Increasing arena budget estimates spark tension at Calgary city council

·3 min read
This artist's rendering shows the proposed events centre that would replace the Saddledome in Victoria Park. (City of Calgary - image credit)
This artist's rendering shows the proposed events centre that would replace the Saddledome in Victoria Park. (City of Calgary - image credit)

The budget estimate of Calgary's downtown arena project is now $50- to $60-million higher than its target of $550 million, city council heard at a closed-door briefing on Monday night.

The discussion sparked several tense exchanges between council members during the public portion of the meeting.

Preparation work on the new arena, which is a joint venture between the City of Calgary and the owners of the Flames, was put on hold in April because of unspecified budget problems.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in June that it appears construction will not start on Aug. 1 as planned.

Council heard during open session on Monday that there is no final design in place for the arena, and adjustments are now being made to control the costs, which include interior finishings and parts of the building's exterior.

"We have yet to approve a design and a budget, and so at this point, we're dealing with something that happens in capital projects," said Stuart Dalgleish, the city's general manager of planning and development.

"We're going through a process to reconcile that."

'Really ridiculous politics'

Ward 11 councillor and mayoral candidate Jeromy Farkas — while referring to discussions that occurred during the closed-door portion of the meeting — suggested during open session that information about the arena was not being shared with the public.

He also said council is not getting all of the facts about the negotiations.

"It is completely unacceptable for council to continue going on this way," Farkas said.

But Dalgleish said council has been routinely provided with information and updates as they become available.

"That has been occurring on a basis that is timely," Dalgleish said.

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

Nenshi also dismissed Farkas's statements as "a bunch of really ridiculous politics" on the Calgary Eyeoener on Tuesday.

"It's almost like there's a municipal election coming up, or something," he said.

"I believe projects have to come in on time and on budget, but that also means that we have to spend some time upfront, really developing and ensuring that we actually understand what the project is."

'We are not keeping anything from the public,' Gondek says

Mayoral candidate and Ward 3 representative Jyoti Gondek held a short press conference on Tuesday to clarify that because negotiations are still in place regarding the budget of the arena, those discussions had not yet been made public.

That will change when the plans are finalized, she said.

While Gondek said she will not support any more money for the project, any extra public money must be approved by two-thirds of council if needed.

There are no current plans to relocate the arena, and the future of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation as the project manager has yet to be decided, she said.

"We are not keeping anything from the public right now. What I can tell you is that if there are dollars to be invested beyond what we agreed to originally, that must come back to council," Gondek said.

"If the city was on the hook for more money, we would have to disclose that to the public."

Council will receive its next update about the arena project during its meeting on July 26.

With files from Scott Dippel and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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