The arena deal is executed: now what?

On Thursday, Calgary city council’s Event Centre Assessment Committee made an announcement: the deal between the City of Calgary, the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Stampede for a new arena has been executed.

“The deal” is a bit of a misnomer, in that according to lead negotiator Barry Munro there’s actually something like 16 or 17 different agreements involved. But the contractual part of the arena saga, after the better part of a decade, is finally complete.

So what happens now? Well, quite a few things. But don’t expect people to start demolishing the parking lots north of the Saddledome for awhile. Things need to be planned and people hired to do the work, and that takes time.

The next step begins in the New Year: public consultations on precisely what the new barn will look like will commence, with a report to the committee coming likely in April.

After public engagement, they need to incorporate the public feedback into their designs and then figure out who’s going to design and build the dang thing – particularly given they have a specific funding envelope to stay within.

We dug into the details of the deal back in July:

As previously discussed at length, the deal will see the Flames and the city each pay for half of a $550 million facility – $275 million for each side. The city will be paid back an estimated $155.1 million via their cut of the facility’s revenues and $2.5 million from their piece of the building’s naming rights, while the Flames would be locked into a 35-year lease and committed through that agreement to provide community sports organizations with $75 million in funding over that period (similar to their current lease with the Saddledome Foundation). The Flames will contribute 10% of the costs of demolition of the ‘Dome, up to a maximum of $1.5 million, and will have the option to purchase some nearby city land prior to the opening of the new arena.

The feedback process, design and contracting will take the balance of 2020.

We asked around and we’re early enough in the process that there’s no set date for the groundbreaking yet, aside from a target of Q3 2021. If you’re reading tea leaves, though, it seems likely that it happens following the 2021 Calgary Stampede – it minimizes the impact to the Flames and the Stampede, more or less.

From there it’s a three year build, fairly standard for an arena, with a projected Q3 2024 opening. The NHL pre-season calendar begins in mid September, so that should give you an idea of roughly when they’re hoping to be done. (They’re probably hoping they can open it up in time for Stampede 2024, though, as that concert season could be very lucrative.)

Here’s something to remember: arenas don’t create economic activity. Heck, most construction projects don’t. From an economic standpoint, this will merely move economic activity from one spot within the city to another. But Calgary’s long been a ghost town downtown on weekends and weeknights, so potentially beefing up the downtown area with cool stuff to do will help with that.

Whether you like the arena project or not – and polling reflects that Calgarians have mixed feelings about the public funding element given the economic climate – at least we can finally stop hearing about this thing and the folks at City Hall can turn their attention to more pressing matters.

And if this thing is happening, and happening with public dollars involved, please do your best to make sure that the folks at Calgary Municipal Land Corporation get your feedback. If they’re building this thing, it will hopefully be something that actually works for Calgary and not just another gigantic monolith plunked down in a bunch of parking lots.