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Former Calgary councillor says new arena deal is 'ten times worse' than previous agreement


The day after unveiling a $1.22 billion plan to overhaul Calgary's Rivers District with a new arena as its anchor, taxpayer groups and even a former councillor are criticizing the deal. 

On Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that the City of Calgary, Alberta government and the Calgary Flames' ownership group had entered into a deal in principle to build a replacement for the aging Saddledome, a 1,000-seat community rink, a public plaza and major transportation upgrades. 

The city will front $537 million for the project, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) has pledged $356 million and the province will cover $330 million. The deal means public money will cover nearly three quarters of the project. 

"The Calgary Flames are worth hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. You don't get a bigger league than the NHL. So it's not right to hit up struggling taxpayers to build this rink," said Kris Sims with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"It's a lot of taxpayer money," she said. 

It's a deal that is much bigger in scope and cost than what was agreed to in 2019.

At the time, the city and CSEC signed off on splitting a $550 million arena 50-50. Costs for the new rink soared past $630 million before that deal was ended in 2021. 

According to documents that were made public Tuesday, the city will front the vast majority of the cost for the event centre in cash – $502 million of the $873 million for the new arena is coming from Calgary. CSEC's contribution to its new home will be $26.8 million in cash and $316 million in the form of lease payments to be paid out over 35 years. 

"It's very clear that this deal is about ten times worse than the previous one," said Jeromy Farkas, a former city councillor who was at city hall when the 2019 deal was announced. 

"The previous deal had issues, but in the long-term, the city was going to get its money back. We were more or less equal partners in it, we were collecting a ticket fee, some of the naming rights," he said. 

The Saddledome can be seen in a April 26, 2023 photo. The city did not answer questions from CTV News Wednesday about what the revenue sharing agreement is in the new deal. 

Farkas, who also ran for mayor and lost to Jyoti Gondek, also said it isn't the right time to be putting in millions of dollars in public money into the project. 

"Is it a priority now? When I think of so many people struggling with housing affordability, the state of the health care system, education system," he said. 

Officials say it's too early to put a timeline on the project, though work on the definitive agreements and design will continue through the spring and summer. Top Stories

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