Calgary arena talks not expected to start anytime soon

A new panel still has to decide who will represent the city in talks with the Flames

New panel still has to decide who will represent the city in talks with the Flames

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)

It appears negotiations on a possible deal on a new arena to replace the Saddledome will take some time to get underway.

City council's event centre assessment committee decided Thursday that it will await a recommendation from a sub-committee on just who should represent the city in any talks with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation.

Earlier this week, city council approved a negotiating strategy for a possible arena funding deal.

It also voted to give conditional approval three other major projects. That list includes an expansion of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, a renovation of Arts Commons and a sports fieldhouse.

Previously, the chair of the event centre committee had said that if council approved a negotiating strategy, the process of reaching out to the Calgary Flames' ownership on a resumption of negotiations would happen as soon as possible.

The reality is: this will take a bit of time. 

Davison told reporters the newly created sub-committee will discuss who should represent the city in negotiations and make a recommendation to the event centre committee.

"It will include who a representative might be. That is to be determined. Do we need to look externally to some expertise to help us on the negotiation. Do we have the right people internally? So all of those things are questions that the sub-committee will ask and answer," said Davison.

Calgary's Saddledome, with the downtown skyline behind it, seen on a winter night. (Robson Fletcher)

He added that the event centre committee isn't scheduled to meet until early April. However, a meeting could be called earlier if the sub-committee has recommendations sooner.

The sub-committee, which consists of Davison's committee plus Coun. Evan Woolley and Coun. Jeromy Farkas, will also examine what public consultation should be done if an arena deal is reached with the Flames.

Both of those councillors represent communities that could be directly affected by a new arena and the development of an entertainment district.

Farkas and Woolley were among the four councillors who voted against the funding of the major projects.

Opponents glad they're involved

Farkas said he's glad he'll have some input and that provision will be made for public input.

"It's something that's going to mean a lot to not just the residents but also the businesses in Victoria Park. So if Calgary is ultimately to go ahead with a project like this, we need to make sure their concerns are well addressed," said Farkas.

For his part, Woolley said he's glad that the sub-committee will take into account other opinions, including those politicians who didn't support council's decision to pursue these projects.

"Calgarians have a diversity of perspectives and I think that it's important that in the work that we undertake, particularly if you're looking at a project of this scale and scope, that that diversity of perspectives is reflected," said Woolley.

While the work slowly turns to next steps, plenty of questions remain about what exactly council has done in conditionally supporting the four major projects.

It's estimated that altogether, the four projects will cost more than $1.5 billion. 

City has money

How much city dollars will go into this is a mystery. Woolley suggested that council has assembled more than $1 billion but it will be seeking additional cash from other partners.

That list of potential funders include the federal and provincial governments as well as private sources.

Woolley has expressed concern about how much money the city may have tied up in all of these projects. 

"I'm not certain that all of council has enough of an understanding or enough clarity on what was approved."

He said more details will be provided at council's March 18 meeting.

No tax hike needed 

Coun. Joe Magliocca said Thursday that none of these projects will have an impact on property tax rates. He said the BMO expansion and the arena are the first projects that are likely to be built.

It's expected the city will share the $500 million cost of the BMO expansion with the federal and provincial governments.

As for a new arena, Magliocca suggested the city has the money and is ready to roll.

"It's an all cash deal and MSI's," said Magliocca referring to the municipal sustainability initiative. That's a provincial grant program that transfers money annually to the city for infrastructure projects.

Magliocca said council will have to approve the funding for each of the projects as they're ready to move ahead. He estimates it will take 10 to 15 years to complete all of the four major projects.

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