Calgary

Kill the arena deal and fund the Green Line, says Calgary councillor

Coun. Evan Woolley says he wants the city to pull out of a deal to pay for half of a new arena for the Calgary Flames and direct most of that $290 million to the Green Line LRT project. 

Evan Woolley wants city to divert funds to LRT project, affordable housing, police station

Coun. Evan Wolley wants the city to pull out of a deal to fund half of a proposed arena for the Calgary Flames, left, and invest the majority of that money in the Green Line LRT project. (City of Calgary)

Coun. Evan Woolley says he wants the city to pull out of a deal to pay for half of a new arena for the Calgary Flames and direct most of that $290 million to the Green Line LRT project. 

He says he'll put forward a motion in council chambers on Thursday. 

The move comes as city council debates whether to maintain already approved tax increases or cut services in order to reduce or remove those hikes. 

It also comes just over a month after a provincial budget that suddenly slashed funding to the Green Line over the next four years by 85 per cent — from $550 million to $75 million.  

Following the budget, the province signalled in its Bill 20 that while it will honour the previous NDP government's commitment of $1.5 billion for the Green Line, it wants to reserve the right to cancel that funding with 90 days notice.

"These are really tough budget decisions that we're going to have to make in the next couple of days. Council has been really clear that everything is on the table," said Woolley. 

"The arena is funded by property tax dollars, and when I think about what's most important to Calgarians and what's going to have the most benefit, I think about police, fire, transit, roads and helping take care of those people in our city that need our help the most."

Timing of the deal

Woolley says he understands the need for a new arena, but that now is not the time. 

"We are asking every single business unit and department to stretch and optimize infrastructure assets," he said. 

"I think the Flames will appreciate the financial position we find ourselves in, and we need to come to the table to discuss a different way to fund this arena."

Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he'll support Woolley's motion, and questions why council was forced to approve the deal quickly during the summer when there's still no legal agreement signed for the arena. 

"I think it's going to be incumbent on proponents of the new arena to say why this needs to be the priority versus other things in our community," he said. 

Woolley's motion will need 10 votes on council in order to proceed, which will be difficult to achieve on a council that voted overwhelmingly for the arena deal in July. 

Affordable housing and police, too

The Green Line is to eventually stretch from Seton in the far southeast all the way up to 160th Avenue North, but the first stage will run from Shepard in the southeast to 16th Avenue N.

Woolley was one of four councillors, along with Farkas, to vote against the Flames arena deal and pressed for more consultation on the agreement after council was given only one week to make a decision. 

He wants to see $200 million of the arena money go toward the Green Line, $45 million to the construction of a downtown Calgary police station and the remaining $45 million used to help improve city-owned affordable housing. 

The Green Line has been under attack of late, even in council chambers. 

Green Line woes

Coun. Jeff Davison, who chaired the arena committee and was a strong supporter of the arena deal, suggested the LRT project should be cut in two, with a southeast leg and a north leg that don't connect through downtown. 

But the councillor takes a different view on the arena. 

"To reconsider a project midway through a plan, it's irresponsible, and it sets the wrong tone for investors going forward," he said on Wednesday. 

Davison says the arena is part of a larger vision for an entertainment district on the Stampede's doorstep that will include a new convention centre and, yes, the Green Line. 

"This is about picking a district up out of the ground and creating a tax base where one has not existed before," he said. 

Focus on building Green Line

The massive, $4.9-billion Green Line project is funded by the city, the province and the federal government, but the hole left by the recent provincial decision to withhold funds has put the city in a tight financial spot. 

The team responsible for its construction is working on a list of options for getting the LRT project through the downtown and within the $3 billion in local and federal money that has been assembled for the line.

Michael Thompson, who heads the project, said that once provincial money comes through in a few years, then the city can determine what else can be built.

His goal is to present those options to the Green Line committee in December.

The city has spent more than $450 million already, preparing the alignment for construction and acquiring land.

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.

With files from Scott Dippel

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