If you want to start a rip-snorting debate, bring up the issue of taxpayers’ money being used to build a professional sports arena.
It is exactly what Alberta Premier Danielle Smith did April 26 when she announced a plan to build an arena and events centre in Calgary. Talk about diving into a cesspool of controversy headfirst!
The deal calls for the Alberta government to contribute up to $300 million for road and bridge construction, LRT connection, site utilities, site reclamation, and other infrastructure. Not an arena; however, but we all know the arena is tied to the deal.
The agreement is subject to approval by Cabinet and Treasury by August 2023. The message from the ruling United Conservative Party is clear: elect the UCP and Calgary will get a new arena. Even Smith admitted as much in the news release. We give Smith credit for that. Denying that would be much like admitting pigs fly.
Of course, the NDP was quick to oppose the plan.
Let the battle begin! We will hear a lot about this in the upcoming election.
The issue of just how much – if any! – money should be used to fund facilities used by professional sports teams is debatable. People who oppose forking over dough for such projects are not totally wrong but they fail to see bigger picture.
Sports stadiums generate tremendous economic activity. The recently-built Rogers Centre in Edmonton and the accompanying Ice District is busy. Tens of thousands of people with a lot of money attend games, concerts and more. By the time they leave the event, those wallets are lot lighter. Money is spent by consumers. Money is made by businessmen.
It can be argued on a smaller scale. When the Navigators play at the Baytex Energy Centre, or Pirates at the Falher Regional Recreation Complex, or Red Wings at the High Prairie Sports Palace, people are about, enjoying the game and spending money. They are not only spending money at the game, but also at stores, whether gassing up, buying snacks and – unfortunately! – beer for the trip home. The economic spinoff is not limited to the arena itself, but nearly businesses and the community.
We need to look no further than the trends in North America for sports venues the last 20 years. Many cities have chosen to build arenas downtown to revitalize the city core. People don’t do this because they are stupid. They do it because the workers are already downtown. They can leave work at 5 p.m., have supper, and attend a game or concert at 7 p.m. without worrying about transportation. Or at the very least, a short LRT ride to the arena.
It is a plan that works!
The problem is, how much is too much when it comes to the taxpayers paying the bill. Every person decides that for themselves. It is what will make the campaign so interesting. Smith has opened the door for a smoking hot debate.
People who oppose projects like these point out the owners of these teams tend to be filthy rich. Why shouldn’t they pay the bills? Some do, some do not. The reason they don’t pay the bills? Because someone else will. Smith has taken her stand.
Let the games begin!
Opinion by Chris Clegg
May 7, 2023
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