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Study shows economic boost from new arena, but poll suggests Calgarians are divided on chipping in

As council prepares to look at the merits of providing tax dollars towards a new NHL arena, a financial report as well as a poll on public opinion could sway councillors opinion one way or the other.

The Events Centre Assessment Committee met on Friday morning to hear a report from accounting firm Ernst and Young on the potential return on investment of the Rivers District.

However their report was about much more than just an arena – or events centre – as it has been dubbed by council. It took into account three potential upgrades – The BMO Centre Expansion, Arts Commons, and a new event centre.

Building and upgrading all three would represent a fulfillment of Rivers District vision as a whole, but whether or not council is prepared to put money into all three remains to be seen.

Lance Mortlock, one of the presenters for Ernst and Young, made it clear that the scope of their report was not to give a recommendation to council on whether or not to chip in public money, but rather to show one measure of potential outcomes – the economic impact of the projects.

It was not meant to be a cost / benefit analysis, but was instead an input-output model.

“There are some limits to the input-output model but we felt it helps,” he said. “In balance, it was an easy to understand model and there was enough rigor in the model that it was the right model to use as part of this assessment.”

The report suggested construction would create 4,750 temporary, full-time jobs, and that there would be 1,536 full time permanent jobs created once the projects were complete (after 2024).

Thy also suggested an annual injection of $297 million into the local economy once the projects are complete.

Ernst and Young found that expenditures of $1.37 billion would result in a one time economic output of $1.70 billion.

Coun. Shane Keating said he understood that the report looked at three projects in tandem, but he worries that those who argue for only two of the projects might have an unforeseen result.

“It’s hard to argue that the event centre is not going to give you more full time employment over the other two projects, but the other two may have to happen if the event centre is going to be as good as it is,” he said.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she appreciated the fact that the report was more holistic, looking at how the three projects overall would contribute to the health of the River’s District.

“The other message this sends is that we are not pitting projects against each another, and I think that’s important,” she said. “There has been some perception(…) that we’re running a beauty-contest, if you will, and comparing projects against each other.”

She described the report as a solid case for developing all three projects.

However, the public remains mostly fixated on the arena, and a survey also put out Tuesday morning by Jack Lucas, assistant professor in social sciences at the University of Calgary, showed sharp division on the issue.

Fifty percent of those surveyed said they don’t support putting municipal funds towards an area. The supports came in at 46 per cent, with the final four per cent saying they’re unsure.

The survey found that those who supported Mayor Naheed Nenshi were significantly less likely to approve of municipal support for the events centre.

The survey was commissioned by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and conducted in November and December, 2018.

The poll was a sample of 1,975 people and the margin of error at a 95 percent confidence interval is 2.2 percent and larger for smaller groups within the sample.