Ground has been broken on the renovations for Seattle’s Key Arena, while Ottawa’s downtown arena deal has seemingly fallen completely apart. So, what’s happening with the ongoing Calgary Flames arena saga?
The story so far…
For those of you just joining us, the Flames really started the legwork on a new arena after the June 2013 flood that submerged the first 11 rows of the Scotiabank Saddledome under portions of the Elbow River. In the meantime, arena deals have been completed in Edmonton (Rogers Place), Detroit (Little Caesars Arena), Las Vegas (T-Mobile Arena), Seattle (Seattle Center Arena) and Long Island (Belmont Park).
Other than the August 2015 unveiling of Calgary NEXT – and city council’s subsequent thumbs down to that proposal due to various concerns – and a public skirmish in the media between the Flames and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi about a proposed Victoria Park arena prior to the October 2017 civic election, there hasn’t been a ton of traction.
But since this past June, city council struck an Event Centre Assessment Committee to determine what the possibilities were for a new building that could house Flames hockey and other events. The big developments so far have been the aligning of the event centre with ongoing work being conducted by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation in developing a cultural and entertainment district in Victoria Park.
In October, city council approved a recommendation that the committee restart talks with the Flames about a new building.
So what’s happening now?
We reached out to Ward Six city councillor Jeff Davidson, who chairs the ECAC, to find out where things sit regarding the arena negotiations.
He confirmed that City and the Flames are talking, though things are still pretty high-level right now. The big outputs from the ECAC have been terms of reference for what the City wants out of an event centre development – defining the type of development they’re willing to invest in – and investigations into how the event centre could fit into the work that CMLC is doing in the larger Rivers District (the East Village and Victoria Park).
So to this point, formal talks with the Flames have more or less been along the lines of “Hey, here’s the type of things we’re looking to do, is this something you would be willing to be a part of?” But things are aligning that could potentially turn these high-level talks into something decidedly more real.
First off, our friends at Global News reported last week that the Community Revitalization Levy for the Rivers District has been extended for 20 years. The notion is those funds would be used to fund linkages between Stampede Park and the surrounding communities, but also to help fund the expansion of the BMO Centre into the space currently occupied by the Stampede Corral. It’s unclear if it would be able to contribute funds to an event centre, but it could be a possibility depending on how the levy is structured.
The ECAC meets on Dec. 14, and one of the items on the agenda is an economic impact study that looks at how the event centre could contribute to economic development – the way things are going, an event centre only makes sense for the City’s goals if done in the context of helping create the cultural and entertainment district, so they need an idea of how much it could do that. The Strategic Meeting of Council on Jan. 28 will see city hash out their big spending priorities, which will help set financial parameters of the discussion.
At that point, both the philosophical and financial boundaries of the negotiations will be defined and talks can probably start getting serious.
“In the context of having a vision and a plan and a funding source put together,” explained Davison. “At that time we would likely approach partners with ‘Here’s what we think we could do, what are you willing to bring to the table with us?’ And that’s when you have that real conversation. I think the big thing for people to remember is in the context of the Rivers District, the Flames are one partner.”
Given that the event centre would be a focal point of the proposed cultural and entertainment district, the Flames would be one of potentially several partners working with the City on the district’s development. They’d contribute a key piece, but it would be part of a larger puzzle.
It’s difficult to guess how things could progress once talks get real, but considering things fell apart fairly rapidly last summer it’s not inconceivable that things could come together rapidly as well.
It’s possible that before too long the Calgary arena saga could finally, mercifully, be at an end.