Calgary's Saddledome was 'great' — but what about the cost?

When the new Olympic coliseum opened in 1983, Calgarians loved it despite lingering questions about the price tag.

It was supposed to cost $84 million but ran $16 million on top of that

Calgary's Saddledome opens, but what about the cost?

40 years ago
Duration 1:57
Featured VideoThe new Olympic coliseum is ready, but questions loom about budget overruns of $16 million.

When Calgary's new Olympic coliseum opened in 1983, people loved it despite lingering questions about the price tag. 

The Saddledome, as it came to be known, opened in October 1983.

Besides being the first new building completed for the winter Olympic Games that Calgary would be hosting in 1988, the arena would also be home to the NHL's Calgary Flames.

But there was a shadow hanging over it.

'Very expensive'

The Saddledome, seen here in the construction phase, had "the largest free-span concrete roof in the world," according to reporter Bob Nicholson. (The National/CBC Archives)

"The Saddledome was originally supposed to cost $84 million," said reporter Bob Nicholson. "But back in April, Olympic officials discovered the bill would be higher — as much as $16 million higher."

Two levels of government had launched investigations into the cost.

The province's examination was complete, but Nicholson said the resulting report was still secret.

However, the Globe and Mail reported on Aug. 31, 1983, that investigators had blamed the president of the organizing committee for the Calgary Games, along with the six directors of the Calgary Olympic Coliseum Society and the construction company.

The Calgary city council had also started its own process of finding out who, or what, was responsible for the cost overrun.

"Part of the problem is the roof," said Nicholson. "At three acres of precast concrete, it's the largest free-span concrete roof in the world — and very expensive to build." 

In the saddle

"It's nicer even than Montreal," said a woman who attended an open house for the Saddledome. (The National/CBC Archives)

The Flames had already played their first game at the Saddledome — and lost, to their provincial rivals from Edmonton — but Calgarians without NHL tickets got a first-hand look inside at an open house the next day.

 "Aw, it's just great," said a woman in the crowd. "Just very, very nice. Nicer even than Montreal."   

"Now that I see the building, I think it's going to be well worth its cost," said another visitor.

The open house saw thousands of people streaming through over 12 hours, watching peewee hockey and buying snacks from the concessions.

But, said Nicholson, it wasn't enough to completely allay concerns about the price of the Games.  

"While Calgarians loved the finished product, they're still worried about cost overruns, both here and on Olympic projects still to come."