Flames arenas would be a huge part of the 2026 Olympics

In 1980, the city of Calgary entered the big leagues of ice hockey as they welcomed the former Atlanta Flames to represent them in the National Hockey League. A year after the Flames began to play in Calgary, the city was awarded the 1988 Winter Olympics in part because shovels were already in the ground for what would eventually become the Saddledome, a sign that the Calgary bid group were willing to make things happen to land the games.

The 1988 Olympics were a huge success and venues occupied by the Flames played a big part in those games. The prospective 2026 Olympics, as explored in a recently-released report from the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee, would likely once again center around the various homes of the Flames.

Arguably the key feature of the 2026 bid is a venue cluster located in Stampede Park, which was recommended by the committee because of the ample transit access (three C-Train lines by 2026) and lowered security costs because of the various venues’ proximity to each other. The security savings seems to be the crux for a few interesting recommendations: two venues that will probably be demolished shortly after the 2026 Olympics will require fairly substantial capital investments to meet Olympic requirements.

The proposed Victoria Park Arena, the potential future home of the Flames, is slated to be the primary hockey venue. The building does not exist yet and even if negotiations prove fruitful, the costs of the structure aren’t factored into the cost of the games. (Not mentioned whatsoever in the bid examination document? CalgaryNEXT.)

The Stampede Corral, the first home of the Flames, is slated to be the secondary hockey venue… but requires $18.8 million in renovations to meet Olympic specifications for the events it is slated to host. It’s worth noting that the long-term development plans of Stampede Park call for an expansion of the BMO Centre and the demolition of the Corral to make room for it.

The Saddledome, the current home of the Flames, is slated to host figure skating and short-track speed skating. Bear in mind that once the Victoria Park Arena opens – let’s presume it opens in 2022, but it could be earlier – the various Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation tenants (the Flames, Hitmen and Roughnecks) are expected to skedaddle over to the new building, leaving the Saddledome generally vacant. Oh, and the ‘Dome will also require $9.5 million in renovations for the 2026 Olympics but will probably also be mothballed following the games.

If you’re like me, you’ll be a bit skeptical. But after digging through the report, it seems that these recommendations are the best case scenario for 2026. Max Bell Arena isn’t an option because it’s both too small and too far away from the Stampede Park cluster to work. Father David Bauer is in a similar boat. The Markin McPhail Centre at Winsport is gorgeous, but it’s smaller than the Corral, in an area with less transit coverage and part of a Winsport Cluster of venues that already hosts a boatload of events. Because of all these reasons and considerations, spending $28.3 million to spruce up two old Flames arenas that will probably be demolished following the games is the cheaper, smarter option in the 2026 Olympic bidding process.

As it stands, the bid is very dependent on the three Flames buildings to make things work – particularly the Victoria Park Arena, as the bid examination flat-out admits that without the new arena the bid would be deficient.

  • Thunder1

    A successful Olympic bid requires enthusiastic cooperation from all three levels of government. In our case two out of the three are a mess and won’t be cleaned up in time to bid.

  • deantheraven

    I know this topic is our baby, Ryan, and you’ve done a ton of research and writing on it, but I’m not as convinced as you are that the ‘Dome would be abandoned and later demo’d after the (hypothetical) games. The other teams (Hitmen, Roughnecks) don’t need a new building. They still would have enough difficulty filling the Dome or the Corral night in, night out. The Vic Park venue would be for much more than just NHL games and Olympic games. Calgary needs a venue for big touring concerts and events. That’s the real reason to leave the ‘Dome for another more modern-equipped facility. Too many big acts bypass Cowtown every year and play Up North because the ‘Dome’s roof can’t support big rigs. CSEC want it because of the other revenue stream, and the folks of Calgary would be happy to have the Stars they’re currently not seeing locally. The Saddledome could continue to host winter sports- Hitmen, Roughnecks, figure skating championships, Briars and Memorial cups and the like, while the Vic park building would house the Flames and give Calgary a world class indoor venue for Biebers and Monster Trucks and such. Calgary (as far as I know) was the most financially successful Olympics ever, and everyone knows we’d do it again if given the chance.The only real question is how the costs get divvied up in order to make it happen.

    • Codger

      I have lived in Edmonton for 30+ years and was at the Calgary Olympics and they were superb. Go get um Calgary and show them Alberta rocks. This time around Edmonton will share with several events. I’m betting on you guys.

  • Ludis Fanaticus

    During an assembly of season ticket holders, earlier this summer Ken King made it clear that the Flames management group did not want the Olympic bid and the building of a new facility to be necessarily linked.
    I don’t blame him, and I side with the Flames management in this. The city either wants/needs/deserves new and better venue(s), or it doesn’t. An Olympic bid should be part of this public works expansion, not the other way around.
    Logically, if we truly believe we don’t want/need new facilities, then we are wasting a lot of tax dollars paying people to work on an Olympic bid.

    Separating the Flames from the conversation is impossible. The Flames will be the major tenant. This is exacerbated with having the same management group also owning the Hitmen and Roughnecks. However, I don’t feel that the discussion, on a community level, should be restricted to sports teams.
    Certainly the discussion in terms of funding and ownership should.

    All levels of government need to start talking about what other enrichments will come with having a modern facility and continuing to manage and use the existing Saddledome. If they don’t, we cant blame the public for being cynical about the idea and imagining it to be a simple drain on their hard earned pay cheques, in the form of taxes, to the benefit of millionaires and billionaires.

    I have seen it argued in other postings that new venues will simply shift the money around. This is not the case. You need look no further that the number of people willing to fill Edmonton hotels and buy tickets to concerts not available in Calgary to recognize there are advantages to having modern facilities.
    Imagine the convention opportunities Calgary would have with the expansion of the BMO Centre (its time to say adieu to the Corral) and both the Victoria Park and Saddledome arenas operational.
    Imagine the concerts and other cultural performances that would be attracted to Calgary.

    I, for one, wish we had some real facts in terms of the formula for ownership and payment of the proposed buildings.
    If the money is handled fairly, and we don’t know if it is or is not at this point, then there are plenty of reasons to support moving forward; one of them being hockey.

  • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

    Edmonton has a better chance at the Olympics than Calgary,even if they use the ski hill at Edson!
    Just kidding but they probably need a new rink by then and I can’t see it. Can’t actually see anything with Kings big head in the way.

    • Puckhead

      The IOC presently favours the use of existing venues. Having the Saddledome in the bid is advantageous to Calgary and will increase their chance of winning.