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Calgarians Divided on New Arena Deal – City Council’s Approval Continues to Slide

Posted July 29th, 2019 in Calgary, Calgary City Council, Media Release, News by Marc Henry

(CALGARY) Calgarians are split in their feelings about a new deal between The City and Flames ownership (Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. – CSEC) to build a new “event centre” which would include a new NHL arena.  


According to a new ThinkHQ Public Affairs, Inc. survey, while there is considerable support for the notion of replacing the Saddledome, roughly equal proportions of residents approve and disapprove of the deal announced earlier last week which would see The City and CSEC each contributing $275 Million toward the new facility.  


Beyond the overall cost and financing scheme, Calgarians are quite supportive of some of the specific provisions of the new deal. However, the prevailing view is that Council is moving too quickly to approve the arrangement, and not giving themselves enough time to discuss it with constituents.


Diving into the Arena Numbers


Replacing the Saddledome


  • Almost six-in-ten (58%) Calgarians support the notion of replacing the Saddledome with a new centre for community events, concerts and home to the Flames, Hitmen and Roughnecks.  Meanwhile, 35% are opposed to replacing the Dome, and 7% are unsure
  • Public sentiments on this issue have remained quite stable since 2017


The New Deal


  • The agreement between The City and CSEC is a “talker”.  Fewer than one-in-ten (9%) have not heard something about the plan, while six-in-ten (61%) “Definitely” are aware of it
  • Calgarians are evenly split on the deal: 47% both approve and disapprove, and another 6% are unsure.  That said, the intensity of opposition is slightly greater than support, with 26% strongly opposed vs. 14% strongly in favour of the deal
  • Support for the plan increases with household income of respondents, and is lowest among those under the age of 35

Elements of the Deal


Aside from the price tag and the proportionate share each of the two partners is bringing to the table, Calgarians are generally supportive of many of the specific provisions of the arrangement:

  • Fully 82% of those interviewed are pleased that the deal will keep the Flames in Calgary, guaranteed, for a 35-year term
  • There is also strong approval of elements which will see the Flames contribute $75 million to local amateur sport, The City capturing a portion of its contribution through a “ticket tax” and The City contributing land to the deal
  • Providing CSEC with land options in Victoria Park, and the ownership/operations model receive more modest approval from Calgarians
  • A majority (65%) do not approve of The City picking up 90% of the demolition costs for the Saddledome




Although divided on the new arena deal overall, a majority of Calgarians believe that the timeline for approval of it is too short. Six-in-ten (60%) say that one week is not enough time for Council to engage with citizens about the deal before making a decision, while 35% feel it is an appropriate duration of time.

  • Even over one-third (35%) of those who approve of the current deal to build a new event centre believe that a one-week consultation is insufficient

Meanwhile, with City Council…


Last month we noted that an increasingly frustrated electorate had growth sour on Calgary City Council’s performance, and one month later we find the trend continues unabated.  

  • Approval ratings for City Council overall have fallen to the lowest level in memory, 23%, down another nine percentage points since June. Fully 69% of Calgarians now disapprove of City Council – 34% strongly
  • Mayor Nenshi’s approval continues to slide, down four percentage points in a month, now sitting at only 35%, while six-in-ten (59%) disapprove of the mayor
  • While they fare slightly better, individual Councillors are not immune to the downward trend in approval.  When asked to rate their member of Council, Calgarians are split (41% approve vs. 43% disapprove), though approval is down eight percentage points since June



“Wow, talk about bad timing”, notes ThinkHQ Public Affairs, Inc. president Marc Henry, “City Hall air traffic control has this issue land in front of Council right when they can least afford it – both financially and politically.”  


“There is a lot of goodwill in Calgary toward the Flames.  People are proud of the team, they recognize their contribution to the city both in terms of economic impact and community good, and there is support for replacing the Saddledome.  But the current proposed deal between The City and CSEC splits voters right down the middle.  That said, aside from “sticker shock” about the size of The City’s contribution to the project, there is reasonably good support for many of the specific provisions of the deal today.”  


“One of the biggest risks with the current proposal is moving forward on its current timeline.  Six-in-ten voters say that one week is not enough time for Council to consult with citizens on the plan before making a decision.  And when you consider that getting a Development Permit for a new backyard deck requires a three-week consultation period, they may have a point.”


“The risk in pressing forward for Council is two-fold: First, it may undermine support for the deal itself as even 35% of those who like the plan think that a one-week consultation is too short. Second, public confidence in Council is staggeringly low right now, and if a quick approval leaves voters feeling unheard by their elected officials on a big project like this, watch out. There isn’t an incumbent on Council who shouldn’t be nervous, and the municipal election is only 812 days away.”


Click here to view the full release and methodology: Calgary Arena Release July 2019



Marc Henry, President ThinkHQ Public Affairs, Inc.



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