Calgary’s hockey arena dreams choked by tightening public purse

Edmonton taxpayers may be on the hook for nearly half the cost of a new downtown arena for the Edmonton Oilers, but several Calgary alderman say the same kind of deal isn’t in the cards here.

However, the city could offer to provide land for such a project, one alderman says.

Ald. Ray Jones, who sits on the Saddledome Foundation, the board that oversees operation of the existing arena, said that any support from the city would likely depend on the location and the pricetag of the project.

“I could see the city putting up land, but not capital,” Jones said in a recent interview with The Press.

Others were even less supportive than Jones, as Ald. Dale Hodges was vehemently opposed to any public money being used.

“No public money should be used at all,” said Hodges.

“If the private owners want a new arena, then they can fund it,” the Ward 1 alderman declared.

Ald. Gian-Carlo Carra agreed, adding that polling shows, “There is very little appetite among Calgary taxpayers –like next to none- for doing something similar.”

Jones, Hodges, and Carra are taking the same line as Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has gone on the record saying that taxpayer cash for a new arena is simply not in the budget.

Jones pointed out that there are far more pressing matters than knocking the Scotiabank Saddledome down for the purpose of “adding a couple more seats or suites.”

“We’re projecting $12 billion in infrastructure and transportation projects over the next 30 years,” said the alderman for Ward 5 in northeast Calgary.

“So I don’t know where another $500 million to $800 million is going to come from.”

Not all aldermen are opposed the idea, however.

Richard Pootmans, who represents Ward 6 on the city’s west side, says that a new arena in Calgary should involve some public money, especially if it will be used for something other than hockey.

“If there is a public interest, then absolutely, I think there is a role for the city to contribute,” said Pootmans.

But he added that while some public money should be used, Calgary taxpayers should not be footing the entire bill.

“If there is a public benefit beyond hockey then public money should be used but not so much that it will be paying for the lion’s share,” he said.

So far, the city has not earmarked any money for the project, and the owners of the Flames have not even put forward a proposal. But the new building in Edmonton has the rumor mill working overtime here, and some news reports have suggested that not only is the hockey club preparing a proposal, it might seek to build both a new arena and a new stadium for the Calgary Stampeders, which the Flames own.

One unidentified source was quoted in The Globe and Mail newspaper as suggesting that the Flames are well advanced in planning for a new arena.

Approval in Edmonton came on Jan. 23 for a cost-shared deal totalling $480 million, with the Oilers contributing $143 million.

Final costs, including related infrastructure, will bring the final tally to a whopping $601 million.

While most aldermen contacted by The Press were cool to the idea of tax money going toward a new arena in the city, some citizens were open to the idea.

“You know, it really doesn’t matter to me, but if they (people) want it (a new arena), I say ‘why not?’” said Joseph Robilard, in an interview.

Another citizen, Chris Althouse, said: “It depends on how the revenues are spent. As long as it’s an investment they’ll be able to see a return on, that’s fine. But if they’re just throwing money at the Flames, that’s a no-go.”

Aubrey Topachio wasn’t keen on a public subsidy for the project.

“I don’t think that they should spend tax money on it. There are more important things than a new hockey rink,” she said.

About Thomas DeBrocke 4 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Thomas DeBrocke worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2012-2013 academic year.