Kill the arena deal and fund the Green Line, says Calgary councillor

Coun. Evan Woolley says he wants the city to pull out of a deal to pay for half of a new arena for the Calgary Flames and direct most of that $290 million to the Green Line LRT project. 

He says he'll put forward a motion in council chambers on Thursday. 

The move comes as city council debates whether to maintain already approved tax increases or cut services in order to reduce or remove those hikes. 

It also comes just over a month after a provincial budget that suddenly slashed funding to the Green Line over the next four years by 85 per cent — from $550 million to $75 million.  

Following the budget, the province signalled in its Bill 20 that while it will honour the previous NDP government's commitment of $1.5 billion for the Green Line, it wants to reserve the right to cancel that funding with 90 days notice.

"Council has said everything is on the table. We can't, in good conscience, move forward with significant cuts to the budget without reconsidering the arena deal," said Woolley in a news release. 

"Giving $290 million to the owners of the Calgary Flames in our current economic climate is both irresponsible and shortsighted. It's been four months since council voted to move forward on the arena and I'm asking them to reconsider that decision when there are higher, city-building priorities."

Affordable housing and police, too

The Green Line is to eventually stretch from Seton in the far southeast all the way up to 160th Avenue North, but the first stage will run from Shepard in the southeast to 16th Avenue N.

Woolley was one of four councillors to vote against the Flames arena deal and pressed for more consultation on the agreement after council was given only one week to make a decision. 

He wants to see $200 million of the arena money go toward the Green Line, $45 million to the construction of a downtown Calgary police station and the remaining $45 million used to help improve city-owned affordable housing. 

The Green Line has been under attack of late, even in council chambers. 

Green Line woes

Coun. Jeff Davison, who chaired the arena committee and was a strong supporter of the arena deal, suggested the LRT project should be cut in two, with a southeast leg and a north leg that don't connect through downtown. 

The massive, $4.9-billion infrastructure project is funded by the city, the province and the federal government, but the hole left by the recent provincial decision to withhold funds has put the city in a tight financial spot. 

The team responsible for its construction is working on a list of options for getting the LRT project through the downtown and within the $3 billion in local and federal money that has been assembled for the line.

Michael Thompson, who heads the project, said that once provincial money comes through in a few years, then the city can determine what else can be built.

His goal is to present those options to the Green Line committee in December.

The city has spent more than $450 million already, preparing the alignment for construction and acquiring land.