Thoughts on CalgaryNEXT

At first, I was super excited about this project. I’ve long been a proponent of inner city development and revitalization. West village in my opinion has always presented it self as a very unique opportunity for a great project of any kind including the one the Flames have in mind for redevelopment. If done right, with the appropriate foresight this project could have been or potentially could be a game changer. At this present moment, however, I do not think the proposal is a game changer.

Now that I’ve seen the renderings, and the funding model proposed by the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) I am alarmingly underwhelmed. Moreover, the optics of the financial ask is problematic for me personally with more than 75% of the funding coming from fans (ticket tax) and tax payers (CRL and City of Calgary) while the CSEC themselves only front <25% of the costs eventhough they stand to gain the most from this project. That is even if the city owns the buildings in the long term.

Let’s break it down. The total price tag comes in somewhere around $890,000,000 so let’s round it out at $900,000,000 total.
Included in this is the cost: Fieldhouse/Stadium + Events Centre/Arena.
Not included in this cost is major road infrastructure: Crowchild trail, bow trail, traffic interchange at 14th st, cresote land remediation? what will these costs be and where does this money come from?

Flames SEC THE BIG ASK

CSEC’s funding model

$200m from the city — to fund the field house portion of the project which they already have plans in their capital budget plans for they just need to find the funding for it.
$240m from a CRL — what is a crl? a CRL is a levy in which the CITY borrows the money to pay for the project. The revitilzation of the area increases the property values, increases the property tax the city can collect from these tenants and then they use said revenue from increase in taxes to pay back the the loan within a specific timeframe.
$250m from fans/event goers via ticket tax — where does this money come from initially? The city? The Feds/The Province? Private financeers? King doesn’t know.
That’s a total of $690m dollars from public sources or slightly more than 75% of the total cost to build the fieldhouse/stadium and arena, which the primary tenant will be the Calgary Flames, and Calgary Stampeders.

Positives

Let me start out by saying I applaud the Flames group for having a vision to combine these facilities in one space, reducing the footprint of three separate facilities. I applaud the Flames for trying to find a way to revitalize and invigorate an area of the city that needs to be redeveloped anyhow. I applaud the Flames for throwing a bone to amateur sports groups and Calgarians by building a 365 day a year type of facility into their project. I also applaud the Flames for their leadership in the community and for kick starting a conversation that involves an area of the city that is contaminated and needs to be cleaned up, regardless of who develops there eventually.

Negatives

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure…. a project of this scope needs to be done with future growth and potential for growth in mind. If you’re gonna spend nearly $1 billion on a project why not make it the best damn project possible with the future as a consideration. So that the city can collect good tax revenue from the area and so that this project has every bit of chance to succeede like the East Village is doing. This is where I personally think the CSEC are lacking vision and creativity. The city came forward in 2010 with plans for the west village which would improve the traffic flow, make the village concept pedestrian friendly and allow for residents of the area to have easy access getting in and out. The CalgaryNEXT plan does not address this at all. In my opinion, as presented so far this is not an area where I’d want to live, or work, and certainly it’s not an area that I would want to hang out in before or after events. My main concern going to a Flames, Stamps game, or concert in this proposed area is how the hell am I gonna get out of here when it’s over. This is an anxiety I think I share with most event goers and one that plagues the saddledome currently. This does not make for a user friendly experience and if there isn’t major changes to the infrastructure around West Village it won’t change my anxieties on this.

Secondarily, who is going to clean up the cresote contamination and how much is it going to cost? The CSEC have conveniantly left this tidbit out of their presentation altogether. So technically the total cost of this project is going to be more than $900,000,000. If you want to do this properly, in my opinion you need to realign bow trail, you need to bring 14th st to level grade and impliment a traffic interchange or exchange of some sort and this costs money, nor does it even begin to get into the issues with Crowchild trail, which in it self could cost the city a billion dollars. If you start looking at reports of these costs, 400m to move bowtrail, 200 for fixing 14h street, 50m-300m for cresote remediation. Now this project goes from being the city paying 200m, borrowing 490 to front the ticket tax portion and the CRL to the city borrowing and paying close to 2 billion. 1.5 at the most conservative number. CSEC gets off on putting forth 200 million.

For me, with what was presented this whole concept smells of the Flames CSEC thinking of themselves and only themselves in these plans. As a tax payer, and as someone who does not support public funds going to line the pockets of private billionaires I can not support this proposal as it is currently.

In Summary

Although, I think this was a good try I cannot support the project as it is proposed currently. There are too many concerning questions such as who pays the up front cash for the ticket levy? How much is the remediation? Can the city afford to realign roads and make the changes necessary to make the West Village area a viable district for this proposal. That being said, if the CSEC are willing to consult with city designers and get to work with the city on a plan that benefits both parties, one which takes into consideration the remediation, and the infrastructure realignment needed for the area. I would be more inclined as a fan of the CSEC teams and a fan of inner city development in revisiting this sort of level of funding. That is to say the CSEC getting 690 million in public funds for this project towards an arena, stadium/fieldhouse mega project. However, as it stands right now the project as it’s presented with a cost analysis that doesn’t include major costs like remediation, and infrastructure upgrades the total of $900 million suddenly looks a lot closer to $1.5 billion and i’m just not sure that this is something the city needs to undertake right now. Come back to tax payers with a realistic budget for the entire redevelopment, and the questions answered and then we’ll see just how much the CSEC should get from taxes for that.

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