A deal has been reached to replace Calgary’s aging Saddledome with a new event centre and make improvements to the surrounding area east of downtown.
The City of Calgary, Alberta government, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. and Calgary Stampede said Tuesday they have reached agreements in principle.
The total cost is projected to be more than $1.2 billion, with $800 million on a new arena that is to be home to the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames. The overall cost also includes parking, transit improvements, a new community rink and an enclosed plaza.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said city council unanimously voted in favour of the deal Tuesday.
“This is a generational investment in place-making, creating space for community to gather,” she told a news conference on the proposed site for the new arena close to the nearly four-decade-old Saddledome.
The Alberta government is not contributing directly to the arena but said it plans to fund up to $300 million on public transit and road improvements, site utilities, reclamation and other supportive infrastructure.
The province is also contributing $30 million to cover half the cost of the 1,000-seat community rink.
The announcement comes less than a week before the writ is expected to drop for the May 29 provincial election.
“After the election, the province’s contribution to this arena deal must be approved by provincial cabinet and the Treasury Board before the end of summer,” Premier Danielle Smith told the news conference.
“That’s why, on May 29, I’m hoping Calgarians give our (United Conservative Party) government a clear mandate to proceed with this arena deal.
“Calgary isn’t Calgary without the Flames, and Alberta isn’t Alberta without the Battle of Alberta.”
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said his city is happy for Calgary, but noted Edmonton didn’t get any provincial government support for its new NHL arena a decade ago.
“We asked the province for support and we were told we were not getting any,” he said.
Sohi said he would like to sit down with the next premier to see if there’s a way for the province to also support the area around Rogers Place in Edmonton — something Smith said she would be willing to do.
Smith said last October that the Saddledome has served the community well but can no longer compete with new buildings across North America for events, concerts and sports.
The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and the city restarted talks last year on a new event centre after a previous agreement collapsed a year earlier.
John Bean, president and CEO of the corporation, said it’s an exciting announcement for all the sports teams — the Flames, the Hitmen, the Wranglers and the Roughnecks — that play in the arena and suggested it would also put Calgary back on the map for major concerts.
“We’ve heard this from our friends in the north, who we compete with fiercely on the ice, that they were getting messaging that the big acts wouldn’t come over the Rockies because they could only get Edmonton,” he said. “If they could get Edmonton and Calgary, they’d come back.”
Several Flames players — Michael Stone, Andrew Mangiapane and Nikita Zadorov — also attended the announcement.
“It’s exciting for everybody — the City of Calgary, the people, players, fans,” Stone said in an interview. “I hope it’s built the way everyone wants it to be.”
As a player, Stone said he would like to see the arena built up rather than out.
“You feel like the fans are more involved,” he said. “You don’t want to lose the atmosphere because the arena is too big.”
Stone, who played with the WHL’s Hitmen before the Flames, said he also likes the idea of a community arena as part of the event centre.
“That’s huge,” he said. “I am coaching my son’s team right now and it’s hard finding ice. The more rinks you can have for people, the better.”
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her party is committed to revitalizing Calgary’s downtown and knows that the Flames inspire community spirit, but she noted that the cost of the proposed arena has increased.
“Taxpayers are now responsible for more than 70 per cent,” she said.
Notley said she wants to review the deal in greater detail and will have more to say in the near future.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said taxpayers’ money should not be paying to build new arenas for wealthy sports teams.
“The Flames franchise is worth hundreds of millions — they shouldn’t be taking money from struggling taxpayers,” it said in a statement late Tuesday.
The latest agreement also includes a $537.3-million contribution from the city and a land-transfer deal with the neighbouring Calgary Stampede.