A new Flames arena has no place in politics

The new arena talks between the Calgary Flames and the City of Calgary have been put on ice, at least until the municipal election in October.

“We’re not running for office. It’s certainly not an election issue for us,” said Ken King, Flames team president in a press junket on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

The City of Calgary, the Flames and the NHL have been in discussions for months trying to work out a plan to build a new arena for the city.

The new arena has become a hot ticket issue in the municipal election, with a debate emerging over who should pay for a new arena.

“We’re certainly not trying to throw fuel on the fire. The reason we had the meeting today is that the mayor’s campaign seemed to kick off with a vision for Victoria Park yesterday,” said King.

The arena should never have become one of the leading contestations in the run up to the city council and mayoral election.

The figures released by the city indicate that the arena could range in price from $1.3-1.8 billion, with two thirds covered by Calgary tax-payers. 

While the large pay-out from the public money is jaw-dropping, it is important to remember that the arena would serve as a revitalization project for the communities surrounding the Saddledome, while also helping to drive up the Calgary economy.

Alisar Charanek, a legal assistant student at SAIT, said that she thought a new arena would help boost the economy in Calgary by allowing the city to host more concerts and draw in tourists.

“It’s [the Saddledome] not a nice arena, and the sound waves are awful so people don’t book it,” said Charnek. She also expressed concern that the building was dangerous because of how steep the stairs are.

The new arena debate has been further muddled by city council, with the announcement that they are in hot-pursuit of a 2026 Olympic Games bid.

The city can simply not support an Olympic bid with the current Calgary hockey facilities.

Calgary cannot claim to be a city ready to host the Olympics without at least partially helping to foot the bill for a new arena, and looking beyond the immediate future to recognize the long-term benefits of a new arena.

If the 2026 Olympics had never entered the conversation, the city would have had no obligation to help with the cost of a new arena, leaving the Flames and the NHL to cover the bill.

These ideas should not have been carelessly thrown out by city council, without recognizing the potential effect it will have on the Calgary 2026 Olympics bid.

It is too late now to suddenly stop negotiations for a new arena, because an election is taking place and politicians want to create an appealing image for voters.

First-year SAIT chemical engineering technology student Liam Simcic-Higgins said that the City of Calgary needs a new arena, because the Saddledome is one of the oldest arenas in the NHL and arch-rival, Edmonton, just built the Rogers Place.

Simcic-Higgins said that tax-payers should pay a portion of the cost for a new arena, but that the Flames and Ken King should meet with the NHL to encourage the hockey league to help out with the cost.

“We have a strong fan base, and it would be a shame if the Flames were to leave town,” said Simcic-Higgins.

The negotiations with the Flames president and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have stalled for now, but there is hope that that discussions could be reignited once a new city council and mayor have been elected.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi claimed, “The calls to our office, the emails, the comments have been, I would say, 99.999997 per cent saying please Mr. Bettman stay out of it, and no, there should be no public money for this.”

However, the fact that the city is losing concerts, and potentially the Flames, due to the Saddledome, is an issue that cannot be ignored and does not reflect the view of many Calgarians.

“Honestly, I think a new arena could be useful for the economy, but Flames’ tickets are so expensive already,” said Brynmor Gibson, a first-year chemical engineering technology student at SAIT.

Gibson said that the NHL should pay for the arena, because taxpayers could potentially end up paying for the new arena twice through taxes and tickets to Flames’ games.

“I can’t afford a ticket anyways, so why do I have to pay for an arena,” said Gibson.

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