The addition of a third party to broker a potential new Event Centre deal means they can focus on the deal and not the personalities involved, according to one city councillor.
On Wednesday night, Calgary city councillors voted unanimously to reaffirm their pursuit of a new arena in the Rivers District. The prior Event Centre deal collapsed just before Christmas last year.
Earlier in the day, council went over a detailed city admin timeline of the project. Councillors also asked questions in public, then held a nearly four-hour closed-door session to discuss a path forward.
On Thursday morning, Mayor Jyoti Gondek reiterated the constraints the two sides had working with a pre-pandemic deal built in 2019. She said the economic realities had changed.
“What we have before us now is the opportunity to work in this environment with partners and actually strike a deal that is respectful of the fact that the economic conditions are completely different globally, including in Calgary, so it’s a new opportunity that unshackled us from the old arrangement,” the mayor said.
Mayor Gondek said there was an opportunity to revisit the deal. She was asked if the public dollar amount could go higher. There was a chance it could be different, she said.
“We know what the old deal looked like. We have an understanding of how we achieved it,” Mayor Gondek said.
“We know how it’s structured, so there’s opportunity to work within those parameters with small changes or there’s an opportunity to do this completely differently. It’s open right now.”
An initial motion was put forward simply reaffirming continued work on a new Event Centre. An amendment from Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp added in the third party to seek partnerships.
Mayor Gondek said this allowed for the sides involved to share their perspectives and have them represented. The neutral third party would recommend the best path forward, the mayor said.
Coun. Sharp said having the third party involved allows future partners to move forward without the “baggage” of the previous negotiation. She said it was important that they take the notion of trust seriously moving forward.
“This actually allows us to focus on the deal and not on the personalities,” Sharp said.
It allows for some distance for the city, Sharp added.
Mayor Gondek said they were going back to an approach that was used to bring parties together for the 2019 deal.
“It’s kind of a revisitation of something we did in the past.”
The third-party, which has yet to be chosen, will report back to council by March 8.
The mayor said she hoped that after the third party reports back, they could formulate the components of the renewed vision for the area by the end of 2022.
Here are a few other aspects of the failed deal addressed via questions Thursday:
Land sale – The prior deal allowed for CSEC the option to develop two parcels of land: The site of the Enoch Sales House and the site of the Victoria bus barns. According to the mayor, those options are not available.
Saddledome lease and repairs – The Calgary Flames has said they will continue to play in the Scotiabank Saddledome. There are 11 years left on the lease. It’s been widely reported that the building needs significant upgrades.
When asked about potential cash for the Saddledome, the mayor said it’s part of what they’ll be examining as they revisit the entertainment district plans.
Mayor Gondek was asked if there was a mechanism for the current leaseholder to get out of that contract earlier. She said she would need the city’s legal team to comment on that.
Example of “other interested parties” – Mayor Gondek said that in other cities it’s more of a tenancy arrangement for sports teams. Other deals also include partners that are responsible for entertainment outside of sports. Other models were looked at in 2019 and they’ll revisit some of those models.
Who owns the work product (ie arena plans, etc)? Mayor Gondek said there is ample opportunity as they move forward to look at what they’ve created and see if there’s anything they can do differently.
Significance of unanimous vote? Coun. Evan Spencer said many of the current councillors were coming into this situation with little context. He said their long in-camera conversation helped fill some of those information gaps.
“I think it signals that this council despite looking at things from different angles can come together when it’s important for Calgarians,” he said.
“I did have some disappointment that there was some opportunities there taken for political gain at the very end. I think we came out unanimously and I would have liked it if we just kept it at that. But live and learn, I suppose. And I’m hoping that we can be as united as possible as we move forward.”