Plan splits city: poll

Calgarians narrowly support West Village sports complex but oppose financing scheme

Most Calgarians would like a new sports complex, and many even support the CalgaryNEXT proposal unveiled by the owners of the Flames and Stampeders this week, but there’s strong opposition to spending public money on the $890-million project, according to an exclusive poll for the Herald.

A Mainstreet Research survey shows 39 per cent support the proposal to replace the Scotiabank Saddledome and McMahon Stadium, while 34 per cent oppose the plan.

However, nearly half are against the proposed financing model, which sees the Flames’ ownership and city each contribute $200 million, while the remaining $490 million would come from a ticket tax and a community revitalization levy. The automated phone survey of 1,344 Calgarians was conducted Aug. 20. The margin of error is 2.67 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

“It’s dividing the city on a number of issues in terms of who should pay and how should this work and also do these centres need to be replaced,” David Valentin, executive vice-president of Mainstreet, said Friday.

“People seem to universally dislike the proposed funding formula for this,” Valentin said.

“Obviously, the people behind CalgaryNEXT are going to want to find a way to explain this to Calgarians that makes sense and that’s easier to explain.”

Earlier this week, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. unveiled its ambitious plan to erect a new NHL arena, professional football stadium and multi-sport field house in the city’s downtown west end. The site is also contaminated with a toxic wood preservative left behind from a factory that closed decades ago.

It’s unknown how much it would cost to remediate the site, though some on city council have estimated the cleanup would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The proposal by the ownership group doesn’t include the cost to clean up the land or any associated infrastructure expenses.

But the survey by Mainstreet found most Calgarians, four in 10, believe all three levels of government should pay to remediate the polluted land.

Just one-quarter believe the Flames ownership should pick up the tab.

“Folks are saying that of all the things that they’re going to pay for, this specifically should be paid for by the government, no matter what,” said Valentin.

“It’s an interesting problem … because none of them (three levels of government) have expressed any willingness to clean up the cost of all that contamination yet,” he added.

Moreover, while just over half of respondents said the project would be good for Calgary, 45 per cent said the team’s owners should bear the entire cost.
Four in 10 said the owners and the government should pay the cost.

When asked which level of government should contribute to the project, most said the province, followed by the city and then the federal government.

“If the economy was doing better, you would probably see more people being fine with government money being spent on something like this,” Valentin said.

Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said a sputtering economy, falling oil prices and a recent change in government are making many Calgarians wary of spending public dollars on nonessential services.

“The bottom line is if it’s a choice between a stadium and maintaining health care, social services and low taxes, the choice is going to be against the sports facility,” Williams said.



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