On Event Centre Discussions

Posted June 20, 2018

Background

Last month, Council approved my Notice of Motion to strike the Event Centre Assessment Committee (ECAC). Eleven Councillors had signed the motion, and after the debate, only one vote dissented against the motion. This was a clear indicator that Council was willing to re-open the negotiations with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC).

Why are We Pursuing This?

Calgary misses out on big-ticket shows to cities like Vancouver and Edmonton because we don’t have a facility that can accommodate today’s production needs. This has been reported for a number of years now. Whether you like it or not, there is an economic impact of having a vibrant cultural and entertainment district working at full capacity.

To put it bluntly, the Saddledome is not modern anymore. As I’ve written in a previous blog post, the very architectural specifics that make it iconic limit it from further expansion and renovation. As a result of its design, Calgary loses out on great shows and isn’t capitalizing its full potential. The Saddledome, as it stands, is the second-oldest NHL arena in use.

The operative word in the Committee’s name is “assessment”. The proposed mandate of the new Committee is to explore and determine location, financial strategies and an approach to a partnership framework with respect to developing a new event centre that fits the long-term goals of the City of Calgary and City Council. The final approval of this mandate will come from Council.

On Using the Term “Event Centre”

This is not about a single use “arena” used for only one purpose. This is about a multipurpose event centre that will attract concerts, shows, events, and more. The use of the word “arena” implies only a single-use hockey facility. We’re going down the path of exploring a multipurpose revenue-generating facility. But beyond that, this is a land deal that will fit in the City’s vision of building an entertainment and cultural district – this isn’t a standalone investment in a facility by itself. It is an investment in an entire area that will serve as the centre of Calgary’s vibrancy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there will be no public dollars for free. What we’re looking at exploring is a facility that will generate revenues back to all stakeholders. That means Calgarians.

In the last several years, as City revenues have gone down, the reliance on property tax has increased from 42 percent of the City’s operating budget to 48 percent. Essentially, we’re seeing a decrease in revenue, and to make up for it the City has increased its reliance on property taxes to pay for services. How can we reduce our reliance on property tax? By investing in revenue-generating ventures with that will provide benefits for generations to come.

The Composition of the Committee

Yesterday, ECAC selected me as Chair and selected Councillor Sutherland as Vice-Chair. Councillor Keating joins us as a key Council representative on the Committee. The other voting members of the committee are Jeff Fielding, the City’s Manager, and Michael Brown, the President of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC). We also have representatives from Calgary Economic Development (CED) and CMLC who have joined as advisory members.

Regarding the addition of advisory members: The Committee will add on more advisory members on an as-needed basis.

The Letter to CSEC and the Letter Received in Response

On behalf of ECAC, I wrote the CSEC a letter inviting them to reopen negotiations. Mr. King responded, stating that while the organization would never decline a formal request for a meeting, they had some concerns based on past practice.

Some have questioned whether it was a “rookie mistake” to send a letter to CSEC on behalf of ECAC. The letter was written with the full support and input of every member of the Committee. The goal of the letter was to see whether CSEC would be interested in engaging in the first place. I was not about to waste time and resources wooing a key stakeholder if they had no interest in opening the conversation. For that, I stand by the decision to contact CSEC when we did.

Regarding Mr. King’s letter and the line “a simple and pre-emptive imperative is media silence”. What this means is that deals will be negotiated between the stakeholders and then put before the Committee and Council. Frankly, there are legal and practical reasons for this process, and the negotiations would be no different than any other business negotiation the City has.  Again, any proposed deal would go before the Committee, and finally before Council, for final approval. This is an inherently public process.

I’ve received some criticism for saying that the response from Mr. King was positive. I reiterate – it is. After months of bitter silence between the City and CSEC, the letter is a signal that the organization is willing to engage. As far as I’m concerned this is a groundbreaking development that needs to be emphasized.

I’ve also been criticized for using the line “It is now time for us to explore the best options for our key stakeholder: the citizens of Calgary” in my press release yesterday. For that, I won’t apologize. The citizens of Calgary deserve a deal that will serve all of our best interests, and as the Councillor overseeing this new Committee, I will work to ensure that this happens.

What are the Next Steps?

As stated above, Council must approve the mandate of the new Committee. After that, the next step for the Committee is to set its guiding principles – a process which will occur publicly at the next committee meeting on July 27, 2018. After that, we will then be able to begin the negotiating process. We’re not talking about a deal yet. But, I have full confidence that we’ll get there.