KAMLOOPS — The Calgary Flames appear to be playing politics in their efforts to get a new hockey arena in that city. The team has been posturing for a new arena for several years to replace the aging Saddledome, and there’s no question a new arena is needed. But it’s really a question of who spends the money for it.
The team’s President of Operations, Brian Burke, says in the U.S. there are many places where arenas are publicly-owned and teams get very favourable breaks on rentals because of a perceived benefit to the public by having a professional team in place. Burke told a meeting this week that the team could leave Calgary if a new arena isn’t built. The team’s President was quick to downplay Burke’s remarks, suggesting the team was committed to ongoing dialogue with the City.
One of my favourite Mayors, Naheed Nenshi, rightfully called it all politicking, as the City is in an election mode, and threatening to take away the team might influence voters. But Nenshi says five out of the seven teams in Canada have privately owned arenas, and if the city is going to build the arena, there has to be public benefit. Nenshi wants to see the numbers, and so he should.
I’m not convinced they’re as great as the team thinks they are. Part of the issue is the location. The City turned down a plan to build the new facility in what’s known as the West Village. It would include a public fieldhouse and a CFL stadium to house the Stampeders. It would cost just shy of a billion dollars, the vast majority of which would be put in by taxpayers. The City has concerns about whether or not the public would benefit to that amount. I would suggest “hardly”.
There is some benefit to the revitalization of the downtown. No question. And all downtowns need to be revitalized constantly. The Saddledome is getting very old, soon to be the oldest in the league. It needs fixing. But whether it needs $890 million dollars worth of fixing is worth thinking about.
And when you get right down to it, how many average people can get to these high level games anyway? Our Sports Director, Earl Seitz, who has covered sports longer than the Flames have been in existence, is somewhat jaded about the value of spending so much money. On social media last week, he commented this way on the value of spending so much public money: “Once again reeks of billionaire owners wanting minimum wage taxpayers to pay for a building billionaire owners’ team can play in so they can charge minimum wage taxpayers billionaire ticket prices to watch millionaire players on billionaire owners’ team in a building minimum wage taxpayers have paid for.”
I say “Amen”. I make good money and I couldn’t afford to see an NHL game. Nosebleed seats, a fortune for any food, overcrowded washrooms. The only people who get any value are those who can afford the luxury boxes, and that’s very few people.
Build a new fieldhouse, Calgary, which is the most pressing recreational need in the City, and if the Flames want to leave, have a goodbye party and say “Sayonara”.