If you’ve been keeping score, you might think it’s Arena 1, Calgary fieldhouse 0.
You may even think that after years of being on the city’s unfunded capital infrastructure list, then brought forward as part of the CalgaryNext arena deal, only to be left out of the recently approved Event Centre deal, that a fieldhouse is once again on the backburner.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it might be further ahead now than it’s ever been. Now, to use a sports metaphor, instead of trying to hit a single, the city’s trying to knock it out of the park.
Earlier this year, the city approved nearly $20 million for planning and design of a revamped Foothills Athletic Park in the city’s northwest. The plan includes design of a new fieldhouse.
Coun. George Chahal, chair of the Foothills Athletic Park Redevelopment Advisory Committee, said the initial vision for the project couldn’t have moved along without the seed funding.
“Well, without the initial funding, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. This project could not move forward without taking that first step. So, it was a big first step,” Chahal said.
The forgotten Calgary fieldhouse
Chahal is quick to point out that Calgary is the only major Canadian city without a multi-sport fieldhouse. He said it’s been on the city’s radar since 1965.
Bounced around from capital plan to capital plan over five decades, the multisport fieldhouse landed as a component to the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s 2015 CalgaryNext plan.
The estimated $285-million project was to be a state-of-the-art sports and athletic training facility in the West Village. According to the Calgary Flames news release at the time, the fieldhouse stadium would have had a capacity of 30,000 for football games and other events.
When CalgaryNext was officially scrapped in 2017 it appeared as though dreams of a fieldhouse went with it. It wasn’t a part of the resurrected and ultimately approved Event Centre plan from earlier this year.
Still, the city had it listed as one of its top infrastructure needs.
“A multisport fieldhouse has been identified as a high priority for The City and Calgarians,” a statement from the City read.
“This high priority status is based on the 10-Year Strategic Plan for Sport Facility Development (2008), citizen feedback and through its high priority ranking on the Community Services Infrastructure Investment Plan list.”
A 237-page document prepared for the City of Calgary’s recreation department in February of this year outlines the plan to see the redevelopment spring to life.
The bigger picture for the Calgary fieldhouse
Chahal said with all of the partners, including the University of Calgary, the surrounding neighbourhoods and the city’s sporting community, they recognized the opportunity to create a larger area master plan.
“How do we move a larger master plan and a vision forward while we engage the communities and ensure that as we build the fieldhouse that we’re considering all the connections and the urban design, so it’s a great project that fits into the larger landscape of approximately 100 acres,” he said.
There’s an emerging idea of so-called active economy in Calgary and the potential to build an epicentre of active expertise in Calgary and Chahal thinks this fits right in.
“I think it’s an important part of our economy locally and what it provides. So, there’s an economic benefit to the surrounding area, to the businesses, the hotels, but also to attract some of those national and international events, but also build a center of coaching excellence, or training,” he said.
Jason Ribeiro chairs the public engagement communications committee for a new, grassroots group called
He said the intentionality around the fieldhouse plan today has spurred further conversation on this topic.
“That what I’ve seen with the fieldhouse conversation as of late is that there’s an intentionality behind bringing as many diverse players to the table and not just thinking about it as a sport asset or a recreation asset,” Ribiero said.
“How can we really create something that’s dynamic that spurs not only social benefit and well-being but also economic benefit as well.”
The project’s next steps – including funding
Right now, Chahal said they’re working through a functional and accommodations agreement with the University of Calgary on the area’s usage. After that comes the various design iterations for the area, including the new fieldhouse.
They’re hoping to see a full 400-metre track, a full-sized infield where soccer, field hockey and other field events are held. Along with that is a series of indoor courts for basketball, volleyball, ping pong, badminton and even weightlifting, Chahal said. Phase two could include an aquatic centre.
They’re hoping to see plans in 2020. That’s where the cleats hit the track.
Chahal said once they approved a design it will be costed out. While it has a $285 million list price, he said that’s an estimate for now.
They’re exploring various funding options and partnerships – whether that’s with the University of Calgary, private company sponsorship or looking to the provincial and federal governments for ways to work together.
Chahal respects that all levels of government are strapped for cash.
“If we move from stage one to stage two, to get into that design stage, to have those conversations and provide timing, then it’s the will of city council and the other levels of government to step up to understand this is a real important project for the city,” he said.
Writer’s note: The University of Calgary and Calgary Economic Development were contacted to participate in this story. No one was made available for comment.