Right arena deal could withstand more than a few days scrutiny, says Calgary councillor

The city announced Monday evening that it had struck a deal with the Calgary Flames on a new arena, and that council would vote to finalize the agreement in one week. 

Calgarians have less than 56 hours left to share thoughts on Saddledome replacement

Coun. Evan Woolley had hoped to delay the vote on a new arena deal for Calgary until September, but council struck it down — leaving Calgarians just days to give feedback on the proposal. (CBC, City of Calgary)

The city announced Monday evening that it had struck a deal with the Calgary Flames on a new arena, and that council would vote to finalize the agreement in one week. 

But public feedback is being accepted only until noon Friday — giving Calgarians 89 hours from the time of the announcement to share their thoughts on whether $275 million in tax dollars should be spent toward a $550-million arena for an NHL team. 

It's a divisive topic, and according to Coun. Evan Woolley, far too short of a turnaround to digest the detailed proposal that took 14 months to negotiate.

"I have asked numerous times what the rush is, why one week, and I have not been given a clear answer," said Woolley.

As of the time this article was published Wednesday morning, there was only 56 hours left.

If you want to weigh in, time is ticking.

Woolley had hoped to delay the decision. On Monday, he put forward an amendment to postpone the vote on the arena deal until September. 

It was defeated in a 4-9 vote.

Time to act is now, says Davison

Coun. Jeff Davison, who voted against Woolley's amendment, said all parties agreed one week is probably an appropriate amount of time. 

"You should know that if this [amendment] passes, this deal is done tonight and you will forever be known as the council that likely lost the Calgary Flames," Davison told council, urging them to stick with the July 29 deadline.

That statement seemed a bit surprising, given that just a few hours earlier, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) vice-chairman Ken King had said there was never any risk of the Flames leaving Calgary.

"There was never any sense of us wanting to be anywhere else. You can't make that statement any more boldly than having your owners write a cheque for $275 million," King said following the deal's announcement.

However, the timeline is actually built into the letters of intent as a condition — meaning the deal, as it stands, would be kaput if it's not approved within the week.

Davison said the condition wasn't suggested by any one party, nor did it have something to do with the aim of skirting public backlash.

"The detractors are always going to say, 'I want more time, I want more information,' but council has all of these policies they approved, they have all the information before them to make a decision and it's time to act," he said on Tuesday.

When I see that you only have this long to consult, it's because nobody's really interested in what the citizens have to say.- Moshe Lander, economist

Coun. Jeromy Farkas said at least on the term sheet he received, it seemed clear that the parties could mutually agree to extend the terms.

"My thinking is it's a very artificial deadline, especially on the city side," Farkas said.

"If this is the right deal for all parties involved, I think that will bear out in a longer engagement period — more eyes, more scrutiny."

Pollster Janet Brown said the fact the consultation period is so short, and set in the middle of summer when many people are on vacation, gives her the impression that council and the Flames are not interested in input.

"All sides have decided this is a deal better negotiated by the elites and 'let's keep the masses out of it, because the masses won't provide anything productive,'" she said. 

Brown said other parties, like disability advocates or arts groups, could likely provide excellent input but it's not fair to expect groups that operate often on shoestring budgets to have the capacity to respond immediately.

"I don't think the deal was rushed … but certainly the need for approval is being rushed," she said.

The 19,000-seat arena would replace the aging Saddledome in east Victoria Park. If the deal goes forward on Monday, construction could begin in 2021 and is projected to take three years to complete. 

And it sounds like Calgarians should accept it's going to go forward, at least according to economist Moshe Lander.

"The fact that this has gone on for four years of negotiations, broken down, dislike, mistrust, whatever, suggests it's not a good business deal.… The Flames and the city are engaged in a staredown to see who's going to blink first," Lander said.

"When I see that you only have this long to consult, it's because nobody's really interested in what the citizens have to say. This is a done deal."


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Ken King was an owner of the Calgary Flames. In fact, he is vice-chairman of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, the company that owns the team.
    Jul 24, 2019 10:02 AM MT

With files from Colleen Underwood, Scott Dippel


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