Poll finds Calgary residents don’t want to spend public money on Flames arena, are confused by polls

A poll of Calgary residents by Mainstreet Research and the Calgary Herald finds people like new things, but don’t like to pay for them. Also, they will answer lots of contradictory things if a poll asks them contradictory questions.

To the specifics of the poll on the $890 million or maybe really $1.2 billion Flames and Stampeders stadium/arena/floor wax plan:

Do you think the Scotiabank Saddledome, current home of the Calgary Flames & Calgary Roughnecks, needs to be replaced? 32% replaced, 27% renovated, 23% leave as is, 17% not sure.

Do you think McMahon Stadium, current home of the Calgary Stampeders, needs to be replaced? 35% replaced, 32% renovated, 19% leave as is, 14% not sure.

That indicates that a majority (50-32% for the arena, 51-35% for the stadium) of Calgary residents think the existing arenas shouldn’t be replaced. Clear enough, right?

Do you agree or disagree with the following: a proposal to build a new arena, stadium, and field house is good for the city. 30% strongly agree, 25% somewhat agree, 13% somewhat disagree, 18% strongly disagree, 14% neither agree nor disagree.

What the.

Thinking about everything you have seen or heard about Calgary Next, do you support the project or oppose the project? 19% strongly support, 20% somewhat support, 20% somewhat oppose, 14% strongly oppose, 26% neither support nor oppose.

Okay, so people don’t think the existing stadium and arena should be replaced, but do think a new stadium and arena would be good for the city, and aren’t sure whether they support or oppose the project. I guess given the first two, the last one shouldn’t be all that surprising, but that’s a lot of cognitive dissonance there.

What else we got? Oh, right, no one has asked yet about paying for it.

As proposed, funding would come from the following sources. $200 million from the Flames ownership group; $200 million from the city for the municipal field house; $250 million from a ticket tax on users, and the remaining $240 million would come from a community revitalization levy with governments giving up or postponing future tax revenue. Do you support this financing model? 19% yes, 49% no, 33% not sure.

Even taking into account that very large “not sure” (of which I’m sure a large percentage actually represents “Whaaaaaaa? Can you say that again slowly?”), that’s a significant sentiment in opposition to putting up $490 million in public tax money. (Though the way the question is phrased, I suppose it’s possible that some people are upset that the public wouldn’t be putting in more tax money. Possible, but unlikely.)

In your view, how should CalgaryNext be funded? 45% Flames ownership, 40% Flames and government, 15% not sure.

Okay, that seems to indicate that a plurality of poll respondents don’t want any public money used for this.

As polls go, this is a hot mess, and if it indicates anything, indicates that people simultaneously believe everything they are being told about the stadium+arena project. (It’d be good for the city! We don’t need it! We don’t want to pay for it!) Perhaps somebody (*cough cough Calgary Herald*) could be doing a better job of explaining it, so people could come up with some non-contradictory opinions?

Anyway, enough with the public — what does the Calgary city council think of the proposal?

Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu said he agrees with the 49 per cent of poll respondents who oppose the proposal’s financing model.

“I’m always of the opinion the taxpayers’ dollar should not be supporting any professional sport,” he said.

“From what I’ve heard, people are unanimously saying no tax dollars for this project.”

But Coun. Evan Woolley, who represents the area where the complex would be built, said despite the poll indicating many are opposed to spending public money on the megaproject, it may be exactly what the city needs.

“We have a downturn in the economy and we have an opportunity to build something that will diversify our economy,” he said.

This is going to be a long debate.

Flames CEO says Calgary making it hard on prophets (no, not profits, through radio, so maybe)

Calgary Flames CEO Ken King went on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto yesterday (sorry, don’t know where it’s archived) to talk about his $890 million Frankenstadium plan, and got in some quality whining about how he’s not appreciated enough for being willing to put up half the cost of a project for his own team’s benefit:

“It’s funny, if you get off a plane from New York or London or Paris and said, hey, I’ve got $550 million and I’m kind of interested in your city and I’m kind of interested in doing a project, people would be falling over themselves. Please, please come here. But it seems in sports it’s difficult to be a prophet in your own country.”

I … don’t think that’s actually true that out-of-towners get automatically lavished with property-tax kickbacks and cash from the city treasury and money to clean up polluted sites, at least not any more than in-towners do. But it’s always nice to lead with complaining that no one loves you enough for your money.

And speaking of those property-tax kickbacks — what would be called tax increment financing (TIF) in the U.S., and is a community revitalization levy (CRL) in Canada — King confirmed that these wouldn’t be just taxes on the stadiarena, but on all the development that would theoretically take place around it:

“There will be office towers, condos – just like stuff between Air Canada Centre and Rogers Centre – that will be built. A portion of the taxes from those – a portion – for a period of time will be used to finance the project. By the way, those are taxes that don’t exist if we don’t do this.”

