The arguments for spending as much as half a billion public loonies on a new Calgary Flames arena are rolling in, and they are, um, creative:
- Beneath the headline “The economic case for CalgaryNEXT,” the Calgary Herald’s Deborah Yedlin argues that building a combination Flames arena/Stampeders stadium is necessary to keep the “creative class” (read: young professionals) in town. Her entire evidence: one “young lad” who moved back to Calgary “because of the business opportunities that exist here.”
- Over in the Calgary Sun, columnist Michael Platt skips even the slimmest of economic arguments, and goes right for the heartstrings, with the story of an eight-year-old boy who died in 2012 after a battle with brain cancer, and to whom the Flames meant “happiness.”
The notion that sports teams draw residents who help boost the local economy is a venerable trope by now, but it’s entirely unsupported by evidence: Studies show that cities with sports teams don’t grow any faster than those without. (For that matter, Yedlin’s warning that without sports Calgary would turn into Buffalo is a bit bizarre, given that Buffalo has teams in the exact same two sports — hockey and football — as Calgary does.) And when business leaders in particular are asked why they choose to locate in one city over another, sports teams are way down the list, with such things as good schools and transportation infrastructure at the top — which kind of makes one think that it would be more worthwhile to spend public money on trains and schools instead of stadiums, if anything.
As for the happiness of dead children, Platt indulges in even more bizarre turns of logic. Check this out:
The truly cynical will say the script always ends with the team threatening to move, before public cash is inevitably granted — but in this case, there’s not even a hint of such posturing, and the Flames actually have a plan that offers a lot of public benefit for the public money spent.
That includes the development of the creosote-polluted west end, and a bunch of new sporting facilities for use by the public, plus the likelihood of major concerts and sporting events.
But beyond that, there’s the benefit of having the Flames.
Follow that? The Flames aren’t threatening to leave without a new arena, but let’s stop to consider what it would mean if the Flames left. With friends like these, who needs move threats?
Back in the non-pundit world, Alberta premier Rachel Notley was decidedly unenthused by the Flames’ request for an indeterminate amount of provincial funding to help clean up pollution at the proposed arena-stadium site, saying, “There are many, many capital requests and the well is, quite frankly, only so deep,” though she added that “if we get a request, we will consider it, like we would consider any other request.” That was enough to get Edmonton officials to say that if Calgary gets any provincial money for its arena, they want some too for the already-underway Oilers arena. This seems likely to be a door that Notley is not going to want to open — who knows what Lethbridge and Red Deer would ask for? — but as with everything else here, we’re just going to have to wait and see what’s just posturing and what’s actual policy.