Calgary Flames unveil plans for $890-million arena project

Josh Cooper
Photo via @ignitedandroid on Twitter

The Calgary Flames want a new hockey arena. And the team may ask the taxpayers to foot a large portion of the bill. 

According to the Calgary Herald, the team unveiled plans for an $890 million hockey arena and events center as well as a football stadium west of downtown. Apparently it was not a formal launch of the project but a chance to show possible plans for the future. The link to the plan is here.

Here’s the issue: 

The $890-million budget would be paid from four sources — a $240-million community revitalization levy, a $250-million ticket tax, $200 million from the city to fund the fieldhouse, and a $200-million contribution from the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, the Flames’ ownership group.

If my math is correct, that means the Flames will pay about 22 percent of the cost, which would no doubt make taxpayers grumpy and lead to legal wrangling. Also at issue is the site itself, which reportedly is contaminated from a creosote plant. Cost of cleanup could be $50 million to $300 million. The estimated bill for the project doesn't include this. 

Photo via @calgarynext
Photo via @calgarynext

The Oilers arena deal for Rogers Place is as follows:

The Edmonton Oilers received municipal funding to build its new arena, Rogers Place. Under the agreement with the City of Edmonton, the Oilers are to pay $130 million to finance the construction of Rogers Place, with the city covering $200 million and the province expected to kick in $25 million. An additional $125 million would be generated through a ticket tax.

So that’s $130 million of a planned $480 million, which comes out to about 27 percent, which isn’t much better. 

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The Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Flames currently play, is the fourth-oldest arena in the NHL, opened in 1983. It will soon be the second-oldest after Detroit’s and Edmonton’s new arenas are completed. 

It’s definitely a bit of a dinosaur, lacking a lot of newer amenities that arenas built post 90s expansion have. The NHL is predictably backing the Flames. 

“The Calgary Flames are an exemplary member of the National Hockey League and the NHL is excited to learn that Calgary is taking the next step toward the introduction of a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose facility for its community and professional sports teams,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “While this is an extremely important initiative for the team, it is even more important for Calgary's fans and community.”

The oldest building is Madison Square Garden, which recently underwent a $1 billion renovation, so it’s hard to count the World’s Most Famous Arena as geriatric.  

The Herald also looked at Canadian major sports complexes built with public funds. This seems to be somewhat of a newer fad, the only current NHL arena on the list being MTS Centre in Winnipeg. 

Though public funds were used with Edmonton’s new arena and the building in Quebec City that could one day house an NHL team … unless Seattle decides to get its act together. 

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi had a swift an specific response to the propsal that he tweeted out shortly after news became public. 

He addresses many issues brought forth by the project:

• The proposal has not been part of The City's comprehensive capital planning process, and does not form part of the plan, under which the City's capital funds are fully allocated through 2018.  

• The proposal includes incorporating The City’s proposed (and much-needed) fieldhouse into the facility. However, that project, while a very high priority for the City, remains unfunded. 

• The funding proposal includes a $250 million “ticket tax”, but it is unclear if The City will be asked to provide the upfront financing for this.  

• The proposed site requires significant expenditures to remediate the environmental contamination there. That remediation is also unfunded.  

• In addition, the proposal requires the contribution of land, a community revitalization levy and significant investments in infrastructure to make the West Village a complete and vibrant community.

And perhaps the biggest issue at hand:

I have said for a long time—and continue to strongly believe—that public money must be for public benefit and not private profit. The question for Council, the ownership group, and all Calgarians is whether this proposal meets that test.

Also, decontamination and construction could take up to five years combined. So in spite of the Flames' pomp and circumstance around this there are indeed some hurdles in place. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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