Calgary councillors fight to extend arena consultation period

Two Calgary city councillors have asked the city to extend the public consultation period for a proposed event centre that would cost taxpayers $275 million.

Evan Woolley, Jeromy Farkas want more than a week for public to weigh in on $550M project

The city announced Monday evening 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. Coun. Evan Woolley (left) was joined by another councillor in asking for an extension on Thursday. (CBC, City of Calgary)

Two Calgary city councillors have asked the city to extend the public consultation period for a proposed event centre that would cost taxpayers $275 million.

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.

"There are many good components in the terms and conditions," Coun. Evan Woolley wrote to the city manager in a letter dated Thursday.

"The process in which the terms and conditions were brought to council and the limited time for review is disappointing."

Woolley is proposing an two-week engagement period in early September and a final decision to be made by council at the end of that month.

"We engaged Calgarians more broadly and deeply on public toilets than we have on a $275-million investment," Woolley added Thursday evening.

"One week is insufficient time for me to do my own due diligence and to answer the questions Calgarians and my constituents have asked of me ... This is a big decision that I have to make with their money."

'Risk exposure'

Another councillor also wants to put the brakes on.

Referring to a March 4 resolution outlining a public engagement plan, Coun. Jeromy Farkas said it would be a gamble to rush public input.

"I am duty bound to bring to your attention my reasonable concern that a final and rushed decision on the proposed terms and conditions — without complying with engagement policies or fulfilling the aforementioned commitment to engage Calgarians — may expose city council and administration to reputational, financial, or legal risks," Farkas wrote in a separate letter to the city manager.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says that while he doesn't completely see a need for the extension, he's not against it if council agrees.

"You do consultation if you think there are changes that are possible and you want to hear about those changes, or you do it if as a politician you genuinely have not made up your mind and you need to hear from the public about what is going to happen. I am not convinced that either of those criteria are in place here, so I am not sure what dragging the decision out will do," Nenshi said Thursday.

"If that, however, is council's will, that they want to do a little more engagement, and if they can promise to be truly open-minded while they listen to the results of that engagement, I certainly wouldn't be opposed to that."

'Time to act'

An enthusiastic proponent of the proposed $550-million project — that would see a 50/50 cost split between city taxpayers and the Flames' ownership group — has said the existing week of consultation is enough.

"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," Coun. Jeff Davison said Tuesday.

Read Evan Woolley's letter:

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The proposed event centre would replace the 36-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.

The city would own 100 per cent of the new facility and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. would bear 100 per cent of the operating, maintenance and repair costs for the 35-year agreement.

The Monday timing of the proposed arena deal was not ideal with the announcement the following day of $60-million in budget cuts affecting emergency services, transit service and affordable housing and resulting in 115 layoffs.

With files from Scott Dippel and Sarah Rieger


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