Jim Elliott

Bringing a New Voice to Regina

Ten steps to building a new ‘world-class’ arena, whether you need one or not

Reported on July 20, 2012

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By this time in about three years, Edmonton will have a bright, shiny new arena downtown. If all goes according to plan—which it will, of course, because long-range plans always work out—Edmontonians will be bursting with pride over the gleaming new bobble that will have utterly transformed a miserable part of downtown.

What will this mean for Calgary? Nothing right now, because any talk of a new arena in Cowtown is low-key to the point of being non-existent. The most recent talk of a new arena I could find dates back to 2009, when Calgary Flames CEO Ken King told the Calgary Herald that the team wanted to break ground on a new arena “as soon as we can” and that requests for proposals would be going out “in the next three or four months”.

Go ahead even if the money isn’t in place: The Edmonton arena project is still $100 million short, but that hasn’t stopped the city from going ahead. Just assume that something will happen. That’s sound business practice.

Man, Calgary months are long.

Since then, while Edmonton has moved with all the speed and grace of Jean Beliveau (and by that I mean Jean Beliveau today) towards construction of a new arena, Calgary seems to be in the unusual position of watching what’s happening in Edmonton.

But that won’t last. When Edmonton breaks ground on the new shinny shrine next year, the pressure will start to build. And when the arena opens, Calgary will have a full-blown case of arena envy. The Saddledome, which is a perfectly serviceable arena and a city (yes, I’m going to use the word) icon, will suddenly look frumpy and dowdy, like a first wife.

So why wait, Flames? If you want a new building, and we know you do, the template for getting it done is available right up the highway. Based on the Edmonton experience, may I present: The 10 Steps Towards Building A New Arena, Whether You Need One or Not (Calgary edition).

1. Belittle the old building. Don’t be rude about it, but start grumbling that the ‘Dome is inadequate. While it does exactly what it was intended to do, complain that the seats aren’t wide enough for today’s full-figured hockey fans, that there aren’t enough luxury boxes, that the concourses aren’t wide enough, that there aren’t enough amenities, that it has a permanent case of hockey bag stink, whatever you can think of. It’s never too early to plant the seeds.

2. Reject the idea of renovations. There will be talk of renovating the building. To defuse this radical talk, simply say, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” That will end talk of renovations. Nobody likes a pig.

3. Drop dire hints of relocation: Suggest—but do not say—that the team will move if it doesn’t get a new home. Use phrases like “the team is not economically viable”, or “the current business model does not work”. Even though that could actually mean “we’re not making as much money as we wanted to”, this will create a low level of panic amongst the fans, which will translate into pressure on politicians to get something done. But don’t open the books on your team. That’s nobody’s business.

4. Tie a new arena to urban renewal: Find an area that needs sprucing up—perhaps a rundown industrial area, or some area with icky social housing with easily relocated people—and make grand claims that the arena will lead to a rejuvenation of a blighted area. Ignore studies and past histories of other arenas that do not support your contention. Once it’s built, no one will remember what you said anyway.

5. Get the media onside: Butter-up the local newspaper columnists or open-mouth radio hosts, and convince them that the arena must—not should, but must—be built. Slip them studies about the economic benefits, and sneak peaks at early designs. They’ll be on your side for life.

6. Use other people’s money: Nobody expects one entity to put up an entire building (just because they did it in Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa doesn’t mean that’s the right way to do it). Come up with a wildly complicated scheme using local improvement fees based on pie-in-the-sky revenue projections, ticket fees, user fees, ticket-user fees, interest-free loans, potential lottery winnings, business revitalization zones, parking revenues, naming rights, visiting team locker room fees, etc. But no direct tax dollars. That’s a deal breaker.

7.  Hope for, but do not expect, provincial and federal dollars: Stephen Harper may be a local boy, but don’t expect any financial favours, unless you can find a way to link the arena to the War of 1812. How does the Sir Isaac Brock Arena sound?

8. Go ahead even if the money isn’t in place: The Edmonton arena project is still $100 million short, but that hasn’t stopped the city from going ahead. Just assume that something will happen. That’s sound business practice.

9. Dazzle ’em with shiny things: Wow the public with drawings of a Jetsons-esque “world-class” building that will make the Saddledome look like, well, an old saddle. Make it ‘green’ to appease the tree huggers; promise that it will generate all of its own electricity by harnessing Jarome Iginla’s* star power. Just make it so freaking fantastic that everybody will fall in love with it. And repeat this mantra: Calgary needs a world-class arena. People love being world class.

10. Don’t worry about cost overruns: Once you get people saying, “Well, if we’re going to build this thing, let’s do it right”, you’re home free. Exterior clad in titanium? Well, you don’t want to cheap out on your signature building, do you?

There you have it. It might take a few years, but it can be done. And the sooner the better; I hear the Saddledome roof is unstable.

See how easy it is?

Source: http://www.openfile.ca/calgary/story/ten-steps-building-new-world-class-arena-whether-you-need-one-or-not


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