Final agreements for a new Event Centre and corresponding area improvements have now been signed, paving the way for a new Calgary arena.
The announcement came after a closed-door Event Centre Committee meeting Oct. 4 and was followed later that afternoon by a provincial announcement on downtown Calgary funding. Details on the framework of the arena deal were initially made public back in June.
It’s the second (perhaps third) go-round for a new Calgary Flames arena deal, after the City and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) scuppered their prior deal at the last minute, just as a construction stage gate was to be met in 2021.
The total project cost is $1.22 billion, with the City of Calgary contributing $537 million, CSEC providing $356 million and the province up to $330 million. Funding for the project be paid out of city reserves and working capital, they said. They will be repaid the Flames portion in a lease over the next 35 years of $17 million annually, plus one per cent (compounded).
This marks a turning point in a long, drawn-out process that goes back nearly 10 years with the failed CalgaryNext project in the City’s West Village.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, chair of Calgary’s Event Centre Committee, said today was a milestone event.
“This is truly an exciting day that’s been a long time in the making,” Sharp said.
“We’re happy to have partners who all share a belief in the incredible potential that the event center block has for Calgary.”
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek was equally happy they’d once again reached the point where final agreements had been signed. The mayor had endured sharp criticism from the public after the last deal collapsed. The failed deal meant the City of Calgary bore $16.8 million in arena closing costs.
“This project is moving forward at this critical moment when we are seeing explosive population growth and increasing private sector investment and interest in our city,” said Mayor Gondek.
Coun. Sharp said that not much had changed in the agreements that was put in place in April, and that the past several months have been about due diligence.
The City said they would publish the final agreements in the coming weeks. In the meantime, CAA ICON, who helped the city negotiate the new deal, will be the development manager for the project. Dialog and HOK will continue on as the design partners, though there was no timeline for first renderings of the design for the project.
Provincial investment in the downtown
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith attended the announcement to share the province’s commitment to the $1.2 billion project.
The province had signed on when the original agreement was announced back in April 2023, just prior to Alberta’s provincial election. Their share of the deal at that time included a four-lane underpass beneath the CP Rail tracks and wider sidewalks at 6 Street SE to improve mobility options.
Public realm improvements are also expected along 5 Street SE at 15, 17 and 25 Avenues.
“Of course, any investment in infrastructure is much more than a dollar figure attached to a project, it’s more than a building and it’s more than a road,” Premier Smith said.
“It’s an investment in making Alberta the best place to live and work and raise a family. It’s the vibrancy of people strolling the Rivers District as they make their way to see a play or watch a concert or enjoy a meal at a venue right in their neighbourhood.”
Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen said the provincial contribution would go towards land purchases, a CTrain connection, road and bridge construction around the new arena, and for the demolition of the Saddledome. Dreeshen said the latter wouldn’t likely happen until the new arena is complete.
Dreeshen estimated the project could be complete by 2026/27.
“Now the demolition of the Saddledome will be a tough day for Albertans. It’s an iconic building that’s seen by visitors flying into Calgary for the first time and is a reassuring sight for families flying home to Calgary,” he said.
“It proudly highlights our western heritage here in Alberta and has hosted so many memorable events. For me, personally, it was where I watched my first NHL game.”
The province will also cover up to $30 million for a new public community rink.
‘Solved the riddle’
CSEC president and CEO John Bean said Thursday was an important day in the Event Centre process. He said the legal process is never fun, and it takes longer than they want.
“But we got across that line today, and that’s really encouraging,” he said.
Bean said the next step is to focus on the design and construction of the project. The sides estimated that utility work could begin as early as November this year on the Event Centre block, and construction on the new Event Centre could start in 2024.
Development permits are still needed for the new design, as substantial changes are being made to the project that wouldn’t fall under the last one issued on the prior building. One of the biggest additions, and the need for a 10-acre space (rather than seven) is the community rink.
He said it’s good to know there’s a place to call home – not only for the sports teams, but for fans as well.
“It’s really important for the City of Calgary and for all our fans, and all the citizens quite frankly, that we solved the riddle on such an important piece of infrastructure for the city,” he said.
“We’re delighted that we don’t have to be worrying about where’s our home for the next 35 years and we can get ourselves focused on getting this thing designed and built and then maybe we get focused on winning a Stanley Cup in here as well.”
While design is just getting started, Bean said they would be looking at some of the best features of newer arena buildings across North America. He expected capacity in the new barn to be between 18,000 and 18,400.
“We have a really good team in place right now to get this done once and for all for the city,” he said.
Stakeholders are touting 4,750 jobs during the construction phase and 1,500 full-time jobs in the Culture and Entertainment District after completion. They also said that fully built out, there could be as many as 8,000 new downtown residents.