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Calgary stickhandles ahead with plans for new arena

Calgary city council vowed to move ahead with an Event Centre in the Rivers District, despite their failed deal with owners of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

That will include the resurrection of the city’s Event Centre Assessment Committee, which folded after the July 2021 deal was signed. It also calls for the engagement of a third-party to determine if Calgary’s Sports and Entertainment is interested in re-entering discussions. They’ll also examine if there are other parties interested in development of an Event Centre.

Council was taken through a posted timeline of the deal’s past three years earlier Wednesday afternoon. Then they had the chance to ask questions of administration during Wednesday’s continuation of their meeting.

Council heard that arena climate requirements were known beforehand, and there was no decision for council to make prior to the Dec. 31 construction deadline, according to City of Calgary administration.

According to Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), these costs had been added on since the July 2021 agreement.

To date, roughly $23 million has been spent on the project, split 50/50 between the city and CSEC

City of Calgary

“CSEC was not prepared to fund the infrastructure and climate costs that were introduced by the city following our July agreement and were not included in the $608.5 million and are not included in the current cost estimate of $634 million,” said CSEC CEO John Bean shortly after the deal had failed.

According to Planning GM Stuart Dalgleish, the climate resiliency reports were first requested in December 2020 in the pre-application stage for the development permit. They were submitted in October 2021 and guided the development permit application.  Dalgleish said the development authority worked with the applicant at that time to incorporate two climate resiliency parts: Solar panels and a report on a path to carbon neutrality by 2035.

“Two climate resiliency elements were reviewed with, and accepted by, the applicant prior to the development authority’s report recommendations being submitted in early November to Calgary Planning Commission,” Dalgleish said.

On the cost side, councillors were told that the city submitted, in writing, their willingness to foot $6.4 million of the roads costs and help CSEC find funding for the $3.9 million in climate items.  That would leave CSEC with $5.7 million in sidewalk area costs.

That letter was sent Dec. 20. The deal failure was announced Dec. 21.

Council staying informed

Also in question was council’s involvement as the clock wound down on the deal.

Councillors questioned why they weren’t involved in a potential special meeting, despite requesting one, to either address the failing deal or talk about extending the Dec. 31 construction conditions deadline.

Coun. Sonya Sharp said there was a request from some members of council to meet before the end of December.

“Was that not something we could have considered to kind of work out some of these things that kind of, you know, fell on the table, I would like to say, regarding the two extra climate resiliency policies and the road widening issues,” she asked.

Dalgleish said they had a steering committee meeting Dec. 23, shortly after the collapsed deal went public. The steering committee consists of the City, CSEC and a project manager.  He said work was suspended over the holidays.

That was not communicated to council, Dalgleish said. He said they were following council’s initial direction on the deal.

Later, Coun. Peter Demong asked if there was a decision point to be made, would Mayor Jyoti Gondek have informed council. The mayor directed that to the city’s legal team. Deputy City Solicitor Lynne Davies clarified.

“I can confirm there was no decision to be made on this stage gate,” Davies said.

“This was a positive requirement for the parties to move forward through this. And so, if one party did not want to move through, then we could not move through the stage.”

To which Demong replied, “I think that’s about as clear as you can get.”

Councillors moved into a closed session after their afternoon break at 3:20 p.m. As of 5:22 p.m., they were still in closed session.

What’s next for the arena

Coun. Peter Demong opened after more than three hours behind closed doors. He said he, like many others, wished they weren’t there under these circumstances.

“But I also choose to see the positive,” he said.

“The world is a different place than it was when we made the deal in 2019.”

The initial motion called for a reaffirmation of the original strategic vision for a culture and entertainment district that included an event centre.

“I actually think that we have a rare opportunity in front of us to work with our partners to really reimagine what we need to do to both have world-class events, and build a world-class neighbourhood in this post-pandemic world,” Demong said.

Coun. Sharp spearheaded a refinement of that motion. She acknowledged that the pandemic had played a role in creating conditions that made the prior agreement infeasible. But Sharp wanted to engage a third-party in talking with CSEC or other groups on a new Event Centre.

“There’s been a lot of conversations, a lot of different perspectives. It’s a new council, and it’s a new year. And so what you have in front of us is really we’re all committed to doing what’s best for Calgary,” she said.

They will report back by the March 8 combined meeting of council.

CMLC, Calgary Stampede committed to the Rivers District

In a release sent early Thursday, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation and the Calgary Stampede said they are optimistic that this path will have a positive outcome.

They said that while the Event Centre has long been a part of the Rivers District, it’s not the only project. They have the expansion of the BMO Centre and the development of a neighbourhood with residential and commercial mixed use that create a vibrant area.

“Since the Event Centre was approved in 2019, it has been thoughtfully integrated into the overall vision for the district, where it would bring significant energy and complement other major projects already underway,” says Kate Thompson, CMLC President and CEO.

“We are pleased to see Council’s interest in seeking resolution on the Event Centre project. Meanwhile, we are keeping our eyes squarely on delivering the exciting and transformational projects on track for completion in 2024: the BMO Centre expansion, the Stampede Trail redevelopment, and the 17th Avenue extension and Stampede Station rebuild.”

Joel Cowley, Calgary Stampede CEO said they’re progressing on the BMO Centre and the Stampede’s SAM Centre.

“Staged to become western Canada’s largest convention venue, the expanded BMO Centre will boost Calgary’s status as a global trade and tourism destination, and we remain committed to the broader vision of our new and vibrant Culture + Entertainment District,” he said.