As promised, on Friday the city of Calgary released its proposal for funding a new Flames arena that team owners rejected, and it looked pretty much exactly as previous reports had had it: Costs would be split one-third/one-third/one-third between the city, the team, and a new ticket surcharge, and the city would recoup its third via a combination of property taxes on the building, team rent, and revenue from non-hockey arena events:
— Jordan Kanygin (@CTVJKanygin) September 15, 2017
Sounds simple, right? Split the costs, split the revenues. Unless you’re Flames CEO Ken King, who immediately fired back that this would leave his team paying “120%” of the costs:
“Their proposal has us not only paying for everything, but more, when you consider incremental taxes,” he said. “Flames’ cash comes from Flames’ revenue—I think we all agree on that. User fees comes from Flames’ revenue, I think we can all agree on that. And in whatever form they want this payback, that comes from Flames’ revenue, as well.
What’s going on here is a fundamental disagreement over the nature of “our money.” I could explain this in economic terms — King wants to count every scrap of arena income, and even taxes they’d be paying just as everyone else pays, as Flames revenue — or in metaphorical terms — as I told the CBC on Friday, the Flames’ position that they should get to pay off their costs with arena revenues but the city shouldn’t is like asking someone to dinner and saying, “Let’s split the check, but then I get to eat both meals.” But I’d prefer to direct you to the ultimate authority on this matter, which is the Odd Couple’s “casino night” episode. If you don’t want to sit through the ads, here’s a transcript of the relevant part, which starts at around the 11:00 mark and comes after one of Oscar’s friends has won big at the casino night fundraiser for Felix’s opera club:
Felix: What have you got there? Where’d you get all that money?
Oscar: From Arnold, he owed it to me.
Oscar: Yeah. He owed it to me since the year one.
Felix: The “let it ride” guy owed you money?
Oscar: That’s my Arnold.
Felix (reaching for a pile of cash): Well, that’s wonderf—
Oscar: Don’t touch the money, Felix.
Felix: But what a—
Oscar: Don’t touch it, I told you not to touch it.
Felix: But now the opera club gets its money back. Yay!
Oscar: I don’t think I heard you.
Felix: We’re saved! We get our money back!
Oscar (hastily gathering up his money): Now I know I didn’t hear you.
Felix: Surely you’re not thinking of keeping that money?
Oscar: Why not? It’s my money!
Felix: No, it’s not! It belongs to the opera club!
Oscar: How do you figure that?
Felix: Well, Arnold got it from us, you got it from him, you give it back to us! Then everybody’s even!
Oscar: That can’t be right. See, I’d be out all this money.
Felix: No, you wouldn’t! You’d just be back where you started from!
Oscar: Yeah, but only Arnold wouldn’t owe it to me anymore. See, I had this money coming to me.
Felix: But it came from the opera club! From them to him to you to me! It’s like an isosceles triangle!
To his credit, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was calmer than Oscar about the whole thing, replying that “our argument is that the city needs to share in the upside, if we’re going to share in the cost,” and that he was open to any and all ideas for achieving this: “If it makes more sense for the city to own and the [Flames] owners to pay rent we can absolutely look at that. If it makes more sense for there not to be rent, but a revenue-sharing agreement we can look at that.”
As for what the Flames ownership were asking for, meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reports (citing unnamed city sources) that the team wanted not only to pay no property taxes and share no arena revenue, but to have taxpayers foot the bill for police presence at games and give Flames fans free public transit rides on game days:
The requests would put a multimillion-dollar dent in the city’s finances and could result in higher taxes. Waiving transit fares on game days, for example, would mean giving up about $10-million in revenue annually, according to one of the sources. Calgary would then have to fill this gap, perhaps by cutting transit services to other parts of the city or raising property taxes, the source said. Covering the cost of extra policing would also amount to an operating subsidy, according to the source who provided the detail about security expenses to The Globe and Mail.
What we have here, folks, is a good old-fashioned impasse, though only one of the two parties has math (or geometry) on its side. I’d suggest Nenshi and King settle this by trying to double their money at the pool hall, but I’m not sure the showrunners would go for it.