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No comparison between failed Tempe deal and Calgary Event Centre, says Coun. Sharp

More information on the Calgary arena deal could some as soon as June 5.

The chair of Calgary’s Event Centre committee said a comparison of the city arena deal to that of the failed Tempe, Arizona bid isn’t apples to apples.

While the development, which included an arena, was to be privately funded, it’s been widely reported the group behind the bid would have received $500 million in property tax exemptions over the next 30 years. There was also $240 million in infrastructure to help build the district.

On Tuesday, three propositions – 301, 302, 303 – which would have amended the zoning of a landfill area and executed a development agreement for a $2.1 billion mixed-use entertainment district on a 46-acre parcel of land in Tempe, failed to garner majority voter support.

Props 301 and 302 failed 56 per cent to 44 per cent, while 303 failed 57 to 43 per cent. The results were unofficial, and there was roughly 34 per cent voter turnout.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, chair of Calgary’s Event Centre committee, said it was unfortunate to see the turn of events in Tempe, but added there’s no comparing that deal with the recently approved agreement in principle here in Calgary.

To start, Sharp said the new Event Centre is a city-owned asset. The Tempe arena was to be privately owned.

“One thing we need to remember this is a city-owned asset. Call it an event center, call it an arena, call it a library, call it anything you want that the city owns,” she said.

“We, from my knowledge, have never had a referendum on a city-owned asset.”

Different hockey culture

Coun. Sharp said the problems with hockey in Phoenix have been widely documented. They’ve gone years with struggling attendance numbers. In the 2021-2022 season, they averaged only 11,601 fans per game, according to the website HockeyDB.com.  

This past year, after being kicked out of the Glendale Arena, the Coyotes have mustered 4,600 in average attendance at the 5,000-capacity Arizona State University Mullet Arena.

“Without having fans, you wouldn’t have support for a new facility. That is a very different situation in Calgary,” Sharp said.

“We have a very different hockey culture.”

In terms of a referendum on the City of Calgary’s contribution and the public having their say on an arena, Sharp said that engagement started back in 2019. The Rivers District Master Plan identified an Event Centre as an anchor facility in a Culture and Entertainment District.  Thousands participated in that process.

Sharp also said that the recent agreement in principle won unanimous consent from councillors who represent a diverse range of citizens perspectives in Calgary.

Since the April announcement, Sharp said the messages in her inbox have a very different tone.

“The energy has been very positive; people want this,” she said.

“The questions that we’re getting now in our inboxes are, ‘When are shovels in the ground?’ It’s no longer ‘What’s the impact on taxpayers?’”

Definitive agreements between the respective partners on Calgary’s new deal are with lawyers right now, Sharp said. She’s hoping by the June 5 Event Centre meeting there will be more specific information to share with Calgarians.

In the meantime, a revamped website with information on the Event Centre plan is expected to be live later this week.

“We want to make sure Calgarians have that access to the questions and answers 24/7,” Sharp said.