Calgary gives green light to Flames arena deal

The City of Calgary has voted in favour of developing a new event centre that will house NHL ice hockey team the Flames in what has been described as a key step in re-establishing Calgary as a destination.

The 11-4 vote yesterday (Tuesday) came just eight days after the project was first unveiled and follows earlier approval by owners of the Flames, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC); and rodeo, exhibition and festival organiser Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Limited (Stampede).

The C$550m (£343.7m/€375.3m/$418.3m) project represents the third attempt to broker such an agreement in the past four years. The Flames have played at the Scotiabank Saddledome since it opened in 1983, but have long been seeking a new arena.

The project will see the creation of facilities to serve as public gathering places for significant events, attract world-leading performing artists and serve as a new home to the Flames, Western Hockey League team the Hitmen and National Lacrosse League franchise the Roughnecks.

In addition to the new event centre, the vision for the area adjacent to the facility includes a purpose-built outdoor festival space and infrastructure enhancements to Stampede Park, all of which are designed to serve as a catalyst for the development of Calgary’s Culture and Entertainment District.

The cost of the event centre, including the 19,000-seat arena, will be shared 50/50 between the City and CSEC. With its 50 per cent investment, the City will own 100 per cent of the event centre. CSEC will bear 100 per cent of the operating, maintenance and repair costs for the period of the 35-year agreement, committing the Flames to Calgary over this term.

The City will also receive a facility fee for the lifetime of the agreement and a portion of the event centre naming rights. In addition, value will be created for the City as a result of increased property tax revenue. CSEC has committed to provide local amateur sports organisations with C$75m in added funding over 35 years.

Following Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said: “For years, I’ve been saying any investment of public money must have public benefit. This deal does that. It’s a fair deal. I’m pleased that it will allow us to move forward on the important work of city building, especially in east Victoria Park.”

Councillor Jeff Davison, who chaired the City’s Event Centre Assessment Committee, added: “This vote was a key step in moving not just this project forward, but in re-establishing Calgary as a destination for people from around the world to visit, live, work and grow.

“This agreement is the result of public and private partners working together to find common ground, shared principles and a collective vision for a future that benefits all Calgarians.”

The partners will now move forward to finalise definitive legal agreements and coordination of ongoing public engagement on key design components and surrounding public realm of the event centre and programming opportunities, to be overseen by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC).

Ken King, vice-chairman of CSEC, said the sudden acceleration of the project resulted from all parties finally agreeing on “many complex elements” adding it was “time to execute.”

“Of course we’re happy for Calgary,” said King, according to the Calgary Herald newspaper. “But I think the most fun will be proving to the City of Calgary that we can exceed their expectations, that this really is a great deal and we’ll overachieve. If things are right and the situation is bold, the right thing can be done almost always and I think that’s what happened here.”

However, the process has come with its critics. Councillor Evan Woolley, one of four officials to vote against the project, described the arena negotiation process as “cloaked and backroom.”

“There is no reason to have rushed a deal,” he added. “I find it to be a bullying tactic and an unnecessary ultimatum. I don’t understand what council is so afraid of and so unwilling to face the public in even a semblance of a conversation and the most basic of communications.”

Image: Calgary Flames