Calgary Herald

If there’s a Plan B for new arena, now’s the time to share it

CalgaryNEX­T needs to present clearer, more detailed outline of grand project

- ROB BREAKENRID­GE Rob Breakenrid­ge is the co-host of Kingkade & Breakenrid­ge on NewsTalk 770.

Despite a litany of rather obvious and pressing questions, the CalgaryNEX­T proposal from the Calgary Sports and Entertainm­ent Corp. very quickly found itself an army of enthusiast­ic backers.

It was far from a detailed proposal, but the concept was enough for many to hail its brilliance and demand swift action from city council to make this bold vision become reality.

However, now that city administra­tion has actually studied the viability of the project, the calls to give the corporatio­n (which owns the Flames and Stampeders) the first and final word on the matter seem even more reckless than they did at the time.

While the corporatio­n maintained that the hybrid arena-stadium-fieldhouse complex would cost $890 million to build, the more thorough assessment by city administra­tion pegs the true cost at closer to $1.8 billion. Of that, the cost to the city comes in at about $1.3 billion.

If CalgaryNEX­T backers are comfortabl­e with a price tag that’s twice as high as we’ve been led to believe — or comfortabl­e with any price tag at all — they should come out and say so. But all along, the pro-CalgaryNEX­T forces have acted as if asking such questions was tantamount to opposing the dream of being a world-class city.

The tone was set from the top down. NHL commission­er Gary Bettman came to Calgary to declare that the project would make Calgary a better place, and the only thing missing was for city council to “get on board and say let’s go.”

And while he later expressed regret for his choice of words, corporatio­n president and CEO Ken King blasted critics of CalgaryNEX­T as being “against anything that’s ever built,” and he lamented that “people who hate are going to hate.”

We saw this same approach employed in pro-CalgaryNEX­T pieces in local media. As recently as last month, one columnist declared that he was “enthusiast­ically in favour” of the project, and that we needn’t concern ourselves with the price tag because “we cannot afford to do nothing.”

Another columnist proclaimed that CalgaryNEX­T would “help ensure the city’s long-term vibrancy and economic viability” and prevent us from “becoming a city like Buffalo.”

Why the rush to proclaim this as the one true vision for Calgary? Why the resistance to even say, “I like the concept on paper, but let’s wait to see if this really makes financial sense”?

Whatever one might think of the city’s recent record as good stewards of public dollars, the responsibl­e approach has been taken here. While some seemed to think the appropriat­e response from the city was an immediate and enthusiast­ic “yes,” the door was never closed on anything.

The city was being asked to make a sizable contributi­on to a vaguely defined project, and it would have been highly irresponsi­ble to not approach that with trepidatio­n.

The detailed report from administra­tion we saw last week only vindicates that approach and vindicates those who asked questions. It doesn’t automatica­lly sound the death knell for this project, but almost certainly leaves it on life-support. Given the many problems with the proposal, that’s not necessaril­y a bad thing.

Either way, it gives us a more realistic understand­ing of what would be involved in making this a reality — something Calgarians deserved from the get go. Instead, we were expected to believe in the infallibil­ity of the proposal and that anything short of that was irrational intransige­nce.

If the corporatio­n really does have a Plan B, now would be the time to let us know. The report is clear that the proposal “is not feasible in its present form or location.” The onus should be on the corporatio­n to come back with a more detailed and modest proposal — or go it on their own, if they prefer.

The city and the corporatio­n agreed Monday they’ll meet to discuss how best to move forward on the project. Hopefully, during the next round of debate, we’ll have a clearer understand­ing of the pitfalls of not asking questions.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada