Calgary councillor on Flames arena: We haven’t tried setting $600m on fire yet, it’s worth a shot

It’s generally not a good idea to base your perceptions of a major development plan on which of two elected officials has the best sound bite, but in the case of the proposed new Calgary Flames arena, it’s really hard not to when these are both contained in the same article:

“What I’ve been saying to proponents of the arena is, ‘Don’t sell me magic beans,’” [Calgary Mayor Naheed] Nenshi said in a year-end interview with Postmedia. “Just be really honest: This is the amount of public financing that it’s going to take to build this and this is why we think it’s a good investment in the city.”


Some at the city, including the mayor, have questioned what sort of private development is likely to be spurred in an environment where office towers are already sitting empty and there exists an oversupply of condos and apartments.

“I dispute that a little bit, [that] putting an office tower there isn’t a good thing when we have vacancy,” says [city councillor Jeff] Davison. “It’s absolutely a good thing, because it’s a totally different model than what we have now. And what we’ve learned is that in this downturn, the model we have right now doesn’t work.”

Don’t sell me magic beans vs. we should build an arena in order to spark the creation of office towers in the middle of an office tower glut because not building arenas hasn’t worked great so why not try something different? is a first-round rhetorical knockout even before we get into the actual numbers involved. Which are, if you’re scoring at home: A new arena could now cost $600 million plus the price of land, which is a higher price tag than in the last plan that the Calgary city manager projected the city would lose $1.2 billion on (though that one would have included a CFL stadium as well).

The Calgary council is set to vote on January 28 on which projects to dedicate public funds to, and both Davison and Nenshi have votes. Expect a whole lot of public lobbying in the next four weeks, in other words, which means lots more opportunities for fun sound bite wars.

9 comments on “Calgary councillor on Flames arena: We haven’t tried setting $600m on fire yet, it’s worth a shot

  1. It’s Canadia, and the richest group of guys in the whole country just about. The Flames owners aren’t Stu Sternbergs, they’re LOADED.

  2. Can someone be impeached based on a newspaper quote alone? Perhaps institutionalized for lack of mental competency?

  3. So, why announce what is essentially nothing?

    A Letter to Fans from Coyotes President & CEO Ahron Cohen–ceo-ahron-cohen/c-303444040

    • As non denial denials go, that was nicely worded.

      So, on that count I guess, it was better than Melnyk’s non move move threat on the SAME DAY his team was playing in the league’s marquee outdoor game a year or two ago…

      As I’ve said since 2008, this team is not staying in Arizona. There aren’t enough fans there to support it (which is not to denigrate the love the small number of fans who do support the team have for it).

      At some point, it’s going to move. Where and when, I don’t know. But at the current rate of “Yotes give back” to the community ($2.7m last year) it will take about 180 years for ‘the community’ to recoup just the capital it has committed to the franchise, let alone any interest or NPV considerations.

      Even with $18m in guaranteed revenue sharing/welfare from it’s NHL partners, this team is still losing $15-20m on operations every year.

      It’s not a viable business.

      • Indeed. Team honchos and some commentors say that the Coyotes need a new arena so they can be “closer to their fan base.” The problem is that they don’t have a fan base – at least not one big enough to justify paying for an arena. Which is one of the many reasons why the team has no interest in paying for an arena. They’re willing to take a flyer on another sucker town for a couple of years, but that’s about it. Better to move sooner than later.

  4. If Calgary has $600 million to spend. They should use it to subsidize rent for start ups and business. Helps tower owners and create jobs. A win and a win, which is more than the Flames will do.

    • Subsidized rents for businesses would mostly create a windfall for companies that were already going to create jobs, unless you can somehow solve the “but-for” problem of figuring out which business would only arrive if there were subsidies.

      Also, once commercial landlords figure it out, it would create a windfall for them, since they’d just raise rents to account for the discount that tenants would be getting.

      • “…they’d just raise rents to account for the discount that tenants would be getting…”

        Yep. I’ve never encountered a direct rental subsidy program that didn’t have this as the ultimate outcome. A poor person who was paying $450/mo before the $200 subsidy doesn’t have $200 more to play with after the subsidy. They have a $200/mo rent increase instead.

        It’s sad. It’s immoral. It’s disgraceful. But it happens pretty much all the time.