It took a break in the day-long closed-door session for an open-door session on the rules for talking behind closed doors, but the Calgary city council finally approved a Flames arena financing plan last night, as part of $1.5 billion in spending that will also fund expansion of the city’s convention center and arts center, and construction of a new field house for such sports as track, basketball, and indoor soccer. And how will all this be paid for, and will the tenants — such as the Flames — be repaying any of the capital expense through rent or revenue sharing?
The city will be able to pursue all four projects, said Nenshi, through a combination of cash reserves — including drawing from the city’s flush rainy day fund — as well as government grants and the community revitalization levy…
The city says it will release further details about the financial strategy to pay for all four projects at the Mar. 18 meeting of council.
Okay, that partially answers the first half of the question: The city will use cash on hand (which otherwise could be used for other projects, or reducing taxes, or rainy-day needs like the rainy day fund is meant for); plus a CRL, which is the Canadian version of a TIF that kicks back future increases in property tax receipts; plus grants from the provincial and/or federal governments that may or may not exist. All of this enables the council to say “no new taxes,” which is apparently what they really wanted to do, even though any government spending ultimately comes from taxes.
As for the other piece — will Calgary recoup any of this money on the back end — we apparently will have to wait for the next council meeting in two weeks. Or maybe not even then, since there still needs to be negotiation with the Flames owners? They decided all this in closed session, so who can tell!
Needless to say, not knowing any of the financial details beyond the vaguest generalities makes it really hard to evaluate how good or bad this deal would be for Calgary taxpayers, which is presumably exactly why the council is keeping the details a secret for now. All we know is that four councillors — Evan Woolley, Peter Demong, Jeromy Farkas, and Druh Farrell — out of 15 opposed the measure, though interestingly not Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who called out the last Flames arena plan as too expensive for the public. So maybe this indicates that this is a better deal; or maybe it indicates that Nenshi has caved; or maybe something else entirely; tune in March 18 to find out, or not!
Also unknown for the moment: Whether the arena design will still include its very own Stargate:
This is gonna be a long two weeks.