It’s clear Calgary needs a new arena – that’s not really controversial. What’s controversial is “who pays and how much”? I’m in favour of a new arena in the Victoria Park location – eventually and under the right circumstances.
Here are the conditions under which I would vote for a new arena:
- The Greenline LRT and other projects are very expensive and Calgary doesn’t have a lot of available money at the moment. As long as we are laying off City employees, I don’t think a new arena is a good idea unless it’s revenue neutral or (better yet) revenue positive. It needs to be primarily treated as an investment and judged on finances, not as an art project and judged on how good it makes people feel.
- A new arena absolutely cannot result in increased taxes.
- I’m firmly against taxpayer money lining the pockets of a private business. It’s one thing for private companies to profit from City projects while building or managing those projects – it’s a completely different thing for the City to basically buy a business for bunch of very wealthy people and grant it to them free and clear. It’s an investment, not a charity.
- I believe the new arena design should provide an equal or greater number of parking spots as the current location provides (i.e. underground parking). Parking is in short supply in that area already.
- There is a strong possibility that if Calgary wins the bid for the 2026 Olympics, that additional funding will be available for a arena, and that we could build it in time for winter 2026. I would be very much in favour of a new arena being part of the Olympics bid.
- If we do not win the Olympic bid, then I’m still in favour of the arena, but only once the Greenline LRT has been completed. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have two massive projects (along with the associated costs) at the same time. Even if we could just barely afford it, it would leave Calgary in a vulnerable position in the event of an emergency. The arena project should not interfere with our resilience.
- As a starting point, the City should act as a part owner with the same percentage of ownership as the City invests. If we put in 30% of the funds, we should get 30% of the profits from ticket sales, rentals, and concessions, just like any other part owner. I’m willing to be flexible and creative, but that’s the logical starting point. At the non-negotiable minimum, the arena revenue stream should pay for all the City’s debt financing until the debt is paid off.
- Once the new arena is built, the current Saddledome is likely to become redundant. A plan for tearing it down and replacing it with something useful should be in place.
- Many people, including the Flames owners, point to the arena Edmonton built as an example to emulate, but they don’t mention the fact that part of that deal is the taxpayers of Edmonton pay the Oilers millions of dollars a year in sponsorships in addition to the arena. That might be a good deal in Edmonton, which was trying to revitalize an area, but it’s a bad deal in Calgary, and it won’t fly with Calgarians. Also, 5 of 7 NHL rinks are privately owned, so this is not “normal”. The taxpayer part of the arena has to be on the taxpayer’s terms.
IF these conditions are fulfilled, I would like to see a new arena built.