New insights offer glimpse of what might replace Calgary's Saddledome

Years in the making, the final version of the city's 50-year master plan for redeveloping Victoria Park is now complete and goes before planning commission on Thursday.

Master plan a 50-year vision for redevelopment in Victoria Park

A rendering shows a view of Victoria Park in 50 years, with condos and a new arena visible — but no Saddledome. (CMLC)

Out with the old … in with the new.

Years in the making, the final version of the city's 50-year master plan for redeveloping Victoria Park is now complete and goes before the Calgary Planning Commission today.

At its heart, a new culture and entertainment district for our city. And more detail on the proposed new arena which could replace the Saddledome.

An earlier draft plan which included the Vic Park arena was released last year.  But this is the one with the 't's crossed and the 'i''s dotted. If passed by the commission, it will go on to city council for approval.

"But wait," you say, "I haven't heard about any new city arena deal."

No. No you haven't.

City council has approved resuming talks with the owners of the Calgary Flames on a funding deal for a new arena but those talks still aren't formally underway yet.

Still, the new Victoria Park plan and its maps present some grand visions for this special location.

A serious makeover

If you look at this plan, you see this is a massive overhaul of the areas east of Macleod Trail and south of the CP Rail tracks.

It's bordered on the south and east sides by the Elbow River.

This is prime Calgary real estate.

Obviously, a new event centre and the soon-to-be-started, half-billion dollar expansion of the BMO Centre are big pieces of the puzzle.

There's also the new opera centre, which was given $7.5 million in funding in the most recent city budget. Once federal and provincial matching funds are committed to it, that building will rise at the southeast corner of 12th Avenue and Fifth Street S.E.

Those are the showcase buildings. There are also plans for hotels and lots of new condos in decades to come.

The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, which is overseeing the redevelopment process of the entire area, is also planning for a number of parks and urban plazas between all those shiny new buildings.

The Elbow River will be lined with green space. A linear park will run west from the river between the CPR mainline and 10th Avenue, all the way to the green line station at Fourth Street S.E.

But then look closer at the report, and you find the reference to a "flexible flat space that can be used for at-grade parking and transition into programmed large events such as Comic-Con, Global Petroleum Show and the 10-day Stampede Event."

The Saddledome's been replaced with a parking lot in this rendering of a possible future view of the Rivers District. (CMLC)

Flexible flat space. That's where the Saddledome sits today. We had a sneak peak at this idea when the draft report came out. Now, we know.

But wait. Timelines are important here. This document also includes a staging plan.

It details what could happen over the next 50 years. The 'dome remains in the 10-year picture, but then it's erased from the image of the 10-20 year vision.

This is because the old arena would need to stick around long enough for a new arena to be built.

And that's here too.

The new arena

The plan is to take two surface parking lots bounded by 12th and 14th Avenues, between Olympic Way and Fifth Street, for the new arena. (That too was in the earlier draft plan.)

But for the first time, we see that the new arena will just not be a big square box as it has appeared in past versions of the document. Instead, it now has an oval-shaped footprint set diagonally on the two-square-block space north of the Saddledome.

A potential future view of east Victoria Park. (CMLC)

Also, four high-rise towers spring forth from each corner of the space.

We know the Flames have hired an architectural design firm to draw up plans for a possible new arena and some images were released. This new planning document helps fill in some details in the surrounding areas in this multi-year saga.

But the redevelopment plan isn't just a case of "if you build it they will come." The city also has to figure out just how it will get people to a new arena.

New roads

A new level crossing for pedestrians and vehicles on 17th Avenue is going to be punched across the LRT tracks just south of the Stampede C-Train station. This will be a new street that will provide more access in and out of Stampede Park. No longer will the Red Mile dead-end at Macleod Trail.

The Stampede C-Train station may also soon get a makeover including demolition of the pedestrian walkway across Macleod Trail. That would also mean goodbye to that spiral ramp beloved by skateboarders but perhaps less liked by those walking home after a couple of beers at a Flames game.

On the left, a possible view of the Saddledome and Stampede Park in the next 10 years. On the right, a possible glimpse of 50 years into the future of the area. (CMLC)

A new underpass on Fifth Street under the CPR line is in the cards to improve access to Victoria Park. And bike lanes. Extensions of cycle tracks and new ones to make it easier for people to pedal in and out of the area.

It's not all pie in the sky.

In 2019, the city will start construction on the 17th Avenue level crossing as well as a new $23-million Ninth Avenue bridge which will replace the existing span over the Elbow River.

But council has to get some priorities straightened out.

What's next?

Even before it votes on this new plan, council will discuss in late January how to prioritize the several major projects it has on its list. The possibilities include a new arena, a fieldhouse and the renovation/expansion of Arts Commons.

It also remains to be seen if this new Victoria Park plan will help in the negotiations between the Flames' ownership and the city, which have yet to formally resume.

Will 2019 be the year of the deal? Perhaps for taxpayers, it's more a question of whether the price is right?

Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at

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