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Calgary mayoral hopefuls critical of Nenshi's arena dreams

The City and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation have been meeting for months to hammer out a potential new arena deal

Calgary mayoral candidate Bill Smith speaks at a town hall-style forum on Monday, August 28, 2017.


Calgary mayoral candidate Bill Smith speaks at a town hall-style forum on Monday, August 28, 2017.

Calgary's mayoral candidates are telling Calgarians they're all for a new arena, as long as the city, and Flames, can cut a good deal for voters.

But without a deal in sight, voters will have to decide on each of the candidate's visions for a new arena without concrete details or cost, as several of the mayoral hopefuls told reporters they wanted to ensure a "good deal for Calgarians" on Monday.

Nenshi’s plan for the Rivers District, which includes Victoria Park, the East Village and the downtown east end, involves expansion of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, a rebuilt Olympic Plaza and, of course, a new sports arena, according to a campaign release issued Monday.

The plan is similar to what council was pitched by city administration in April, the Plan B alternative to CalgaryNEXT.

The City and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, owner of the Calgary Flames, have been meeting for months after the original CalgaryNEXT West Village idea was essentially scuttled and the parties focused their attention on a so-called Plan B proposal.

Mayoral hopeful Bill Smith said from his conversations with Ken King, the city and the Flames are "so far apart" right now he can't imagine a deal coming down before the election.

"It's turned into (an election issue) without a doubt," said Smith. "As I've said, I would love to see an arena deal made, it's just got to make sense for Calgarians."

He said the fact there's no cost associated with a new arena, or any deal details out there in the public, is indicative of how the current council has been working.

"I think it's typical of the way this mayor has operated," said Smith.

Coun. Andre Chabot, who's also seeking the mayor's chair, said making the arena an election issue is detracting from bigger narratives and problem the City of Calgary is facing.

"I believe a new arena is absolutely necessary for this city, we've got to decide before we move forward, that it doesn't put Calgarians in debt for the next 30 years," said Chabot. "Whatever money we end up spending on this, if its tax dollars, there needs to be a cost recovery mechanism."

He said mayoral candidates should be campaigning on sustainability, planning principles and what makes for a livable city.

"This detracts from the real issues at hand, which is how to make sure we live within our means and don't burden Calgarians," said Chabot.

The mayor reiterated that any arena deal must be a made-in-Calgary deal that’s friendly to both the taxpayer and CSEC.

“It's about money, it's about real money," said Nenshi. "The arena is not the issue, the issue is East downtown, the issue is creating a cultural and entertainment district in East downtown, which requires many many ingredients and many many pieces."

The mayor said just plopping an arena down doesn't in and of itself create private sector investments and input from all of those parties along with other orders of government will take some planning to create a perfect package.

"We're in no rush, the issue here is to get this exactly right for Calgarians," said Nenshi.

A Green Line LRT station at 4 St SE as a hub, connecting Calgary’s light rail system is also a part of the vision, as is an expanded Arts Common and a new incubator space for entrepreneurs and their start ups.

There’s also a mention of additional public realm investment in key downtown neighbourhoods - including Eau Claire, Stephen Avenue and Chinatown.

Nenshi said the City, along with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, the Calgary Stampede, Arts Common and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation need to work with all levels of government and the private sector to fund this project.

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