By Scott Strasser, March 31 2017 —
The University of Calgary Debate Society (UCDS) hosted the second event of their “Great Debates” series on March 29 at the Calgary Central Public Library. The debate focused on the CalgaryNEXT project.
CalgaryNEXT is a proposed development in the city’s West Village. The project includes building a multi-purpose sporting venue near the Bow River in Sunalta that would house a hockey arena, football stadium and multipurpose field house. The complex would replace the aging Scotiabank Saddledome and McMahon Stadium.
The project was first proposed in 2015 and has seen both support and opposition throughout the city. Critics have pointed out that the proposed location is contaminated by creosote that would need to be remediated before construction could occur. According to the city, remediation of the area could cost up to $140 million. Opponents have also argued that if built, the venue would be in an area prone to flooding.
Supporters of CalgaryNEXT argue that a new stadium would attract tourists, as well as musical acts that will not perform at the Saddledome due to the arena’s low roof and poor acoustics.
A guest debater at the event was Calgary Ward 10 councillor Andre Chabot, who recently announced his candidacy for mayor in the 2017 Calgary municipal election.
Chabot said that CalgaryNEXT would “absolutely” benefit the city, but that the project’s financing is an issue. While the project was initially pegged at $890 million, the city later assessed that it may cost up to $1.8 billion. At that cost, much of the project would need to be funded with public money.
“The question comes down to, how is it going to be financed?” Chabot said. “Are there public funds that will have to be included in the development of the facility, or is there enough market demand and value in the facility to be self-supporting in [terms of] cost recovery?”
Other debaters at the event included UCDS members Frank Finley and Emma Hopper. Hopper argued in favour of CalgaryNEXT, saying a new sporting venue would be good for the city’s cultural capital. Finley also argued in favour, saying the project would create jobs and help stimulate the local economy.
“This is a large development project, meaning this could be a good dose of money into the economy,” Finley said. “People would be spending money [at] a large stadium. Even though it’s public money, it’s a public [injection] into the economy. This isn’t something that is going to go away in 10 years. It’s something that’s going to be a focal point for years to come.”
The UCDS event took place a day after Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters that CalgaryNEXT “is dead.” The project was delayed in December 2016 in order to explore a potential alternative location for the new sporting stadium and event centre in Victoria Park.
The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) — the organization that proposed CalgaryNEXT — immediately countered Nenshi’s statements. CSEC president and Chief Executive Officer Ken King said the project isn’t dead, but “resting.”
UCDS vice-president events and debate moderator Benjamin Sasges said that CalgaryNEXT is still worth discussing, despite being put on hold and Nenshi’s recent comments.
“The Saddledome is old. Stadiums are something that are going to be discussed for the next few years,” Sasges said. “The CalgaryNEXT project is something that — regardless if you’re a sports fan or not — is going to affect you.”
The “Great Debates” series aims to help educate U of C students and the public on city-wide issues leading up to the October municipal election. The UCDS previously debated the merits of the Green Line light rail transit project in October 2016.
After the debate, Chabot told the Gauntlet that it’s important for young adults to take an interest in municipal issues.
“Younger people — if they’re thinking of making this their home for years to come — should start thinking about the implications of what council is doing today. It might impact them well into the future,” Chabot said.