The Calgary Flames ownership group is standing on the steps of city hall, lips quivering, arms outstretched, fedoras in hand.
They need hundreds of millions of our tax dollars for a so-called ‘city building project,’ a downtown NHL arena and sports complex dubbed ‘CalgaryNEXT.’
If you have a problem with that, “then what’s your competing vision?” they ask.
A loaded question, to be sure.
But we’ll bite.
Here’s a vision of a professional sports complex and NHL arena in the west end of downtown. It’s a hockey arena and a football stadium, bordered by modern glass condominiums with big downtown price tags and high-end retail store after retail store. It’s a live-work-play consumer’s dream.
It’s a 20,000-seat rink for NHL games and all the biggest concerts. Loud speakers, flashing lights, gigantic TV screens and copious executive box seats to draw more corporate bucks for the Flames’ franchise than the Saddledome ever could.
It’s a 30,000-seat football stadium with a translucent roof. Inside, extensive snack options and retail stands. TVs everywhere so fans can watch the game even when they’re in the loo.
It’s CalgaryNEXT - but it’s all paid for with private money. It’s much the same as any other for-profit, private, money-generating business development.
Separately, there’s a multisport fieldhouse for community use, paid for by taxpayers for taxpayers. It certainly doesn’t need 30,000 seats and probably won’t cost $200 million. And the Calgary Stampeders can feel free to rent out their field to little leagues and high school teams, if there’s demand for it.
Of course, Calgarians don’t need to offer competing pitches for public money to oppose giving their tax dollars to a pro sports franchise. Calgarians could simply prefer that their money go to more food banks for the needy, more police in crime-ridden neighbourhoods, or more sewers to funnel the rain.
Every use of public money is a choice made by our elected officials. Every use of public money begs the question, what are our priorities?
Here in Calgary, we welcome the jobs and tax revenue generated by a new Wal-Mart or movie theatre. But we’d surely be shocked if wealthy corporate executives asked for millions of tax dollars to build them, or asked taxpayers across Canada to pay for and clean up their chosen development sites.
The Flames’ ownership group has compared CalgaryNEXT to a library. That comparison deserves a penalty. NHL arenas are for-profit. Libraries are not.
We shouldn’t berate anyone for earning a good profit. Let’s not rush to ‘eat the rich!’ Individuals earning and spending money is the wheel that turns our economy. But that doesn’t mean we need to dole out public dollars to big business. Handing our tax dollars over to a moneyed pro sports franchise would be corporate welfare, plain and simple.
The Flames’ ownership group is telling us they need our tax dollars for their glittering new sports complex.
Don’t be duped. There is a better way.
In fact, four of Canada’s nicest NHL arenas were built without the use of tax dollars. The Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Bell Centre in Montreal, the Rogers Arena in Vancouver and the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa - an even smaller market than Calgary - were all built with private funds. They all draw crowds for big sports and entertainment events that generate big bucks for the arena owners.
The Calgary Flames ownership group is an extremely generous group of people, donating much time and money to very worthy causes.
But that doesn’t mean cash-strapped taxpayers should bear the cost or the financial risk associated with fulfilling their flashy arena desires.
Other cities have said no to tax dollars for pro sports arenas and have ended up with privately funded complexes. We should do the same.
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