The City of Calgary’s Event Centre Assessment Committee for the first time since March on Thursday morning. 11 members of council, including mayor Naheed Nenshi, received updates in closed session and were able to share some of what they learned with the assembled media.
In March, the committee struck a working group to put together a negotiating team. In the interim, that negotiating team has been assembled and has begun chatting with stakeholders – including the Calgary Flames – regarding the project.
“We’re making progress on the conversations,” said Ward 6 councilor (and committee chair) Jeff Davison. “The negotiation team has now gotten fully engaged with all the parties in the Rivers District and they’re moving towards looking for solutions.”
The team leading the city’s negotiations include Barry Munro (senior partner with Ernst and Young and chair of the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund) city manager Glenda Cole, and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation CEO Michael Brown. Davison noted they’ve been negotiating for about three months and Thursday’s meeting was meant as a high-level update on progress.
“I think they would be thrilled if they met weekly or monthly,” joked Nenshi regarding the frequency of the negotiations. “They would have a lot of extra time. They’ve been doing a lot of work.”
The previous negotiations infamously fell apart in a late July 2017 meeting between the Flames and various city representatives – as reported by the Globe and Mail – and led to the infamous public blow-up between Nenshi and the Flames that preceded the October 2017 municipal election. Nenshi said that negotiations are going better than last time (so far).
“For sure,” said Nenshi. “I think that the last time, and I’ve said this before, it was just a little overly heated. It was important that everyone sort of step off their goal line a little bit, exhale a little bit, and figure out what was best for the community… I just feel like we’ve had a principled, values-driven, thoughtful discussion and I think that’s a good thing.”
Davison noted that tacking an election onto any civic issue could make things contentious. Nenshi praised the work done by the committee, noting that setting the terms of reference – and listing out what the City needed within a deal – “was a respectful, honest thing to do and it has really helped the conversations move forward.”
It probably shouldn’t be shocking to hear that talks are further along this time around than they were back in 2017. (“I think it’s fair to say further along,” Nenshi shared.) That said, both Nenshi and Davison shied away from providing any timelines, with Davison emphasizing the complexity of the deal. With the number of stakeholders involved, he says they’re focused on taking their time and getting it right.
The proposed arena (or “event centre,” by the city’s preferred parlance) is part of a lot of different things going on in the East Victoria Park area, including the construction of the Green Line LRT. Ward 8 councilor Evan Woolley proposed a notice to delay the LRT, potentially making adjustments to the alignment through downtown – which could have some impacts on the currently-planned 4th Street station two blocks north of the arena site.
“The Victoria Park piece never made sense,” said Woolley. “It never made sense that we put a train station up along the CP tracks, hundreds of meters away from where we’ve just made an incredibly huge investment in our convention center and are potentially looking at another significant investment in a new arena.”
Nenshi said that any changes in the Green Line alignment through Victoria Park likely wouldn’t have any impact on arena talks – unlike the ongoing Long Island Railroad discussions potentially impacting the new Islanders rink – since there isn’t a scenario where the train would be moved south of 12th Avenue. If anything, the station could be moving closer to the arena.