If not CalgaryNext, then CalgaryWhen?
There are truisms in sports: You can never have enough pitching; the backup goalie is the most popular player on the roster; and using public money to build sports facilities is a sucker play.
So you have to think the odds are slim for the Calgary Flames Sports and Entertainment Group to lever public money from the city of Calgary and the province of Alberta for its CalgaryNext project – particularly when the economy has collapsed hereabouts, and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has run out of metaphors for “No flippin’ way” when asked to write a cheque from the city’s cash-strapped piggybank.
But the folks over at the Saddledome are giving it a whirl anyhow. On the Flames’ current wish list – call it a think paper or discussion starter – are some boxcar numbers for public funding to build their arena/ stadium/ field house/ entertainment centre in the West Village. While some of the numbers for public funding start with an M – as in millions – most skeptics in town think they should start with a B – as in billions.
There are infrastructure costs, presumably re-routing Crowchild Trail, linking with the downtown core and eliminating the demon creosote deposits that have lain beneath the property since it was a Domtar site many years ago. While this mayor has been generous with pretty, useless bridges across the Bow and befuddling public art at the airport, he’s apparently adamant that there be no dough for “millionaire athletes and billionaire owners”.
(If I might digress here: How come the beautiful people are always vilifying “millionaire athletes and billionaire owners” when it comes to public funding? Do we ever hear anyone decry money to the arts for “millionaire musicians and billionaire arts corporations?” There isn’t a single arts organization in Alberta that could turn on the lights in the morning without its public grant money.
Likewise, Calgary and Edmonton have built facilities that can host the world’s richest bands and orchestras. Yet, not a peep from the media about lining their pockets at no value to taxpayers. That is because, in the political and media silo, sports people are “them” and artists are “us”.)
So it would appear that the CalgaryNext proposal is deader than Tutankhamen. As tax payers we should applaud the frugal nature our pols are showing on this file. Let the Flames do the “guzintas” again.
Except that this arena/football stadium/field house concept is going to be built in the next decade. A city of Calgary’s stature demands them. And while we’ve heard what the mayor and his associates don’t want, we haven’t publicly heard where they think these major additions to the city’s life should go. Do they feel the Flames should hightail it to the deep burbs somewhere, out of sight of the downtown where land is cheaper?
That would hardly enhance the downtown core concept that the mayor waxes rhapsodic about so much. Just ask the burghers of Ottawa, who saw a hockey arena erected in the far western perimeter and now are desperately trying to atone for that mistake with a downtown rink. In light of the CalgaryNext proposal from the Flames, what is the mayor prepared to do to make this happen?
The two sides of the new arena deal in Edmonton reached a similar impasse on a few occasions. There was bitterness aplenty as politicians and sports people butted heads. But at the end, they found a way to make a deal. Their downtown core is being transformed by their arena project. The same will be true of Calgary when the Flames locate their new generation of buildings. It’s a matter of when.
Hopefully, the sides in Calgary will realize the same. If not, then perhaps we need some new people at the table, because this project is too important to the city and its people to see it flounder on intransigent personalities.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy #notthepublicbroadcaster
Originally published on 01/09/2015 with Sportsnet.ca