The Calgary Flames need a new arena, and after the CalgaryNext proposal was put on the backburner over price concerns, a different site plan is now being considered; the Stampeders football club is also looking for a new home
CALGARY—Calgary is taking the Flames further down the road of building a new hockey arena close to the Saddledome.
City council voted Monday to continue working on a “Plan B” arena option. Calgary Sports and Entertainment is willing to stay on that road if it expedites a new rink for the Flames.
“We’re enthusiastic to the extent that I think we’re getting closer to being able to make some decisions ourselves,” president and CEO Ken King said.
“What is important is this needs to happen sooner than later. It takes years to build these things. We need to get on with it.”
The costs of what’s been dubbed the Victoria Park concept were not revealed.
“I’d love to be able to share those, but they don’t exist yet,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
The parcel of land under consideration is a 7.2-acre site on the north side of Scotiabank Saddledome, which at 34 years is the oldest in the NHL.
The initial CalgaryNext project proposed by the Flames in 2015 included an arena, football stadium and public fieldhouse costing $890 million and located on the downtown’s west side.
The Flames offered $200 million of their money for the project and proposed a $250-million loan be repaid through a ticket surcharge.
Council declared CalgaryNext not feasible saying the bill would be $1.8 billion when the costs of land, municipal infrastructure, environmental remediation and financing were incorporated.
The Flames didn’t agree with the city’s financials and the price tag was eventually lowered to $1.3 billion, with taxpayers footing over a billion of it.
That was still too much money for council. Nenshi told reporters last month that CalgaryNext “is dead,” but deputy city manager Brad Stevens said Monday it is “on pause.”
“All our efforts have been focused on Victoria Park,” Stevens said.
A motion to eliminate CalgaryNext from consideration was defeated by council, however.
“Our agreement was, on an expedited basis, we would look at Victoria Park as long as we could keep CalgaryNext on the backburner,” King said.
“If we can make a deal on Victoria Park we will. If we can’t, then we’ll revisit whatever options are available to us.”
The Victoria Park location is attractive to the city because it is in a district in which more than $1.44 billion has already been invested over the last decade in buildings, bridges, underpasses, transit, streets, paths and utilities.
The Victoria Park proposal doesn’t include a football stadium or fieldhouse.
The Flames also own the Canadian Football League’s Stampeders, who play at the 57-year-old McMahon Stadium.
“If we should come to an agreement on Victoria Park, then the matter of the disposition of McMahon Stadium becomes a separate and different issue,” King said.
“It needs to be dealt with. I don’t think we can orphan McMahon and leave it as it is now.”
King added that an arena at Victoria Park “can come close to” the 20,000-seat design that was part of CalgaryNext.
“Our group is putting a very considerable contribution to this,” he said. “This is a public-private partnership and it’s a big one.”
Nenshi believes many Calgarians see the need for a new arena, but aren’t willing to write a blank cheque for one.
“Public money must have public benefit,” the mayor said. “Does the city literally get every dollar back that it puts in over time?
“Is a proposed new facility having benefit to those who don’t have to buy a ticket to go there? Is there a general economic development benefit to the area from doing this?”
Meanwhile, city councillors have chipped in money to conduct a poll gauging public appetite on funding a new hockey arena.
“The poll is simply saying ‘what do you believe should happen with public funds for an arena regardless of location, regardless of who is involved and regardless of what it’s about,” Coun. Shane Keating explained.
“’Under what circumstances do you believe public funds should be invested into a new arena?”’