Calgary)

Is there a middle ground?

Chabot said he thinks there was room for negotiation when the Flames originally put the plan forward "to try and better understand their perspective and why it is they felt so put off by the offer that the city had put forward."

The Mayor's Office released a graphic demonstrating the difference between the city's proposal and that of the CSEC. It can be seen below. 
(City of Calgary)
(City of Calgary)

With files from Dave Gilson and CBC Calgary News at Six