Calgary council votes to pursue new event centre deal, will use 3rd party to gauge CSEC interest

Calgary city council voted unanimously Wednesday to keep working on a new event centre while directing administration to determine whether the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) would be interested in re-entering discussions.

Council met Wednesday to discuss the collapse of the deal for a new downtown arena, emerging out of an hours-long closed door meeting shortly after 10 p.m. to talk next steps.

Council has also tasked city administration with determining whether there may be other parties interested in partnering with the city. The event centre assessment committee has also been re-established.

The results of that decision are due back before council at the March 8 meeting.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the lengthy meeting of council was important to lay out a timeline for the public.

“I think it is a great way to ensure that everyone is getting what they need out of an agreement and a partnership by making sure there is a third-party at the table, so that both interests are well-served,” Gondek said.

“There might be more than just two parties this time, given the direction that we’ve provided.”

Construction on the $600-million arena in Victoria Park was supposed to start in early 2022 but was terminated Jan. 1 after CSEC walked away from the project due to rising costs.

“[This] does mean we can take the time we need to really consider what the future event centre looks like,” said Coun. Peter Demong. “Whether it’s a brand-new building or renovation of the existing building.” 

Prior to the vote on Wednesday, council was provided with a detailed report and clarity on a number of items.

Costs and clarity

Prior to the termination of the deal, it was estimated that the two parties together had spent $20 million to $25 million.

Council heard an update on that figure during Wednesday’s meeting, with the number pegged at $23 million to $24 million. That figure is still due to be refined.

It was revealed in July 2021 that the deal was close to $60 million over budget.

During the summer, the city and the CSEC agreed to pay an additional $12.5 million for the arena, with the Flames owners group agreeing to cover any more cost overruns.

While the city agreed to pay the cost of reconstructing roads around the arena site, the cost of replacing sidewalks was clearly a project cost, city administration said. 

On Wednesday, Coun. Peter Demong asked whether the city’s climate emergency declaration was a factor in the demise of the deal.

A member of the city’s planning commission indicated that wasn’t a factor, adding that climate provisions were based on earlier policies.

Speaking Wednesday after the vote, Gondek said the new deal could take into account the different economic landscape Calgary is in now, versus in 2019 when the last agreement was signed.

“Many of the delays that we’ve encountered on the event centre moving forward had to do with supply chains, had to do with logistics, had to do with economic conditions that were completely outside the control of the two parties,” she said.

“We now have an opportunity to reconsider what a partnership moving forward looks like and we can get this done in a way that appreciates we’re in a totally different economic environment.”

Gondek could not say who other potential funding partners beyond the Flames owners could be for a new arena.

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