This is the age-old argument for TIFs, and it has a gaping logical hole: If there’s actually demand for office towers and condos, then they’ll be built somewhere in your city, with or without a new sports venue. (Unless you think people will suddenly flock to Calgary to buy condos the minute the Stampeders are playing in a new stadium instead of an old one, which, uh, yeah.) Which means that you end up with the same amount of overall development, but the city suddenly not getting new property tax revenue to pay for all the things that are needed to support an expanding city.

This is exactly what happened with runaway TIFs in Chicago, as discussed this week on the penultimate episode of KUCI’s Heather McCoy Show. (Last episode this Tuesday! Tune in to hear if Heather can top Jon Stewart’s Daily Show farewell!) It’s really nice to think that there could be a perpetual motion machine that could use tax money to pay for things without it costing anybody anything — really nice if you have $550 million in your pocket and want $500 million more from the public, that is — but Calgary might want to check on how well it’s actually worked in practice first, just in case.

Calgary columnists: Flames won’t move without new arena, we need new arena to stop Flames from moving!

The arguments for spending as much as half a billion public loonies on a new Calgary Flames arena are rolling in, and they are, um, creative:

  • Beneath the headline “The economic case for CalgaryNEXT,” the Calgary Herald’s Deborah Yedlin argues that building a combination Flames arena/Stampeders stadium is necessary to keep the “creative class” (read: young professionals) in town. Her entire evidence: one “young lad” who moved back to Calgary “because of the business opportunities that exist here.”
  • Over in the Calgary Sun, columnist Michael Platt skips even the slimmest of economic arguments, and goes right for the heartstrings, with the story of an eight-year-old boy who died in 2012 after a battle with brain cancer, and to whom the Flames meant “happiness.”

The notion that sports teams draw residents who help boost the local economy is a venerable trope by now, but it’s entirely unsupported by evidence: Studies show that cities with sports teams don’t grow any faster than those without. (For that matter, Yedlin’s warning that without sports Calgary would turn into Buffalo is a bit bizarre, given that Buffalo has teams in the exact same two sports — hockey and football — as Calgary does.) And when business leaders in particular are asked why they choose to locate in one city over another, sports teams are way down the list, with such things as good schools and transportation infrastructure at the top — which kind of makes one think that it would be more worthwhile to spend public money on trains and schools instead of stadiums, if anything.

As for the happiness of dead children, Platt indulges in even more bizarre turns of logic. Check this out:

The truly cynical will say the script always ends with the team threatening to move, before public cash is inevitably granted — but in this case, there’s not even a hint of such posturing, and the Flames actually have a plan that offers a lot of public benefit for the public money spent.

That includes the development of the creosote-polluted west end, and a bunch of new sporting facilities for use by the public, plus the likelihood of major concerts and sporting events.

But beyond that, there’s the benefit of having the Flames.

Follow that? The Flames aren’t threatening to leave without a new arena, but let’s stop to consider what it would mean if the Flames left. With friends like these, who needs move threats?

Back in the non-pundit world, Alberta premier Rachel Notley was decidedly unenthused by the Flames’ request for an indeterminate amount of provincial funding to help clean up pollution at the proposed arena-stadium site, saying, “There are many, many capital requests and the well is, quite frankly, only so deep,” though she added that “if we get a request, we will consider it, like we would consider any other request.” That was enough to get Edmonton officials to say that if Calgary gets any provincial money for its arena, they want some too for the already-underway Oilers arena. This seems likely to be a door that Notley is not going to want to open — who knows what Lethbridge and Red Deer would ask for? — but as with everything else here, we’re just going to have to wait and see what’s just posturing and what’s actual policy.

Flames owner proposes $890m hockey-football Frankendome, seeks at least $490m in public cash

Calgary Flames owner CEO Ken King issued his long, long awaited arena plan yesterday, and it’s a doozy: a hockey arena sutured to a football stadium for the CFL’s Stampeders, which would also double as a soccer stadium and “field house” for amateur sports. Total cost: $890 million, of which the public would cover — well, we’ll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, crazy-ass renderings!

calgary_next2A long while back, I started referring to stadium projects with a passel of other things thrown in (mixed-use development! a convention center!) as “kitchen sink projects,” because they include everything including that in an attempt to play hide-the-subsidy in a giant pile of financial paperwork. King’s proposal includes a whopping big kitchen sink in the form of that “fieldhouse,” which allows him to claim that it’s a public benefit, even though the biggest beneficiaries would clearly be the Stampeders, which he just happens to own as well.

