Calgary mayor sticks fork in Flames-Stampeders combined stadium-arena plan

It’s always best not to assign too much significance to the exact wording of off-the-cuff remarks, and the CalgaryNEXT stadiarena plan for the Calgary Flames and Stampeders has been pretty much dead since it was revealed last April that the public cost would be at least $1.2 billion, and the city council could still overrule him, and declaring one plan dead isn’t the same as declaring all plans dead. Still! Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi actually using the word “dead” — as in, “the thing about a new arena project, and I’ll use those terms because CalgaryNEXT, the West Village project, is dead” — is a pretty good sign that the Chest Protector Dome is, in fact, dead. Time to move on to Plan B, of which nobody actually has a clear one, but it sounds a lot more polite than “lump it.”

The more interesting statement by Nenshi came after the “dead” thing, actually:

“But, the thing about a new arena project is that our first criteria has always been public money for public benefit, so it really is up to the Calgary Sports and Entertainment (Corp.) to figure out what the public benefit is,” the mayor continued.

Again, that’s nothing new from Nenshi, who’s consistently said he won’t approve any plan without a clear public benefit. But it’s also a bit of a thrown gauntlet: You want money for a new arena, first show me why I should build you one. This is an eminently reasonable way to approach subsidy demands, whether from a hockey team or an auto plant, and provides an even better reason to consider making the great leap northward.

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15 comments on “Calgary mayor sticks fork in Flames-Stampeders combined stadium-arena plan

  1. Well done, Mayor Nenshi.

    Just don’t go too far north Neil… you’ll end up in Edmonton – a city where the administration first balked at a $480m subsidy demand from the Oilers, then broke off negotiations with them, then invited them back to the table and ended up giving them $640-$670m (depending on what you count, and that only covers what has been built thus far… not additional transit and road improvements which will surely be coming).

    Man, I bet the Katz group doesn’t make that mistake again…

    Former Mayor Stephen Mandel, who shepherded this public largesse for Katz several years ago, just recently flew in (he no longer lives in Edmonton or pays the increased taxes he helped put in place) to make a cameo and tell everyone how great it was.

    If you are wondering who paid for the flight and hotel, you are not alone.

  2. Canada will unfortunately follow the USA in subsidizing slowly dying so called national past times. NHL and Canada rules football will be propped up with tax money and corporate sponsorship pressure and tax incentives. A battle in Calgary is reason to celebrate , but this general won’t lead forever.

    1. I don’t blame you for your cynicism, but so far Edmonton is the exception, not Calgary. Particularly when the best stalking horse these owners can find is to float a tour of Seattle, who also isn’t publicly funding an arena. So maybe there’s hope. In hockey. In Canada at least.

      1. Videotron center was built 100% on the public dime to lure the NHL. The government also gave the prospective owner a management contract which will provide at least 5 million a year in operating subsidies . Also TD Place in Ottawa was a public subsidy to lure the CFL after the local team folded.

        1. Ottawa I’ll give you. Quebec was different even by the standards of free stadium money in the US. The league told them (Markham, too) all along not to build anything expecting a team, there were no guarantees, and they built it anyway. So while it’s a crazy amount of public money it’s not something the owners or Bettman extorted out of anybody.

          1. I understand your point. However hasn’t the NHL already supported the request of public welfare in Edmonton and Calgary. Also they consistently seek free arenas and yearly operating subsidies from most US cities.

  3. I didn’t realize that combined use football/anything else was really a thing any longer. Hockey and basketball work out fine because the courts are similar sized and seating is comparable. But those older multi-use stadiums like the Silverdome, etc. all tended to be pretty terrible for anything other than football.

    1. This was going to be separate football and hockey venues sutured together, like a pigeon-rat.

  4. Hopefully they figure this out for Calgary, please I hope they don’t use Seattle as a possibility for the Flames move there, I am getting tired of that game and also the Flames belong to the great City of Calgary.

    1. But they once “belonged” to the great city of Atlanta, of course.

      They are owned by a private interest (principal owner: Murray Edwards, president of CNRL… if you know of them at all it may be because of two workplace fatalities a few years ago at their Horizon site. One of their first public comments after the incident:

      “We expect OHS to clear the site by Wednesday and be back near full production on Friday”.

      Yes, I did write that down as matter of fact… it sits along side Bob Murray’s press conference after the Crandell Canyon mine disaster as flagrant examples of PR and empathy failure.

      CNRL also successfully sued to limit the scope of the accident investigation to whether an air ambulance should have been dispatched (it wasn’t) to try and save the two workers.

  5. Having been to McMahon stadium (Stampeders home) a few times, I can assert that it probably does need to be replaced. A major renovation might keep it useable for a decade or so, but at some point 60+ year old structures do need to be replaced (witness Winnipeg’s Bomber Stadium, Regina’s Taylor field, Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne etc). Whether an individual building is there or not is not for me to say, but there does come a time when refurbishment means throwing good money after bad.

    The problem of course is that the business that needs the new facility really isn’t willing to spend much on it (and preferably nothing).

    The Stamps alone could not ever hope to build a new facility. The Flames ownership group (like the Oilers owner) certainly could.

    Why is it up to the public to pay for a new showroom for sports teams when car dealers, manufacturers and retail business owners have to fund their own?

    Since most of the new arenas also double as commercial developments for fee paying tenants, why should any public money go towards them?

    Big box stores may get tax breaks (sometimes very lucrative ones) as a lure, but rarely does the local government use tax dollars to buy the land, service it, build the buildings and then turn it over to the master lease holder in exchange for a hearty thank you and a promise to not leave for 30 years.

    1. There are 60 college football stadiums older than the Stampeders’ venue, and another 4 that opened the same year as it.

    2. Or, you could maintain & update your old structure along the way, instead of penny-pinching and never spending a dime on the old structure; then crying that you need a new building because of peeling paint and chairs that aren’t theatre quality.

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