City council to discuss next steps in Calgary's arena saga

City council will get a look behind closed doors today at a plan to get the idea of building a new downtown arena back on track.

Recommendation expected on appointing third party to develop arena plan

The Calgary Saddledome, which opened in 1983, is due for an upgrade — but the question of when a new arena will be built remains unanswered. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

City council will get a look behind closed doors today at a plan to get the idea of building a new downtown arena back on track.

The City of Calgary reached a deal in 2019 with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) for a $600 million new event centre in Victoria Park.

It was amended in the summer of 2021 as the city boosted its financial contribution and CSEC agreed to take on all cost overruns.

But the agreement fell apart just before Christmas when the ownership group of the Calgary Flames walked away, citing rising costs.

Instead of construction starting in January as expected, the deal was terminated. The city said the two sides had already spent up to $25 million before the deal collapsed.

Council wants restart

In early January, city council voted unanimously to have city administration seek out a third party to try to restart the process.

That person is expected to approach CSEC to see if there's interest in rekindling talks on a new arena agreement.

It's also possible that third party will seek out other funding partners that might have cash for a new event centre.

A rendering of the event centre that was meant to replace the Saddledome in Victoria Park. The project was officially terminated in early January. (Submitted by Dialog)

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra is confident Calgary will get a new arena to replace the Saddledome, which opened in 1983.

"I view the development of an event centre as an inevitability in the next several years. I just think it's a question of how do we get there from here," said Carra. 

He expects city council will hear Tuesday who administration is recommending to do the shuttle diplomacy with the Flames and develop ideas on other potential funding partners.

Other funding sources

Bringing in other parties would mark a new step for the city's quest for a new arena.

Under the previous agreement with CSEC, the city was willing to put up more than $300 million in arena-related costs. 

It also agreed to give the Flames' owners the first right to buy a couple of parcels of land in Victoria Park for other developments.

CSEC was also going to put up more than $300 million toward the new arena, which would be owned by the city and form a key part of a new culture and entertainment district.

Vijay Setlur, a marketing instructor at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, said there certainly could be other funding partners out there for a new Calgary arena.

Setlur said one example could be large sports and entertainment corporations which have been successful at developing or operating arenas in other cities.

These companies could include AEG, Live Nation and Oak View Group.

It's possible they would contribute money for a new arena in exchange for the right to operate and program the facility, or even handle the sale of the naming rights to the building.

Calgary attractive

Setlur said Calgary does present an attractive investment option given the economic and market potential here.

"Because of the size of the market and the number of teams that are already in existence, it makes Calgary — to me — an appealing prospect for a company that wants to develop an arena in tandem with the city and the [CSEC]." 

He pointed out that AEG is a partner in the Videotron Centre in Quebec City, while Oak View Group signed a deal last fall for the operation and maintenance of FirstOntario Centre arena in Hamilton.

Setlur said finding other partners could reduce the overall arena costs for the city as well as the Flames. 

But, it could also be a way of overcoming years of mistrust that may have built up between the Flames owners and the city over past negotiations.

"Involving a company like AEG or Oak View Group would change the dynamic of the relationship," said Setlur.

"At the same time, involving those groups could actually bring an arena deal closer to fruition than if a group like that was not involved."

There is currently no timetable for a new arena deal.

Besides settling who will handle the talks for the city, city council is also expected to name the members of a new event centre assessment committee which will oversee the process.

A similar committee was established by the last city council, ultimately resulting in the signing of a deal with CSEC on a new arena in 2019.


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