Calgary to discuss today giving Flames public funds for what is totally not a hockey arena, how can you even say such a thing

The city of Calgary has already released terrifying new Flames arena renderings, and now it looks set today to take up providing terrifying amounts of public money to help pay for one:

Calgary city council will discuss Monday how to prioritize and pay for mega-projects, including an event centre that would be the new home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

The event centre, estimated to cost between $550 million and $600 million, is one piece in a larger development puzzle proposed for the Rivers District east of downtown.

You will notice that the Associated Press report calls the arena an “event centre,” which is one of the surreal rhetorical battles going on in the Calgary arena fight: Advocates of a new home for the Flames say it wouldn’t be just an arena but rather an event centre, because it could hold events other than hockey … which is precisely what every other sports arena does. (Fun fact! The NBA was launched in 1949 largely as a way to fill empty dates at hockey arenas!) Nobody’s said yet how much the city would kick in for this building, beyond a single city document indicating that it could “substantially” be paid for by siphoning off property taxes from an arena district; hopefully we’ll know more after today’s council hearing.

A recent poll shows that Calgarians are evenly split on whether to provide public money for a Flames arena, which sounds like a pretty stupid poll, because did they really not ask how much public money they’d be willing to provide? I, for one, would be totally okay with providing $1 (Canadian) toward a new arena in my city, but less so with promising a gigasquillion dollars. (The poll writeup does not indicate how many Calgarians just stared at the pollsters, shook their heads sadly, then walked away.)


9 comments on “Calgary to discuss today giving Flames public funds for what is totally not a hockey arena, how can you even say such a thing

  1. Calgarians need to look at the only real world hard evidence available of the effects of a new $600m NHL arena in a market.

    Since moving into their new corporate welfare palace, the Edmonton Oilers have, frankly, sucked. They are terrible (and put as much Charles Barkley inflection into that as you want). And they have been terrible in spite of the fact that many believe they have the best player in the league on their roster (thanks to either draft lottery luck, or NHL collusion to reward them for extracting a truly shameful amount of money out of the poor taxpayers of Edmonton, depending on your perspective…).

    The “new amenities” that were going to draw in more revenue are now showing signs of underutilization (empty boxes, loges and party areas in the arena)… so the very reason for building a new arena seems to be not only working, but actually driving fans away (behind goal top of lower bowl seats, face value $350).

    So, the only hard evidence available in Canada is that, in the latter part of the second decade of this century, new buildings are bad for hockey teams. They are too expensive for the fans and they, pretty clearly, make the team worse as well.

    The only other building completed recently is absolutely empty (Quebec), so the two data points both clearly show new arenas are nothing but sinkholes for taxpayer dollars, friends.

    • Except lower bowl tickets are already 350$ or more in lower bowl aging Saddledome. Why not pay the same for state of the art.

      • No, these are the “party zone” seats at the top of the lower bowl behind the goal… you look down through the netting and get a very distorted view.

        These are not good seats. Good seats at the new arena, I’m told, are in the $5-600 range.

  2. Even if this was a true event center and anyone else had as much right to use it as the Flames, who is going to be “that guy” and stand a chance at reserving a date the Flames want?

  3. We have many event centers down here in the small town America and none them have ice rinks in them. We use no cost frozen ponds for ice sports. Scru the NHL. Let them build their own arenas for their millionaire players to scate around in.

  4. As a citizen of Calgary, I am dreading where this is headed. I was actually quite proud of mayor Nenshi for standing up to the Flames owners and telling them that any contribution made from the City must be paid back via property taxes from the Flames. The Flames obviously were not having any of this, because they want the city to own the building so they don’t have to pay any property taxes. The Flames walked away, and I was proud that our mayor stood up the typical arena scam.

    And from that point things got worse. First, a committee was formed to reopen negotiations with the Flames, despite the fact they were the ones who walked away from the table. This just makes the city look too desperate in negotiating. Secondly, Calgary began to consider hosting the winter Olympics. I think it’s reasonable to say that the IOC is just as bad as sports owners when it comes to scamming cities. Neshi initially was quite skeptical, but once our federal government agreed to put in money, he was on board. Thankfully there was a plebiscite where the majority of Calgarians, including myself, wisely voted “No” to an Olympic bid.

    Now in the “letdown” of not hosting the Olympics, it seems as though there is suddenly a big focus to find a “win” for the city, which appears to be this new arena. I suspect it will be a deal along the lines of for a $600 million dollar arena
    – $300-350 million coming from the City
    – $125-150 million from a ticket tax
    – $125-150 million from the Flames for 35 years of rent payments
    – The Flames paying no property tax due to the city owning the building
    – The Flames receiving 100% of all revenue the arena generates
    – The Flames getting the naming rights to the arena they will not own
    – The City of Calgary being forced to move into an office tower owned by the Flames near the arena, and thereby getting rent money from the City

    Nenshi is only one vote on the city council, so there is only so much he can do. But I hope he plays hardball again, albeit I believe he isn’t even part of the council negotiating with the Flames.

    Personally, a “win” for me would be for the city to stand up to the Flames, refusing to get gouged as Edmonton did by Daryl Katz. And if the Flames choose to move, so be it. I haven’t been able to afford to go to a game in three years. A new arena would make it even less affordable for the majority of Calgarians. Why would anybody want their tax money to go to a “public events center” that would be completely inaccessible to them from a financial standpoint?

    • I agree Frank. Nenshi is not on the self appointed “negotiating” committee. I hope he remains the voice of reason all the same. I know there are councillors who share his position, but I fear that the corrupt bastards who have appointed themselves to the negotiating committee (which is not to suggest that all of the members are from that group…) will negotiate a lock stock and barrel deal and only allow full council a brief look at it before voting.

      That would be standard practice, unfortunately. I wonder if, should a typically disastrous arena deal go through, the Calgary councillors will leave en masse as the Edmonton councillors who voted for the arena there did (though they got their names on a nice plaque inside the building…)

      Let’s hope the full council remains informed and stays strong on this. The Flames are highly unlikely to move. They would make far less money anywhere else they went.

  5. Luckily there are some people who get the big picture as opposed to these members of the Nemshi Fan Club. There is more to it then just the Flames, ya wanna be a big time player in the world of Conventions, Concerts etc you need. World Class cities have World Class facilities- I find it funny Nemshi wanted his legacy to be the Olympic flip flopped when it became clear Calgary dudn’t