Analysis

CalgaryNext or 'Plan B': Calgary council to compare arena visions in May

A report that compares the apparently doomed CalgaryNext proposal to an as-yet mysterious Plan B is due to come before city council sometime before the middle of May.

So far, more is unknown than known about Victoria Park alternative

This is a rendering of the new Flames sporting complex that was proposed for Calgary's West Village. (calgarynext.com)

Plan B is coming.

To paraphrase former U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld: there are known knowns and known unknowns, but there are also unknown unknowns about Calgary's new arena.

Here is what we do know about Plan B.

It envisions an "events centre" in Victoria Park. Yes, an arena.

We also know that a report on Plan B that also compares it to the apparently doomed CalgaryNext proposal is due to come before city council sometime before the middle of May.

It's also not a secret that city officials have been holding almost weekly meetings with CSEC since last fall.

The mayor's office describes those meetings as "continuous and productive discussions."

But those words are quickly followed by, "this is a complex project and this process takes time."

What we don't know

What we don't know is the precise location of the events centre. We don't know what it will look like. We don't know how much it might cost.

We don't know how much the city might contribute to the project or what might be expected of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), the private company that owns the Calgary Flames.

So there's a lot about the Plan B report that remains shrouded in mystery.

One thing that is for sure is that no matter what city council decides to do with that report, there will be a public consultation afterwards.

That process (of unknown duration and method) will give Calgarians their chance to say what they think of the proposed city commitment and their expectation of the Flames organization for the project.

Talk in election year not ideal

The fact all this is coming in a municipal election year is probably not ideal for politicians and wannabe council members.

If you talk with council members, it's obvious the to-and-fro of the past week leaves them a bit cold.

A few have muttered off-the-record they're unhappy Mayor Naheed Nenshi declared last week that CalgaryNext is dead.
After all, the point of the Plan B report is to compare it to the CalgaryNext proposal so council can decide which option is better.

The contrast and compare exercise hasn't even happened yet, but one of two options is already dead?

Off-the-cuff remarks don't add value

The latest to weigh in publicly is Coun. Shane Keating.

He thinks there's a solution at that table where the city and CSEC have been meeting.

But it's also clear in his latest blog post he isn't a fan of bluster or clashing egos over what could be a signature building for the city and for the city's top sports team.

"I do not believe that off-the-cuff remarks about moving hockey teams or premature proclamations that a project is dead add value to our negotiations," writes Keating.

A few councillors have talked about there being no city money going into a new arena project, but then in the next breath, they talk about contributing land or servicing for such a facility which could be a community-wide asset.

Keating envisions other options as being possible because he feels a new arena is necessary.

For example, Keating says the city could lend money to CSEC for the construction of the arena and get paid back. Possibly entering a revenue sharing agreement is another way for the city to recover funds for a facility.

Olympic bid factor?

One thing it's hard to disagree with Keating on is that there are many details that need to be sorted through.

Barring unknown unknowns, the next step in that process is getting to see that Plan B report.

Speaking of unknowns, how does an Olympic bid factor into all of this?  Certainly, the backing of other orders of government and actually winning a bid would change the funding equation for an arena.

No federal/provincial support for a bid, not proceeding with a Games bid or losing that bid at an IOC meeting next year would offer some clarity.

And also lost in the shuffle: what happens with the even-older McMahon Stadium or that fieldhouse that so many amateur sports groups say Calgary badly needs?

Apparently the Plan B report will address only the arena.

The rest is for sometime further down the road.