Despite unanimous council direction to administration back in March, Calgary is ready to move ahead on a new event centre project without a public engagement plan.
Well, unless you consider six days a plan.
Details on the new Calgary arena / event centre proposal were made public Monday and called for a 50/50 cost split in the $550 million multi-use facility. Demolition and land costs were separated out and bring the city’s total investment to $290 million.
What surprised many observers is the narrow window of opportunity for Calgarians to express their views on the proposal. Written submissions can be made up until noon on July 26, but feedback will be accepted via submissions to councillors until Monday.
However, at the March 4, 2019 special meeting of council, a motion arising from a verbal report on the Event Centre Assessment Committee (ECAC) called for administration to “develop a public engagement plan” that included public feedback on the terms and conditions of a deal with Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) and gather public input and feedback on the facility, programming, access, gathering spaces and other topics of interest.
That report was to be delivered to council no later than Q3, 2019.
No answers on need for quick vote on Calgary arena deal
Coun. Evan Woolley said they’ve been given no answers on the need for such expediency on the event centre deal.
“So, we’re being asked to make a decision on terms and conditions of a deal before, in the absence of any engagement plan that council directed,” he said.
Further, in the original draft principles of the ECAC (July 27, 2018), it calls for engagement throughout the process “whenever possible to ensure transparency.”
It goes on to say that should a funding agreement be reached, “it must be made public and presented to Council for final decision.” These principles also appear on ECAC chair, Coun. Jeff Davison’s ward blog.
The minimum bar for the latter has been accomplished with the recent delivery of the proposal and expected vote July 29.
CMLC public engagement presentation
In an October 2018 ECAC meeting, CMLC did present on public engagement. In that presentation, a slide showed some of the main engagement themes. The public presentation didn’t include the “mixed opinions” about a potential new arena site, and a “common theme was a concern of this being funded by taxpayer dollars,” as is shown in the CMLC’s full report on public engagement for the Rivers District Master Plan.
Some councillors have pointed to this extensive CMLC public engagement as due diligence done on public engagement. In a post on her council page, Coun. Jyoti Gondek writes, “Calgarians have weighed in on a new event centre through various means for the past three years, including over 6,000 residents providing comments on the Rivers District plan at 18 community events held throughout Calgary in 2018.”
That public engagement process was started in February 2017 with stakeholder workshops. In September of that same year, talks broke down between the city and CSEC.
“They’ve been spectacularly unproductive meetings,” CSEC president and CEO Ken King said at the time of dealings with the city. He said the Calgary Flames would not be pursuing a new arena.
Full city-wide public engagement on the CMLC’s River District Master Plan began in April 2018 and ended in July 2018. In October 2018, city council voted to re-establish contact with CSEC and convene talks on a new event centre project. During that time, the Rivers District Master Plan was completed.
FULL CMLC Engagement Report
The CMLC’s public engagement didn’t have any of the current financial arrangements for the event centre as a part of their outreach.
The March 4, 2019 public engagement directive to administration mentioned earlier in this story didn’t acknowledge the prior work done by the CMLC. Presumably they meant something in addition to public engagement work already done.
How will the Calgary arena public engagement submissions be used?
A media request was made early Tuesday morning to get more specifics on how this Calgary arena public engagement plan would work. Via City of Calgary media relations, a response was sent back saying that request had been forwarded to Coun. Jeff Davison’s office.
Neither that request nor a mid-day follow up received a response from either Davison or his office. Subsequent follow ups have also not received a response. Council convened at 1 p.m. Tuesday after going late on Monday night.
Specifically, we were trying to find out how the City would manage the Calgary arena public submissions. How would it be tracked? Collated? What assurances have been put in place all public input will be taken into account? Will the public have the chance to view all of the public correspondences – as they often do in the city’s engage portal (What We Heard).
We also wanted to know what weight city administration – and councillors – would offer the public’s submissions given the short window to participate.
Woolley said every councillor is different in how they respond to public engagement.
“Everybody has their own processes for making decisions on a whole range of things. And it will inform councillors, in whatever way they want it to inform them. In individual ways,” he said.
Where to make public submissions
Calgarians are invited to make public submissions through the following portals:
- Citizens can share their views during the 7-day public review period by calling their Councillor or providing a written submission through the City Clerk’s Office.
- Comments received by Noon, July 26 2019 will be included in the corporate record and distributed at the July 29 Combined Meeting of Council.
- Communications may be delivered or mailed to: Office of the City Clerk, The City of Calgary, 700 Macleod Trail SE, P.O. Box 2100, Postal Station “M”, Calgary, Alberta T2P 2M5
- Faxed to 403-268-2362
- Emailed to PublicSubmissions@calgary.ca