Bettman Lobbies for CalgaryNext, Mayor Responds

In August, Calgary Flames ownership announced plans for CalgaryNext, a new arena complex on the west side of downtown Calgary. It encompasses many things, including a new arena for the Calgary Flames and a stadium for the CFL’s Calgary Stampede, which could convert into a FIFA-quality soccer pitch. Work on the project needs to begin “immediately,” according NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in comments made Monday before a chamber of commerce assembly. Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi didn’t agree with Bettman. He candidly let the public know that Monday night.

The source of the debate stems from CalgaryNext’s proposal of significant public funding. That’s why Bettman was in Calgary politicking on behalf of the project.

The initial plan for CalgaryNext proposes approximately $690 million in public financing and $200 million in private funding. That breaks out to $250 million in ticket taxes, $240 million in a community revitalization levy, $200 million from city taxpayers and $200 million from Calgary Flames Sports and Entertainment (CFSE).

Starting CalgaryNext “Immediately”

Bettman said Monday that the city shouldn’t consider hosting the All-Star Game or a NHL draft until the CalgaryNext project is complete.

“There is no doubt CalgaryNext is needed in Calgary,” he said, “and by that definition, work need to begin on it immediately.”

Calgary is the only franchise in the NHL that has not had a new arena built under Bettman’s watch.

The bearded Bettman cited new arenas on the way in Edmonton and Detroit, which, when completed, will make Calgary’s Saddledome the oldest building in the NHL. “When Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of its confederation [July 2017], the Battle of Alberta hockey will still be legendary, but the Battle of Alberta arenas won’t be close and that’s no joke,” Bettman said. He later added that there’s no way the project can be completed solely as a private venture.

Nenshi’s Response

Mayor Nenshi responded to Bettman’s comments by telling the press, “I don’t know why anyone would think this is surprising or news. This is the man’s job; this is what he does.”

Nenshi has been steadfast in a desire to ensure that diligence is done and that the process is played out fully. Despite Bettman’s comments, the city is moving along in their analysis of the project in a multi-phase review that was approved back in November.

“Perhaps in other cities that he has come to, the city councils have just written checks based on back-of-the-napkin proposals without any consultation to the public or without any analysis,” he said.

“That’s not how we operate here. We have a comprehensive framework in place. We’ll see what the numbers look like come spring and have a very big public discussion about it.”

That seems reasonable, since the real money to be made on professional sports facilities is what’s happening inside and, generally speaking, the teams are the ones making money on what’s happening inside. The argument for public financing usually says that the city benefits from all the business generated by an arena district, the jobs it creates and the tax revenue it generates. Yet, numerous studies have found little-to-no evidence that new arenas generate the promised economic boom.

In fact that may be generous, according to an academic paper in Econ Journal Watch authored by Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys, which synthesized many studies and concluded, “The large and growing peer-reviewed economics literature on the economic impacts of stadiums, arenas, sports franchises and sport mega-events has consistently found no substantial evidence of increased jobs, incomes or tax revenues for a community associated with any of these things.”

Moving Forward

Bettman and Flames president Ken King are scheduled to meet with some city representatives on Tuesday, but Nenshi will not be one of them. “I’m in council,” Nenshi said, confirming Bettman’s request for a meeting, “and I suggested that unless he’s got some new information that’s different than the last time we met him, it’s probably not worth his time.”

There was a bit of a feisty tone from Nenshi, who didn’t seem to like the timbre of conversation that Bettman was having in an attempt to both secure the financing and speed up the process on CFSE’s $690 million ask. “I know that Calgarians require very wealthy people from New York to come and tell us what we need to do in our community because they understand vibrancy better than we do,” Neshi said, finishing his press conference.

Bettman wasn’t offended, Mark Spector reports.