On Tuesday afternoon, the Calgary 2026 bid corporation released their Draft Hosting Plan Concept and presented it at Calgary City Council.
The bid concept totalled $5.23 billion for projected capital and operational costs of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics and prompted two primary questions from Calgary Flames fans:
- How much is this going to cost taxpayers?
- Are we getting a new National Hockey League arena out of it?
The answer to Question 1 is “$3 billion split between three levels of government.” The answer to Question 2 to is “Well, that depends…”
Let’s get this out of the way at the top: in the Draft Hosting Plan Concept, as presented to City Council, there is no brand-new 20,000 seat arena. For the hockey competitions, the bid concept involves utilizing the (at that point 43-year-old) Scotiabank Saddledome and a proposed new “mid-sized” arena of approximately 6,000 seats, located near McMahon Stadium in the bid’s “Foothills Cluster.”
The proposed arena would be #11 on the above map.
In City Council following the bid concept presentation, Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed skepticism for a new arena of that size located in that area. The venue plan justifies it by linking it to the anticipated impending demise of the Stampede Corral – slated to be swallowed up by an upcoming BMO Centre expansion – and the end of the life cycle for Father David Bauer Arena and Norma Bush Arena near McMahon Stadium.
In terms of having a certain inventory of publicly available ice, adding a couple sheets makes a lot of sense. But having a 6,000-seat barn fairly far away from transit and the City’s proposed event and cultural district doesn’t tick a lot of boxes.
Naturally, discussion in council drifted towards the proposed new Calgary Flames arena and the Event Centre Assessment Committee, chaired by Ward 6’s Jeff Davison. So what would happen to the bid’s venue plan if that building came to fruition?
Nenshi says if a new large arena is built, that would replace the mid-sized arena that's being contemplated in this plan. He says he doesn't know what the future use of a mid-sized arena would be in Calgary.
— Scott Dippel (@CBCScott) September 11, 2018
That makes a lot of sense considering that the two big ticket-moving Winter Olympic events are hockey and curling, and having a bigger second hockey venue could strengthen the economics of the bid. (The venue plan lists the curling venue as “TBD,” and BidCo CEO Mary Moran mentioned that they’re looking at a few options for that.)
For what it’s worth, there have already been some preliminary discussions of amending the draft venue plan. One concept reportedly being discussed includes potentially combining the Event Centre with the mid-sized venue, which would add to the inventory of publicly available ice and give the Flames their new barn.
And the biggest change for a potential bid is being touted as a new event centre that combines the plan’s proposed mid-sized arena with a new NHL arena for the Calgary Flames.
“If you’re going to have an event centre, why not have two arenas combined? You can save costs, with only one ammonia plant, but then also have two events going on at the same time,” said Jeff Davison, councillor for Ward 6.
Is there any money in the bid’s capital budget to build a new arena? Yes.
From the Draft Hosting Plan Concept document:
There is $403 million budgeted for the two new venues: the 6,000-seat “mid-sized” arena and the fieldhouse. Numbers accidentally released last fall by city council pegged the fieldhouse cost at roughly $272 million, which would leave roughly $131 million for the construction of the arena.
Given Mayor Nenshi’s comments, it seems like bid-wise everybody involved would be rather indifferent between that funding going towards the construction of a needed 6,000-seat arena by McMahon Stadium or a needed 20,000-seat arena in Victoria Park – they’ve ear-marked money in their budget for an arena, and the details therein don’t seem to be terribly important.
The last proposal publicized by the City – from July 2017 – was a three-way split of $555 million of arena construction costs:
- $185 million from the City repayable in some way over some period of time (rent, property tax, or some other unspecified mechanism)
- $185 million from a ticket tax, which the City indicated they were willing to put up in advance (due to their hefty credit score) and be paid back over time
- $185 million from the Flames
Presuming the building cost hasn’t changed, putting $131 million towards a Victoria Park Arena would leave $424 million left to be paid for by some combination of the Flames and the City. Maybe the City would want the Olympic bid money to count as part of their contribution. Maybe it would be split up some other way.
The Olympic money wouldn’t be a magic bullet by any means – you’re still spending $555 million of somebody’s money – but potentially it could make things a wee bit more palatable and a bit less risky. How much less risky for which parties would need to be worked out, but that’s what negotiations are for.
Mayor Nenshi mentioned to us back in March that “there is a universe of options out there that are worth exploring.” The Olympic bid, as proposed earlier this week, would bring some outside funding sources to the table and broaden the options available to potentially bring the sprawling arena saga to an agreeable conclusion. But the devil, as they say, would definitely be found in the details of any deal.