Same old song and dance: Edmonton councillor who voted against arena deal says Calgary script a familiar one

Edmonton Coun. Tony Caterina, who voted against the deal that financed the new $613 million Rogers Place arena in Edmonton, says Calgary's arena argument has a familiar ring to it.

Coun. Tony Caterina voted against deal but says Edmonton's new arena is good for the city

An Edmonton councillor who voted against Rogers Place said he's glad the arena got built, but still thinks the city could have driven a harder deal with Oilers team owner Darryl Katz. (John Robertson/CBC)

It's not his city, or team, but Edmonton Coun. Tony Caterina certainly sees a familiar dance unfolding in the arena negotiations taking place between Calgary city council and the Calgary Flames, which will be an issue in the upcoming mayoral election.

Caterina spoke Monday to The Calgary Eyeopener, where he confirmed that when it comes to arena negotiations, the tone and tenor coming out of Calgary sounds an awful lot like what he heard in Edmonton, where the city and Oilers owner Darryl Katz fought for years before agreeing to a deal to finance the $613 million Rogers Centre, which opened to rave reviews in 2016.

Below is a condensed transcript of that conversation.

Q. Does this sound familiar to you at all?

A. It's starting to sound awfully familiar. Certainly, the positions taken by each side is familiar as well. Each one will have their opening negotiating issue to put on the table, and now the debate starts.

Q. How did that play out in Edmonton? I remember [Oilers owner] Darryl Katz making threats similar to the ones King made Friday [that the team could make more money elsewhere].

A  This one is sort of veiled slightly, but basically [it's] the same sort of idea, the possibility of the Flames leaving Calgary to [play in] some other destination. That is always a tactic that's used to pull on the heartstrings and get that conversation and public sentiment on their side. It's a little more complicated than that. The NHL is governed by 30 governors and they actually have to decide whether a team can actually move or not move, so that's the first thing that  I would say to consider — and this will be part of the negotiations.

Certainly, whoever gains the trust of the public, and the sentiment of the public, will probably be in a better position to negotiate.

Calgary Sports Entertainment CEO Ken King, and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, are repeating a familiar script to get a new arena built in the city, says an Edmonton councillor who voted against the deal that enabled Rogers Place to be built. (CBC)

Q. Didn't [Katz] threaten three times to move [the Oilers out of Edmonton]?

A. Yes I believe it was three times. [Although he] did it slightly more openly than just a comment like that [from King] — visited Quebec City, visited Seattle — so there were a number of explicit suggestions that maybe the team might move if we didn't agree to certain terms.

Q. There's an argument going around that Calgary doesn't need an arena as much as Edmonton did. Do you buy that?

A. I don't know what the condition of the Saddledome is in at this point, so I'll leave that to the experts there to see why they, first of all, need a new rink in Calgary. And certainlly everyone wants the newest and shiniest and now that Edmonton has it, it was only a matter of time before the request came in from our sister city in Calgary, and the time has come now. Someone will have to rationalize why a new arena is necessary and that's going to be part of the selling of this new building to the public, to the city and to the Flames organization.

Q. During the arena debate, the argument was made that Edmonton has the oldest arena in the league — the same argument that's being made here in Calgary. Was that a compelling argument in Edmonton?

A. For many it was a compelling argument. The old building that we had here — still have — has been estimated to have an additional 50 years of life still in it, but certainly it didn't have the bells and whistles, and it didn't have the size of the concourse that new NHL facilities have, and that's part of what  the rationale is [for building a new arena]. The hockey surface [in a new arena] basically stays the same.

The seating basically stays the same. It might be a little bit bigger or more seating, but it's the concourse area that generates the revenue. That's what everyone [running pro sports franchises] is looking for, that bigger concourse, more restaurants, more bars, more souvenir shops. Think of it almost like another mall where people come and spend additional monies while they're at the game.

Edmonton Councillor Tony Caterina voted against Edmonton's arena deal, but says it was the deal, not the arena project, that he didn't like. He sees similarities between the Edmonton and Calgary arena negotiations. (Tony Caterina)

Q. You voted against the deal in Edmonton. Are you glad it went ahead? Has it made Edmonton a better place?

A. I think it has (made Edmonton a better place). The way we went was with that CRL, Community Revitalization Levy, which initially, no one knew exactly how that would work, if it would spur other development in an area where we really did want to see development happen. It was derelict for many many years, along an old CN Rail yard. At this point, I'm happy that  the arena is built.

I was never opposed to the arena itself; I was actually opposed to the funding formula that was being proposed. At the end of the day, I didn't think that the City of Edmonton got the best deal that it could have when everything was said and done, but now that it is done, it's been a year, development has inccurred around it, and [there's] more to come, so from that aspect, it certainly has been a benefit to the city.

It's kept people working, jobs that were needed. And now there's such an excitement in the city because of this facility, that certainly I think it's working out OK, there's still time to go. CRLs go over a 20 year period. The first year, it's been good. It actually takes 20 years to pay back the monies that were used to build this. I hope that Calgary can negotiate something that everyone — both sides — can be comfortable with and move on.

The Scotiabank Saddledome, the home of the Calgary Flames, is now the NHL's oldest arena. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

Q. Is the deal being pitched by Mayor Nenshi and the city a fair one?

A. On the surface, it sounds like a fair deal when you're splitting it three ways, but remember that one part of this — the three-thirds — and I'm sure that's where Mr. King is coming from — is the ticket tax, and that was an argument here as well too. That the ticket tax was actually the franchise's money being put in there as well too, so I guess you can look at it the way Mr. King is looking at it, which is that he's paying two-thirds of the split, not just the one-third.

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener