Arena talks reboot between city and Flames as councillors push project

Ahead of a city council meeting on Monday that will help determine which capital projects will take priority, proponents of a new arena are pushing for it to be on top of the pile.

Proponents says event centre is critical to proposed entertainment district in Victoria Park

Councillors Jeff Davison and Jyoti Gondek think an event centre in Victoria Park is a critical part of a district revitalization plan. (Left and right: CBC, centre: Rossetti/Calgary Flames)

Ahead of a city council meeting on Monday that will help determine which capital projects will take priority, proponents of a new arena are pushing for it to be on top of the pile.

Coun. Jeff Davison, who chairs the event centre assessment committee, confirmed they've been in conversation with the Flames ownership and talks are progressing.

"We are having high-level talks. Those talks have been positive. They have been proactive, and they have been respectful of each other's working positions," he said.

It's a far cry from previous talks on a new home for the Flames that ended in acrimony between the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and Mayor Naheed Nenshi. 

That fight took place amidst a municipal election that saw the mayor returned to power and an arena deal headed to the scrap heap.

"In the past it became a bit of a battle between two egos at times," said Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who sits on the board of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC). "I think what we've done this time is we've looked at redevelopment opportunity instead of calling it an arena deal."

Part of larger plan

Davison, Gondek and CMLC CEO Michael Brown all emphasized that a new event centre is an important part of the plan to redevelop east Victoria Park into an entertainment district. 

That master plan, part of the Rivers District, is being overseen by the CMLC, the city-owned organization responsible for the rebirth of the East Village.

"If you're really going to build that sense of place, you need to have the amenities and the assets. We know in doing so that private dollars will follow," said Brown.

"Obviously we're focused right now on getting those amenities in place, but from my perspective, the most important step is getting the private sector to participate."

The trio cite that $2 billion to $3 billion of private money could flow into the area if the city invests in the necessary facilities and infrastructure — work that is already underway.

The plan envisions residential towers rising where parking lots now stand, a Green Line station, expanded BMO Centre and more.

Arts Commons redevelopment

Arts Commons, although not in Victoria Park, still falls under the Rivers District plan.

It's also trying to attract private and public dollars for a long-dreamt of expansion and revamp that would dramatically change the building and Olympic Plaza.

Interim CEO of Arts Commons Colleen Dickson said they support an event centre and expansion of the BMO Centre as a complement to their own project. 

"If you're going to have an expanded BMO Centre and you have a lot of conventions coming, those people want something to do in the evening. They want to see a vibrant city, and we're part of that," she said.

Phase one of the Arts Commons project would construct a new building for $208 million on the west side of the plaza, while phase two would transform and refurbish the existing building for $204 million.

Other projects need money

Council recently approved a $500-million expansion of the BMO Centre in the area, but will discuss options for funding the city portion of the project on Monday.

On Friday, the event centre committee will unveil both an economic impact study for the Rivers District where an arena could be built and an update on resources and the work plan for a new facility. 

"This is not about an arena; it's about an entire district, and it's about bringing our city back to life," said Gondek. 

On Monday, the event centre will face off against three other projects identified as priorities for funding — the aforementioned BMO Centre and Arts Commons Expansion and a new fieldhouse. 

Only the fieldhouse would be outside the Rivers District. 

Gondek says it's not an all-or-nothing affair. 

"There's no reason all of the capital projects can't be done. It's a matter of timing, and it's a matter of figuring out how the capital will flow and where we can get investment from," she said.


  • A previous version of this article said the Arts Commons proposal for the first phase would cost $280 million. In fact, the group says it would cost $208 million.
    Jan 24, 2019 6:27 PM MT