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.