Calgary administrators to report on financing for 4 major infrastructure projects in April

The project list includes a new arena to replace the Saddledome; a $500-million addition to the BMO Centre; a $412-million expansion to Arts Commons, and a new fieldhouse at Foothills Athletic Park.

'We should be ... making some decisions,' says Coun. Gondek

Calgary city council will debate the merits of four major infrastructure projects on Monday. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

It was hoped that Monday might be a day of decisions on some major projects city council is considering, but decisions won't be coming for another few months. 

After spending hours behind closed doors discussing four major infrastructure projects — a new arena to replace the Saddledome; a $500-million addition to the BMO Centre; a $412-million expansion to Arts Commons, and a new fieldhouse at Foothills Athletic Park — city council decided more information is needed, so they asked administrators to report back on funding options by April.

A committee was also struck to explore the Arts Commons proposal, and another committee was formed to look at the fieldhouse and a possible redevelopment of Foothills Athletic Park

Council members say all of the projects have merits — but what isn't known is how much money the city has for this or which project has priority.

Instead of a public discussion, city council went into a closed session to talk money and sequencing.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi signalled to council Monday morning that more information will be needed before decisions on prioritization can be made.

"I strongly suspect what will happen at the end of the day today will be we'll send administration back to reflect the discussion this morning in terms of developing more refined options for funding, financing and phasing on those four projects," he said, hours before councillors voted to do just that. 

This rendering of a proposed arena in Victoria Park shows how it would fit into the streetscape that the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation is planning on Olympic Way. This is the view from 14th Avenue S.E. (Rossetti/Calgary Flames)

But several councillors, including Jyoti Gondek, weren't happy about delaying things.

"I'm a little frustrated by doing deep dives that result in more work for admin when we should be setting clear direction and making some decisions," she said earlier Monday.

Coun. Jeff Davison says his colleagues will hear about the city's financial capacity, but adds it can't do everything so council will have to choose the best projects.

A rendering shows the proposed expansion to the BMO Centre in Calgary. (Calgary Stampede)

"First and foremost, what is the availability of any of these projects to attract follow-on capital? We're not at a critical time here in the economy that we can just say, let's just put our money wherever," he said.

"We really have to look at the projects that have meaningful impact, that have economic impact and that have social value to every citizen."

Economic impact assessment

A conceptual drawing of a proposed interior for a revamped Arts Commons in downtown Calgary. (City of Calgary)

An economic impact assessment released Friday showed that developing projects in a proposed culture and entertainment district in Victoria Park — including a new arena — could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.

Gondek says she's not interested in pitting projects against one another.

"There has been some perception — especially based on our agenda for Monday's meeting — that we're trying to, we're running a beauty contest if you will," she said.

Coun. Ward Sutherland says he believes the city can do two projects at the same time — the arena and the BMO expansion.

In 2013, the city's community and protective services committee​ voted in favour of constructing a $200-million facility at Foothills Athletic Park at University Drive and 24th Avenue N.W., close to both McMahon Stadium and the University of Calgary, as well as the C-Train line. (Calgary Multisport Fieldhouse Society)

"It's there. I've seen the dollars. We can do it," he said.

"I also think we can do the arts centre, sequence it later on."

Another question that will have to be answered will be whether other orders of government will help cover the hefty price tags.

With files from Scott Dippel


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