Bettman’s hard sell on Cal­gary arena

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY JOHN STE­WART Troy Me­dia colum­nist John Ste­wart is a jour­nal­ist based in Red Deer.

“Sta­di­ums and are­nas built for pri­vately-owned sports fran­chises don’t ex­ist for the com­mon good. They ex­ist pri­mar­ily as means to an end — profit — for those fran­chises. And no sports ring­mas­ter who comes court­ing with threats and blus­ter should be able to con­vince us oth­er­wise.”

Sports moguls and politi­cians make strange bed­fel­lows. When they get to­gether they of­ten seem to ig­nore eco­nomic re­al­i­ties, and that makes a li­ai­son be­tween them po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. Think a lust­ful teenage cou­ple with no con­cept of birth con­trol.

So it’s al­ways a re­lief for hard­pressed tax­pay­ers when a politi­cian isn’t will­ing to dance cheek to cheek with sports.

Na­tional Hockey League com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman ar­rived in Cal­gary re­cently to try to stir up sup­port for the pro­posed Cal­gary NEXT pro­ject, an $890-mil­lion ex­trav­a­gance that would house the NHL’s Cal­gary Flames and Cana­dian Foot­ball League’s Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers, as well as of­fer a va­ri­ety of com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties.

The pro­ject was in­tro­duced last year by Cal­gary Sports and En­ter­tain­ment Corp. (own­ers of the Flames, the Stam­ped­ers and other sports prop­er­ties).

Based on ini­tial num­bers, about $700 mil­lion of the to­tal cost would come out of tax­pay­ers’ pock­ets.

And who knows how much more it would cost to upgrade lo­cal ser­vices, plus clean up a decades-old cre­osote mess from a for­mer wood preserving plant.

In a per­fect world, it would be a won­der­ful pro­ject. Set near ma­jor trans­porta­tion ar­ter­ies, on un­der-used land near the city cen­tre, it could be a great gath­er­ing place.

But Al­berta in 2016 is nowhere close to a per­fect world.

Bettman seems com­pletely clue­less about the depth of Al­berta’s eco­nomic de­spair.

“Over time, we’ve seen the dol­lar rise and fall, we’ve seen the price of oil rise and fall, just to name two fac­tors,” Bettman blithely said this week.

“You don’t do this based on what’s hap­pen­ing in 2016. There has to be a vi­sion for the fu­ture.” He then added: “If this pro­ject is go­ing to hap­pen, the mayor needs to em­brace it, the city needs to em­brace it. . . . If he’s not pre­pared to em­brace it, then the peo­ple will have to deal with it,” Bettman told the Cal­gary Cham­ber of Com­merce.

But Bettman is ap­par­ently un­aware that Cal­gary Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi is no light-weight.

“Per­haps in other cities he has come to, the city coun­cils have just writ­ten cheques based on back-of-nap­kin pro­pos­als with­out any con­sul­ta­tion to the pub­lic or with­out any anal­y­sis,” Nen­shi said, un­in­tim­i­dated. “That’s not how we op­er­ate here.”

Al­though it does seem to be how Ed­mon­ton op­er­ates.

Af­ter years of ne­go­ti­a­tions that bor­dered on bul­ly­ing, a new com­plex is un­der con­struc­tion in down­town Ed­mon­ton.

Rogers Place will cost in the neigh­bour­hood of $500 mil­lion by the time it is done this fall, much of that com­ing from pub­lic sources.

While that pro­ject has given a sig­nif­i­cant — and much-needed — boost to Ed­mon­ton’s gritty down­town (other projects are pop­ping up around it, bring­ing over­due re­vi­tal­iza­tion), it was ini­ti­ated be­fore oil prices fell off a cliff, and Ed­mon­ton’s ex­ist­ing rink did not mea­sure up in any way to Cal­gary’s Sad­dle­dome. Nor did Ed­mon­ton’s down­town mea­sure up to Cal­gary’s.

Nev­er­the­less, Bettman tried to push as many but­tons as pos­si­ble in Cal­gary. Ed­mon­ton’s new rink, he said, will mean that Cal­gary is fall­ing be­hind (noth­ing both­ers Cal­gar­i­ans more than be­ing com­pared un­favourably to Ed­mon­to­ni­ans, and vice versa). Cal­gary will be de­nied any op­por­tu­nity to host the league’s all­star game, the World Cup of Hockey or the an­nual am­a­teur draft, he threat­ened.

In fact, the fu­ture of the city may rest on this pro­ject, Bettman said.

“It is not an over­state­ment to say the fu­ture sta­bil­ity, vi­a­bil­ity and con­ti­nu­ity of the Cal­gary Flames, and per­haps the city of Cal­gary, rests on the achieve­ment of Cal­gary NEXT,” Bettman said. Over­state­ment is too tame a term, in fact, for that non­sense.

Bettman also wants Al­ber­tans to think of sta­dium projects as in­fra­struc­ture.

Frankly, they are not. Pump­ing tax money into sta­di­ums for pro­fes­sional sports is not cre­at­ing a pub­lic re­source.

True in­fra­struc­ture — roads, schools, hospi­tals — are for the com­mon good. They serve and bet­ter so­ci­ety as a whole. And we have a long list of over­due pri­or­i­ties in this prov­ince, with no mam­moth sports en­ter­tain­ment com­plex on that list.

Sta­di­ums and are­nas built for pri­vately-owned sports fran­chises don’t ex­ist for the com­mon good. They ex­ist pri­mar­ily as means to an end — profit — for those fran­chises.

And no sports ring­mas­ter who comes court­ing with threats and blus­ter should be able to con­vince us oth­er­wise.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.