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Round Three of the Saddledome Saga is Dead

Frank Atkins

It is not often I agree with Mayor Nenshi, but I think he has made a wise decision with CalgaryNEXT. With Mayor Nenshi’s announcement that CalgaryNEXT is dead, this appears to be three strikes for Ken King. For a long time, Mr. King has been trying to get taxpayers to contribute to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Mr. King appears to be a very good businessman, and he clearly understands how to use the art of marketing. The early marketing was direct and blunt: the Flames need a new arena and the team will have to be moved if one cannot be built using taxpayer money. When that message did not sell very well, the next marketing of the idea was brilliant. Mr. King was involved in a group called Transformation Calgary. This group claimed Calgary had a cultural deficit, and apparently we needed a one per cent municipal GST in order to overcome this deficit. In this round, cultural deficit included recreation centres and the Saddledome was considered a recreation centre.

In June 2014, Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, gave a speech in which he stated the Saddledome is embarrassing and he wants a new arena built. This was a reversion to the blunt, direct selling of the idea that was used before the cultural deficit solution. Round three in the marketing of the idea of taxpayers contributing to a new arena came in the form of CalgaryNEXT. Similar to the cultural deficit, this was a brilliant marketing idea. Wrap the need for a new Saddledome into a larger sports and entertainment complex. Ken King said, “CalgaryNEXT is a bold new vision for Calgary. The question is simple: ‘Is this good for Calgary and is this good for Calgarians?’” This project originally would have cost $890 million which would come from four sources: a $240-million community revitalization levy; a $250-million ticket tax; $200 million from the city; and a $200-million contribution from the Flames. Essentially, the one per cent GST idea would be replaced by a $240-million community revitalization tax, as well as a $200-million contribution from the city, which is also taxpayer money.

In this third round of marketing the idea of using taxpayer money to pay for a new home for the Flames, this is the first time I can see the Flames themselves will actually make a contribution to the cost, although they feel they should only have to contribute just under 25 per cent. In response to Mayor Nenshi’s announcement that CalgaryNEXT is dead, Mr. King wrote an open letter to Calgarians on Mr. King clearly states he is not using the threat of moving the Flames as a tactic, saying if it came to that, “We would just move.” This is interesting wording; the threat of moving the Flames is out there, but it is not to be construed as a tactic to get taxpayer funding. I do not think Mr. King is about to give up on seeking a new arena. I can only hope our politicians will continue to resist the calls for taxpayers to pay for it.

Frank Atkins is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.