I have decided to make a public statement on my views about the proposed arena deal. I am making this statement is to avoid any confusion and to have a written record of my position.
I would like to thank my fellow councillors, Jeff Davison, Ward Sutherland and Shane Keating for their dedication in bringing forward the proposal to build a new arena. I also extend my thanks to Barry Munro for his leadership, City Administration for their hard work and the Flames organization for their continued good faith in negotiating a tentative deal for the benefit of all parties.
At the same time I would also like to acknowledge the legitimate concerns raised by some of my fellow council members and concerned citizens. Members of Council were presented with the arena proposal less than one week ago on July 23, 2019. At the time, Council was dealing with significant cuts at The City which resulted in layoffs and loss of services. Moving forward, we as Council will be looking at additional cuts in the upcoming year. It is a difficult time in Calgary and I think the juxtaposition of cutting operational expenses and spending on public infrastructure was not well thought out.
Additionally, as members of Council we need to follow best practices. We will not always be right in our decisions and we continually lay blame on prior Councils for poor decisions. We have a duty to ensure we are acting in the best interests of Calgarians. We need to ensure every elected member of Council understands the details of the deal and makes a responsible decision. We may not always agree on all decisions, but we should be making informed decisions. I agree with my fellow councillors who believe the decision should be delayed so that all questions are answered to their satisfaction regardless of whether they ultimately support the deal or not.
I personally want to support the deal. I do not have an issue with spending public dollars on the arena. I believe the Calgary Flames are an important part of our civic identity. However, deals dictated by emotion are always a problem. There are numerous examples of stadium/arena deals that were not in the best interest of taxpayers. This deal is not perfect and Council needs to understand the details and concerns and be able to answer any questions people may have. I have a number of questions and suggestions that I need addressed before I can support the deal.
First, City Council consistently expresses concerns about revenue. We have an opportunity to achieve a better rate of return rather than a loss in real dollars by having higher user fees on tickets. It is my understanding that Edmonton charges 9.5% on all tickets and Council reviews this annually. My suggestion would be a 5% user fee which in real dollars will improve the potential revenue returns for taxpayers. This would result in higher prices for ticket buyers and no direct cost to the Calgary Flames organization.
Second, City Council needs to be clear with Calgarians about actual costs. We need to have a better understanding of land transactions whether with the Stampede Board or the option with the Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation. The valuations and any other considerations need to be clearly explained and the resulting value added to the municipal contribution. It is misleading to suggest that the cost to Calgarians is $275 million.
Third, it would be important to know if there is any mechanism for compensation for a lease termination.
Fourth, I would like it clearly explained in the agreement that the municipal contribution is capped and no additional funds will be provided for the term of the Lease.
I don’t understand the urgency with approving this so quickly. I encourage and support a delay to give us the appropriate time to do our due diligence. I believe we as Council would be irresponsible by rushing a decision. If I was buying a car or a house, I would spend more time on due diligence than what council is proposing on over $300 million in direct and indirect spending. City Council’s approach to this process and decision is a litmus test for fiscal accountability.