The Calgary Flames have been wanting a new arena for many years now. In their very long quest to get a new arena, they seem to be doing everything behind closed doors. Usually, there is something that happens in public, like a meeting or a team-oriented get-together. But when you look at the last few years of negotiating, it seems like the public has had absolutely zero to do with it.
In 2019, the Flames (with their billionaire owner) and the city of Calgary agreed on a $550 million new arena, where the city gave about $213 million. Then the city’s cost went to $250 million….then $300 million. After an agreement with the city on transportation and construction cost overruns, an additional $16.1 million in added costs for roads and sidewalks appeared and nobody knew exactly who should pay for it. The city asked for the Flames to pay 60% of it. The Flames said no. Then in late 2021, the Flames’ management decided to axe the deal. All because the city wanted the team to pay $10 million in cost overruns.
At least….we think. After the city and Flames had announced a deal, the Edmonton Journal wrote a story detailing just how little information the city of Calgary was releasing on the arena finances. At the same time, the city was also pledging to vote on this huge project in just a week. As they said in the story, “Why the rush?”.
After the deal was killed, we found out that the city had done deals for the new arena without the public knowing and without being included in the arena deal. For example, in April 2021, the city of Calgary leased public land to a private company and promised to build a large parking lot near the agreed-upon new arena. All of this was done without the public knowing and was NOT INCLUDED in the new arena deal. While the city refused to release anything about this deal, Project Calgary estimated that the city could be losing out on roughly $63 million in revenue over the next seven years.
But over the last few years, we have seen the Flames again and again try to restart negotiations……all without the public seeing what was involved.
The City of Calgary was continuing to work “toward a resolution with the Calgary Flames ownership group on the bumpy road to a new arena for the city.” What was said?
“Officials were tight-lipped on specifics after a two-hour closed-door meeting of the city’s events centre committee on Monday, though they said no formal negotiations are currently taking place…..There is currently no timeline for the new project’s completion nor any details on when designs and plans could be revealed.”– Calgary Herald, 07/04/22
Oh, and remember that failed deal between the city and the Flames? Over a year later, the city is just now “nearing a point it can release numbers on how much the failed deal cost the city.” How nice to tell everyone a year and so later.
In October 2022, the city and the Flames agreed to a “fresh start” and to talk again about a new arena. According to the committee chairwoman, the city’s lawyers will talk with the Flames. Then the lawyers will report to the arena committee and then the city will in turn report to the city council on “important decisions that need to be made.”
The chair of the city’s committee is publicly stating that negotiations for a new arena are “moving along” after the people representing the city in negotiations gave a “two-hour presentation” on how the arena deal was going. And that was pretty much all we got about that meeting because nothing else was released nor was the public allowed to see this presentation.
NHL commissioner Bettman came into town to discuss the new arena with both the Flames’ ownership group and Calgary city council. How did it go? What was said? We don’t know. Nothing about it was released other than Bettman claiming that he was really encouraged.
On March 10, 2023, the City of Calgary reconvened “to update members on negotiations for a replacement for the aging Saddledome.” Except the parts that we want to hear and know “will be held behind closed doors”. Not to worry, though, as CTV notes that city council members “and committees meet in private any time issues of real estate are being discussed.” That is just what the public wants to hear when their tax dollars are at stake.
Two weeks later, the city met again and voted “to keep all matters discussed confidential” because the issue was “complex” per the committee chair? As the Calgary Herald wrote, “but as usual, there was little new information to report.”
Wait, I thought the fresh start was going to bring back transparency and public input?
“The city has kept a tight lid on the negotiations since it restarted in earnest last October. Sharp (Committee Chairwoman) has repeatedly said no news about the negotiations will be made public.”– Calgary Herald, 03/24/23
Based on history, it wouldn’t shock me to see Calgary officials announce a deal soon. We won’t know much about the financing of the new arena, but we will be given tons of information about all the super benefits. Oh, and the city is voting on it in 24 hours.