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Sohi wants to talk 'fair treatment' for Edmonton after Smith commits $330M for Calgary arena

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Edmonton's mayor has rejected a reporter's suggestion that Alberta's government gave the city "a kick in the pants" by contributing to a new arena in Calgary after former premiers refused to do so for Rogers Place.

PC premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford both declined to directly contribute to the Edmonton deal that was finalized in 2013, but UCP Premier Danielle Smith committed $330 million to Calgary's project Tuesday.

Amarjeet Sohi said he is "very happy for Calgary," but wants to meet with whomever sits in the premier's chair after the May 29 election, to talk about evening things out.

"When we built Rogers Place and the surrounding development, we asked the province for support and we were told that we're not going to get any support," he told reporters following the announcement in southern Alberta.

"So we would love to sit down with the new premier, after the election, whoever the premier is, to talk about the needs of our city."

Wearing a Flames jersey, Premier Danielle Smith announced $300 million to fund transportation improvements, land, infrastructure and site-enabling costs surrounding the new $1.2 billion development in Calgary.

Alberta has also pledged $30 million to fund 50 per cent of a nearby community rink, if the deal is finalized. No provincial money was committed for Edmonton's Downtown Community Arena.

Smith said she is open to discussing provincial money for phase 2 of the area surrounding Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton.

"I felt like we had a little bit more work to do in Calgary, just to be able to bridge that [downtown revitalization] gap," the premier said.

"We're prepared to have a conversation, as well, if there's additional work that we need to do in Edmonton so that both of our downtowns in Calgary and Edmonton can grow out together. I think people expect that the province is going to do these kinds of major infrastructure investments."

Sohi, dressed in an Oilers jersey, said Commonwealth Stadium is in need of $180 million in upgrades so it can host international soccer competitions.

He said other "cultural centres" in Edmonton could also use some money from Alberta.

"It's not about competition, it's more about collaboration, it's more about making sure that Edmonton is getting equitable treatment, that we're getting fair treatment from the provincial government," Sohi said.

"We would love to sit down with the province to ensure that Edmonton, and our needs as capital city, as a hub for northern Alberta, are met."

Sohi asked for money for Commonwealth, among other requests, ahead of the provincial budget in February, but that money was not included in the UCP government's financial plan.

The Calgary deal includes $537.3 million from the city and $356 million from Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the team.

The total cost of the Rogers Place project was $613.7 million, with the city paying $312 million in cash and through a community revitalization levy and the team paying $165.5 million. The rest came from a ticket surcharge, the federal government and MacEwan University.

The man who led negotiations for the city at the time, former mayor Stephen Mandel, pointed out Tuesday that Smith was not in favour of funding Edmonton's arena at the time, as leader of the Wildrose Party.

"Danielle Smith said at one time, and so did other governments, they won't fund professional sports arenas. Now all of sudden an election is coming, they're coming up with the money," he said.

"Edmonton should be treated the same way and get $330 million or $350 million to offset the cost of our arena. I find it very frustrating we're being treated as second-class citizens."

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who is trying to replace Smith as premier after next month's election, said she would be reviewing the deal and consulting with Albertans before taking a firm position on it.

“We also know the Calgary Flames inspire tremendous community spirit," Notley said in a news release.

“Still, we note that the cost of the latest proposed arena deal has doubled in size in 18 months and while the original version laid out a 50-50 private-public partnership, taxpayers are now responsible for more than 70 per cent of the cost."

The Oilers Entertainment Group on Friday congratulated the parties involved in the Calgary deal and said it looks forward "to working with the Government of Alberta to identify opportunities for similar investment and support [ICE District's] continued success," calling the entertainment district something that has "fundamentally transformed Northern and Central Alberta."  

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