Cal­gary’s arena drama deja vu for Edmonton coun­cil­lors

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - BRYAN PASSIFIuME

CAL­GARY —For Edmonton elected of­fi­cials watch­ing Cal­gary’s un­fold­ing arena drama, it’s like a déjà vu.

As the Flames and city coun­cil trade pub­lic punches over ef­forts to re­place the ag­ing Sad­dle­dome, it’s a sce­nario all-too fa­mil­iar to Edmonton city Coun. Tony Ca­te­rina, par­tic­u­larly over im­plied threats to move the team if deals for a new arena fall through.

“We had that threat I think at least three times,” Ca­te­rina re­calls. “They used it as lever­age to get pub­lic sen­ti­ment on their side.”

He’s re­fer­ring to a Septem­ber 2013 trip to Seat­tle by Oil­ers owner Daryl Katz af­ter arena talks reached an impasse — a very pub­lic threat that gar­nered much out­cry and re­sulted in the pur­chase of full-page news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ments to apol­o­gize to fans.

The 10-year-plus bat­tle that led to Edmonton’s 2013 arena agree­ment was fraught with in­trigue and emo­tion — a deal Ca­te­rina was vo­cally op­posed to at the time.

“Even though I didn’t like the fi­nan­cial agree­ment, it’s com­plete night and day now,” he said.

“I wish we could have ne­go­ti­ated a bet­ter deal, but it looks like it’s go­ing to be ben­e­fi­cial to both the hockey club and the City of Edmonton.”

Ca­te­rina isn’t the only one draw­ing par­al­lels.

Dr. Moshe Lan­der, pro­fes­sor of sport eco­nom­ics at Mon­treal’s Con­cor­dia Univer­sity who also oc­ca­sion­ally teaches in Edmonton and Cal­gary, sees sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two deals — on the sur­face.

“The struc­ture of the deals are very sim­i­lar, the war of words looks sim­i­lar,” he said.

“I don’t know if the out­come will be sim­i­lar.”

The dif­fer­ence, he says, are rooted not only in the var­ied eco­nom­ics of the two cities, but also the cir­cum­stances.

“The data doesn’t seem to show a new arena, by it­self, will re­ju­ve­nate down­town or what­ever par­tic­u­lar re­gion you place it,” he said.

“If there’s re­ju­ve­na­tion al­ready un­der­way, if there’s de­vel­op­ment al­ready un­der­way, then for sure the arena can help, but it just doesn’t do it by it­self.”

Rogers Place was the lynch­pin of a mas­sive re­ju­ve­na­tion project of ne­glected rail­way lands in down­town Edmonton, said city Coun. Bryan An­der­son.

“I was in favour from the out­set, and I’m even more in favour to­day,” he said.

“It was a 50-50 in­vest­ment in cap­i­tal, and what we got was 35 years of le­gal guar­an­tee for a fran­chise in the city, guar­an­teed by the NHL.”

Not only did the city get own­er­ship of the arena, An­der­son said the city is free from own­er­ship, main­te­nance and cap­i­tal re­place­ment costs over the same time pe­riod — not to men­tion rev­enue from a com­mu­nity re­vi­tal­iza­tion levy (CRL).

Es­sen­tially a prop­erty tax on the growth of down­town real es­tate val­ues, the CRL rev­enue pays for roughly $316 mil­lion worth of down­town in­fra­struc­ture, and is ex­pected to bring the city over $980 mil­lion over the next two decades.

“Dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, Katz promised to spend $100 mil­lion of ad­di­tional con­struc­tion around the arena,” An­der­son said.

“I asked how much that de­velop per­mit value was at in June, and I was told it was $3.7 bil­lion.”

Cal­gary shouldn’t ex­pect to reap the same re­wards that Edmonton saw from Rogers Place, says Lan­der.

“A new Sad­dle­dome is not go­ing to ac­cel­er­ate what’s al­ready hap­pen­ing (in the East Vil­lage),” Lan­der said.

“Not when the Sad­dle­dome, the BMO Cen­tre and the Stam­pede grounds are al­ready there — this isn’t go­ing to ac­cel­er­ate or re­ju­ve­nate or add any­thing to what’s al­ready go­ing on.”

While a shiny new arena is a nice boon for any city, Lan­der said it isn’t go­ing to make the Flames a bet­ter hockey team — any more than Rogers Place did for the Oil­ers.

“Ten years of crappy per­for­mance is what’s go­ing to make Edmonton suc­cess­ful as a hockey team — if you get enough No. 1 draft picks, even­tu­ally some­thing’s gotta click,” he said.

He doesn’t dis­agree the Sad­dle­dome is show­ing its age, es­pe­cially in light of a bil­lion­dol­lar, decades-long mod­ern­iza­tion at Madi­son Square Gar­den, home ice for the New York Rangers and cur­rently the NHL’s old­est arena.

“The idea of a new arena is not a bad one,” Lan­der said.

“Should it be with tax­payer money? No.”

CA­TE­RINA ‘Night and day’

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