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Calgary needs to move ahead with a new major hockey arena that would benefit the public and city economy, Tourism Calgary officials said Tuesday.
The city is falling behind others in attracting sporting events and concerts and a new “events centre” that would house the NHL Flames would be a key piece, said Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady.
“For sports infrastructure and concerts, we’re struggling,” said Ady, adding Edmonton’s succeeding on both fronts.
“Edmonton’s doubled down on the bigger acts … it’s the fact you can’t ever attract ‘A’ concerts that I’m not particularly fond of.”
Other Canadian cities, she said, are attracting sporting events that fill thousands of hotel rooms over Calgary, which lacks comparable venues.
“It’s coming to a time where we really need to be focused on that,” said Ady.
While they didn’t put a dollar figure on the possible economic benefit a new arena would bring, Tourism Calgary executives said it would help revitalize its environs, as many have credited Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena.
And it would enhance civic prestige and vitality that’s valuable but hard to quantify, said Tourism Calgary chairman Rod McKay.
“There’s a public value to what happens around that, it’s part of a brand,” he said. “Companies will locate head offices in places with a strong community.”
McKay said his organization won’t advocate on financing or locating such an amenity.
“We do encourage the benefits that would accrue … we encourage resolution,” he said.
Two possible locations for the new arena have been floated — the west end of downtown and Victoria Park, though Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other council members have turned down the former option and said no public money should be devoted to it until a public benefit is clear.
Critics point to studies showing professional sports facilities create few economic benefit to cities that help pay for them.
“I’ve never really found one that economically generates anything for the municipality after they put money it,” said Coun. Brian Pincott.
Any purely public benefit, he said, would be dependent on the arena’s ownership, operation and revenue flow.
But he agreed with Tourism Calgary that a new arena could well enhance an area’s vitality and the city’s prestige, “if it’s done right at the right location.”
Even so, there remains $450 million in unfunded upgrades to track and field, swimming, soccer and field house facilities, he said.
“There are other sports infrastructure that we need to look at,” said Pincott.