CALGARY - Calgary will not be bidding on Expo 2017, but is pushing ahead with ambitious plans to redevelop the western edge of downtown where the event would have been staged.
Mayor Dave Bronconnier said a bid wasn't feasible without large cash infusions from other levels of government, adding he'd rather ask for infrastructure money for a southeast LRT line or other projects before Expo.
"The financial case had to make sense," Bronconnier said. "It had to be a different Expo, one that's financially viable and not a drain on the public purse.
"I, for one, am not prepared to go to the provincial or the federal government with something that I know comes with a price tag of a $1-billion to $1.5-billion deficit.
"City council is very realistic about the challenges both federal and provincial governments face."
Instead, the city will move forward with redeveloping over the next 25 years what it's calling the West Village--45 hectares along the Bow River at the downtown's western end, which include the Telus World of Science, Shaw Millennium Park, the Greyhound bus terminal, the contaminated former Canada Creosote site, car dealerships and the Pumphouse Theatres.
The city already owns about 95 per cent of the land in the area, and plans to finance the work the way the East Village redevelopment is being paid for--by redirecting the property tax from that specific area.
Planners envision green space, condos, a community centre and possibly new homes for the Alberta College of Art and Design and the proposed Global Energy Centre.
It would also mean the realignment of Bow Trail.
Calgary's withdrawal leaves Edmonton as the sole Canadian city planning to vie for Expo 2017, which would coincide with Canada's 150th birthday. If the federal government decides to endorse Edmonton's bid, it would still have to win an international competition.
Bronconnier said just to finalize an Expo bid by the end of the month, the deadline set by the Canadian heritage department, Calgary would have had to invest another $2 million, on top of the $300,000 already committed.
Scott Hennig, with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the city made the right decision.
"Even if the province and feds were rolling in surpluses, (Expo) is a terrible idea," he said. "The City of Calgary is absolutely right to run away from this thing."
But Ald. Joe Connelly was one of four aldermen who believed it was worth pushing ahead to try to win the Canadian competition.
"I'm extremely disappointed," he said, adding the province and federal government weren't even asked what they might contribute. "We just gave the Expo bid to Edmonton.
"I hate losing to Edmonton, but to not have the courage to show up for the fight . . ."
Aldermen John Mar, Andre Chabot and Ric McIver also voted against halting bid preparations.
"There was too much speculation here," Mar said of the role of other governments. "Council was not willing to take that leap, but I think it was worth it."
Ald. Dale Hodges, who didn't support pursuing an Expo bid from the beginning, said the numbers didn't make any sense.
"It's a huge endeavour and a huge public investment. The city mustn't be left in a position to backstop what could be major losses," he said.
The city also bid for Expo 2005, losing to Nagoya, Japan, after spending $5.5 million on the effort.
When Calgary announced in May it was looking at making another Expo bid, it angered Edmonton, which had been openly working on a bid for about seven months, and some MLAs.
Calgary MLA Lindsay Blackett, minister of culture and community spirit, was frustrated that neither he nor the mayor of Edmonton had been alerted to Calgary's plans. The province gave Edmonton $1.14 million to prepare its bid; Calgary did not ask for any money.
On Monday, Blackett's spokesman directed Expo calls to the tourism minister, Calgary's Cindy Ady, who could not be reached for comment.
With the Expo bid off the table, Bronconnier said the city will move ahead on developing the West Village in phases. The first opportunity arises in 2011, he said, with the Telus World of Science moving to its new complex across from the zoo and vacating the city-owned building it's been using.
The mayor said the Global Energy Centre, part of the city's 10-year strategic plan, could be a good fit for that site. ACAD is also looking to relocate from its current site next to SAIT and planners suggested the West Village might work for the art college.
Peter Rishaug, vice-president of the Sunalta community association, which includes the West Village, said reinventing that corner of the neighbourhood is a good idea.
"I see a lot of upside," he said. Mar, who represents the area, believes there is a great opportunity.
"It absolutely allows us to reclaim a huge portion, three, four kilometres of river frontage," he said.
The most expensive piece of redevelopment in the area includes the remediation of the former Canada Creosote plant site, where wood was preserved between 1924 and 1962, leaving the site contaminated.
Bronconnier said the estimated costs to clean up the site range from $30 million to $100 million.
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