Calgary city council invites Flames back to table to talk new arena

The city initially proposed a three-way split on the cost of a new Calgary Flames arena

Artist's conceptual drawing of potential new Calgary Flames arena, shown at Calgary Events Centre Assessment Committee. SCREENSHOT

Calgary city council voted to try and re-engage the Calgary Flames in arena talks Tuesday.

The Flames broke off negotiations a year ago with president Ken King calling discussions “spectacularly unproductive.”

An event centre at the heart of a larger revitalized commercial and residential district east of downtown was presented in chambers Tuesday.

“What’s attractive is we’re not talking about just developing a one-off event centre,” Coun. Jeff Davison said

“We’re actually talking about how do we actually build this into a district that adds value for every single Calgarians.

“This isn’t just a hockey deal. This is a land deal and that’s what’s important to note about this one.”

Calgary Sports and Entertainment supplied an email response from King, who said “We are not making any formal comment, but we are looking forward to hearing from them.”

No new financial terms were presented Tuesday.

“First and foremost, the question is do we have a partner at the table with us or not?” Davison said.

“Once we have that, we can undertake what does a partnership look like, what would a cost structure look like, what would the broad parameters of an event centre look like and how do we approach that?”

Davison chairs an event centre assessment committee struck in May to revive the arena issue. He and CSEC exchanged cordial but noncommittal letters at that time.

That correspondence was the first public movement on a new building to house the NHL team since the fall of 2017, when replacing the 35-year-old Saddledome became civic election fodder.

CSEC broke off negotiations within days of Mayor Naheed Nenshi kicking off his campaign for a third term. Nenshi talked about a new arena as part of his vision for the downtown east side’s revitalization.

Davison said Tuesday the committee approved in principle a third-party economic impact evaluation for the future district.

“I’m totally happy to signal that we’re starting this conversation, but we have to have lots of discussion over what the parameters are both financial and more city-building,” Nenshi said in chambers.

“I’m happy we’re doing an economic study, but I think it has to go further than that because we know many, many academics and economists in the world have studied this and they’ve all come to the same conclusion: there’s no direct economic benefit from this.

“That said, we have to see if in fact we’re the exception to the rule or in fact there’s other social or public benefit that outweighs the lack of economic benefit.”

Before talks broke off, CSEC had offered to put $275-million into a new $500-million arena built on the east side of the downtown just north the Saddledome, and said the city should raise the remaining $225-million through a community revitalization levy.

A CRL allows the city to divert property taxes from new development that would theoretically spring up around a new arena into paying for it.

The city had proposed a three-way split on the cost of a $555-million arena, with the city and the Flames each paying $185 million and the remaining third raised from a surcharge on tickets.

The Victoria Park location for an arena came after an $890-million CalgaryNext project pitched by the Flames in 2015. That concept included a hockey arena, football stadium and field house on the west side of downtown.

Flames owners offered $200-million of their own money and proposed a $250-million loan be repaid through a ticket surcharge.

CalgaryNext was put on the back burner when council determined the project would cost as much as $1.8 billion, due to remediation of creosote-soaked soil on site.

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