Calgary’s city council voted 11-4 in favour of the arena deal on Tuesday at City Hall. Speaking with the media and during the council meeting, it became fairly obvious why council members voted the way they did.

Why they voted yes

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, against the prior incarnation of the deal with the Flames to the point we had a whole election about it, broke down his rationale prior to the vote.

“My point here is that there are tangible and intangible benefits,” said Nenshi. “Are the things we can’t count, the intangible benefits – and every economist agrees there are intangible benefits to this kind of thing – are those intangible benefits worth $45 million or $47 million in today’s money over a 35 year period? I am satisfied that they are.”

Several other council members spoke about vision and being world class and giving the city a win and things of that nature – a lot of the rhetoric we heard prior to CalgaryNEXT’s demise – but the better arguments were primarily about how the deal would likely drive investment into the area. To steal a phrase from the kids, downtown and the Beltline are “wrecked” right now and several policies and working groups are aiming to get people living downtown and hopefully spending time and money there past 7 p.m. Many council members think this kind of investment could help.

(And yes, several members of council freely acknowledged that it would attract investment into that area and away from other areas. It appears that everyone on Calgary’s council saw the same episode of John Oliver that the rest of us did.)

Nenshi has frequently spoken of the universe of other arena deals that have happened during his term in other cities. He thinks Calgary’s deal stacks up well, particularly within the city’s context.

“Very well against mid-sized markets and very well against Canadian,” said Nenshi. So yes, for the context that we’re in – a city of this size, in Canada, in the environment we’re in with only hockey and not basketball – I think this is probably the best deal you’ll ever see.”

Why they voted no

Four council members voted no, and it’s worth getting into why.

  • Jeromy Farkas spoke at Tuesday’s meeting about the illogic of voting to spend $275 million on an arena just after cutting $60 million from the municipal budget. And during question period after the negotiating team’s presentation, he did get city CFO Carla Male to admit that some of the money that’s going towards the building is coming from prior years’ property taxes – the fiscal sustainability fund that’s chipping money into the overall budget is surplus property tax revenue. So while there won’t be a future property tax impact attached to this plan, it’s somewhat untrue to say that no civic tax money is going into it.
  • Druh Farrell didn’t speak at Tuesday’s meeting, but she spoke during last week’s budget cut debates and characterized the 115 city job cuts as cruel given they had just unveiled the arena funding plan.
  • George Chahal and Evan Woolley both spoke of being Flames fans and liking aspects of the deal, but both criticized the length of the public input period and the content that was provided. In particular, they both singled out the land option aspect of things. The Flames retain the ability to purchase the Enoch House lands and the bus barns land north of Stampede Park from the city at 2018 market values. There’s no provision preventing them from buying the land early, sitting on it while it appreciates in value, and then selling the land for profit to developers. While that aspect of the deal was likely used to help get the Flames ownership invested in trying to get the area developed – they would stand to profit from Victoria Park’s uplift in a material way if they had some land – the lack of accounting for this value in the deal literature (and lack of detailed answers over the past week) put these two council members in the “No” side.