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
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.