As for how the $890 million cost would be paid for, in true kitchen-sink tradition, it’s as confusing as possible:

It’s proposed the $890-million cost would be paid from four sources — a $240-million community revitalization levy, a $250-million ticket tax, $200 million from the city to fund the field house (long a priority on the city’s recreation list) and a $200-million contribution from the Flames’ ownership group.

That “community revitalization levy” would come from kicked-back property taxes, and is effectively the Canadian version of tax increment financing — it’s the same revenue stream the Edmonton Oilers used to raise public money for their arena. Meanwhile, the $200 million for the field house/Stampeders stadium doesn’t appear to have a source attached to it at all, beyond “Hey, you guys said the city needs a field house, you figure out how to pay for it.”

The proposed site for this monstrosity also requires between $50 million and $300 million in cleanup because it was formerly the site of a creosote plant — no, not this kind of plant, this kind — which would be paid for by, um:

King said it will take a group effort to clean up the land and that he wants to get all levels of government involved.

In other words, Not Me.

So that’s somewhere between $490 million and $740 million in public cash, in exchange for which Calgary taxpayers would get to use the football stadium an undetermined number of days a year for an undetermined bunch of sportsy things. King’s announcement came while Mayor Naheed Nenshi was on vacation — what an incredible coincidence! — so it was left to deputy mayor Diane Colley-Urquhart to reply:

“We don’t build great cities by saying, ‘we have no money.’”

Um, you might have wanted to check with your boss before saying that:

Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the proposal “intriguing,” but said challenges exist that must be addressed.

There are very significant requirements for public funding beyond the field house funding, and there is currently no money,” Nenshi, who is on vacation, said in a statement.

Nenshi certainly seemed to leave the door open for discussion, but as he’s also been adamant that he won’t spend public money if there isn’t an equal public benefit — and that $240 million in CRL funding would go straight down a King-sized hole as far as the city is concerned — this still promises to be an epic throwdown. There’s also still lots we don’t know about King’s plan — his snazzy CalgaryNEXT website doesn’t say squat about who would cover maintenance and operations costs, who would get revenues from events like soccer games at the stadium, or all kinds of other important details. Settle down for a long one, because we are almost certainly going to be talking about King’s Frankendome for months if not years to come.

Flames CEO reportedly seeking arena plus CFL stadium, plus amateur fieldhouse to throw public a bone

Calgary Flames CEO Ken King has been promising to come out with a new arena plan for months now, and this week … he still didn’t actually come out with anything concrete, but the Calgary Herald leaked a bunch of news that it claims it has “learned” about the project, apparently from the ether, because it didn’t cite a source, not even “according to a source.” According to the Herald, King wants to:

  • Build a Flames hockey arena, a CFL stadium for the Stampeders (which King also owns), and an amateur sports fieldhouse for track meets, indoor soccer, and stuff like that.
  • Pay for the more than half-billion-dollar cost by, okay, they didn’t explain that part. But King told a radio show last month that “we’re not going to sneak in here and steal money from the city,” and he wouldn’t lie on the radio, would he?

There are a couple of clues here to how King could end up asking for subsidies while claiming he’s not asking for subsidied: The amateur fieldhouse could count as a “public benefit” of the project and thus something worthy of city dollars, the city could be asked to kick in free land, and in general big complicated projects are way easier to hide money in than small simple ones. The big question now is how Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has previously told King in no uncertain words that he’s not going to hand over money for nothing, and the city council respond once King actually releases his plan. He says “in a couple of weeks,” but he said much the same thing in November, so maybe somebody should ask him which couple of weeks.

New Winnipeg stadium leaky, city sues builder to pay for fixes

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the new $208 million football stadium that Manitoba is building for the municipally owned Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team. How’s that going, guys?

Triple B Stadium Inc., the consortium that owns IGF and funded the construction of the 33,500-seat facility at the University of Manitoba, has filed a lawsuit against construction company Stuart Olson and architect Ray Wan.

The lawsuit argues the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is riddled with problems that will take millions of dollars to fix.

Oh, dear.

The minister said part of the reason the province chose not to put money into the old Canad Inns Stadium near Polo Park was because putting the required $50 million into it would have been “pouring that money down the toilet.”…

“Do I think that this is still a great stadium? Yeh, I do. But we want it here for 50 or 60 or 70 years. And the problems that have been identified and what Triple B is looking at is that the construction, we may not get that 50 years out of it and it’ll just start to crumble a lot earlier and so these problems need to be taken care of.”

Oh, dear oh dear.

Basically, the new stadium will be safe, but the charges are that the builders mucked up the waterproofing, which will cause the building to sustain more damage over time. One hopes that the suit will be settled in a way that will allow for repairs to be made that will keep this building around for 50 years or more — wow, people talking about a stadium lasting 50 years, that takes me back — but in the meantime, I guess at least Manitobans can be glad that they can play football in it at all.

Guy running umpteenth in mayoral race threatens to lure Argonauts to Mississauga with new stadium

How to get media attention for your longshot mayoral campaign: Threaten to lure the local sports team to your suburb via force of your will (and a new stadium, which will also be build with the force of your will).

“Toronto, which is saturated with sports franchises, has failed the team,” Dill Muhammad told the Toronto Sun Monday. “If the Argos move to Mississauga, they will thrive. Under my leadership, we could build them a stadium they will be proud of.”…

In addition to a 25,000-seat stadium, the 75-year-old businessman envisions a “destination facility” with 200 retail stores, an arcade and a gaming zone.

“The stadium will be a great resource to attract international soccer, rugby and cricket competitions as well as track-and-field events, the Metro Bowl football championship, music concerts and festivals and religious events,” Muhammad said.

Today’s lesson, kids: With your name on the ballot, a video, and a dream, you too can get your crazy ideas into the local newspaper! You still may not be able to get them to spell your name right, however.

Toronto okays $10m in city funds for soccer stadium expansion

Toronto F.C. won the first round in its quest for public money to expand BMO Field from 21,000 to 30,000 seats, as the Toronto city council’s executive committee voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to kick in $10 million toward the $120 million project. The city money would supposedly be repaid by added parking revenues from the expanded stadium, though if SBNation’s Toronto F.C. blog is correct, this is just a projection, not a guarantee.

In any event, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the soccer team and is perpetually rumored to be interested in luring the Argonauts CFL franchise as well, still needs to get $10 million apiece from the province of Ontario and the Canadian federal government, neither of which is nearly as sure a thing as the Toronto money.

You can read more of the Toronto agreement here, though it doesn’t actually spell out all that much, and is of course completely mum on the provincial and federal funds, or on how (or whether) they’d be repaid at all. There’s still a long way to go for this project — and, since this is Canada, it’s an extra ten yards farther.

Toronto considering soccer field expansion, still mum on funding details

Toronto city councillor (and Exhibition Place chair, because that’s how they roll in Canada) Mark Grimes tells the Toronto Sun that Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns Toronto F.C. in addition the Maple Leafs, is “getting close” to a deal to expand BMO Field for both the soccer team and possibly the CFL Argonauts, who currently play at whatever SkyDome is called these days. As for what the deal would look like, though, it’s about as vague as when MLSE first discussed it last month, with Grimes saying only, “It is going to cost us money to expand, there is a portion that we would pay that we’d be guaranteed back.” (Eeeagh, comma splice!)

The big question remains whether “guaranteed back” means actual revenue to the city to repay the money it would be fronting, or some bogus “repayment” involving taxes the teams would have to be paying anyway. It would be really, really nice if someone with better access to the principals involved — I don’t know, maybe some Toronto newspaper named after Earth’s nearest star? — would ask these kinds of questions at some point, but I guess there’s only so much one can ask, even of Canada.

 

Vancouver stadium reno cost many times initial estimates (but you knew that)

Business Vancouver has an “exclusive” today that the renovation of the B.C. Lions‘ and Vancouver Whitecaps‘ B.C. Place, which cost $514 million, was originally projected to cost less than one-fifth that amount:

“In order for BC Place to remain over the long term, major improvements and upgrading are necessary,” wrote PavCo’s then-chairman David Podmore in a confidential January 2008 letter to Vancouver’s city manager Judy Rogers. “The scope of the rehabilitation project is in the order of $100 million, which includes replacement of the roof.”

That’s pretty remarkable … except for the fact that British Columbia legislative assemblymember Rob Fleming already said that the project was originally supposed to cost only $60 million, circa 2006. So having $100 million in writing as the target figure is interesting, but not exactly groundbreaking news.

The really interesting part, meanwhile, would be about how the hell the construction cost soared so much — they only put on a retractable roof and added some suites and stuff, while spending almost as much as the cost of an entirely new stadium. About that, Business Vancouver has nothing much to say. There was a $25 million cost overrun with installing the steel cables that hold up the roof— contractor Marc Dutil called the complexity of the cable system “mind-boggling” and said, “You can look at a 3-D animation, a picture on the Web, and then you step inside and look at it and you think ‘Oh my God'” — but the construction companies say they absorbed that. Of course, given that the contract for installing the cables for the roof alone ended up at $125 million, you have to think there was some lowballing going on in those initial $60 million and $100 million price tags; anything to get people onto the lot.