Calgary Flames arena deal resuscitated



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Calgary Arena maybe back on track Image: Jeff Davison on Twitter (@JeffDavisonYYC)

A new City Council committee will steer plans to create a new Event Centre, months after the City’s (Calgary, City in Alberta, Canada) previous arena project (of the National Hockey League team Calgary Flames) collapsed.

The ‘Calgary Herald’ stated that the Council unanimously approved the new Event Centre Committee and appointed its members following a lengthy closed-door meeting on March 8th. Ward 1 Councilor Sonya Sharp said the committee will aim to quickly get the ball rolling on a new project.

It may be recalled that in 2021 end the owners of the National Hockey League (NHL) team Calgary Flames (Canada) said they’re ending a multimillion-dollar plan to replace the aging Saddledome.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. (CSEC) had at that point of time stated that the growing price tag of its planned new arena, which was to have been built under a cost-sharing agreement with the City of Calgary, led the owners to conclude “there is no viable path to complete the Event Centre project”.

In the early part of 2021, the multimillion dollar arena deal (new arena for the Calgary Flames) between the City of Calgary (Canada) and the owners of the professional ice hockey team Calgary Flames – CSEC – hit the pause button over “a difference in the current budget estimate and the program requirements for the facility”.

The Calgary Flames are a professional ice hockey team based in Calgary (Canada). The Flames compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the North Division. The club is the third major professional ice hockey team to represent the City of Calgary (Canada), following the Calgary Tigers and Calgary Cowboys. The 19,289-capacity Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary is their home venue.

Said Sharp, who was appointed to the committee alongside Councilors Dan McLean and Courtney Walcott, “It’s not if the Event Centre gets built, it’s when the Event Centre gets built, and the one thing I can guarantee with this committee is speed. I think Calgary is anticipating what’s next for the Event Centre. And I think you have to remember, it’s a great project, it’s the heart of the Rivers District and it’s a catalyst for the City.”

In addition to the three members of the Council, two members of the public were also appointed to the committee: Calgary Economic Development Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Brad Parry and Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin.

The previous deal to build a new arena to replace the Saddledome fell apart at the end of 2021, only weeks before construction on the $650-million project was set to begin.

That deal came to fruition in part thanks to the previous Council’s Event Centre Assessment Committee, headed by then Councilor Jeff Davison.

The ‘Calgary Herald’ further stated that the new committee will aim to fill a similar role, according to the Mayor of Calgary, Jyoti Gondek. She said the new committee won’t be starting from scratch but will instead build on the foundation of previous talks.

Added Gondek, “I think we’re in really good shape. I think what you see is a Council that’s very interested in making sure we’re making strong economic decisions for our City . . . We’re ready to do the work and we continue to move forward because this is something that will benefit the City of Calgary and its citizens.”

The Council members unanimously agreed in January to direct City administrators to continue exploring possibilities for Calgary’s entertainment district and an Event Centre. They also planned to ask a third party to try to restart the process with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. (CSEC), and to look into other possible funding partners.

It’s still not clear whether that third party has been selected, with Gondek declining to comment on the subject. She deferred comment on whether any talks had occurred with the City administration, who said they had “engaged with a third party” and would make a public announcement at a later date. It is also unclear whether talks had resumed with the CSEC.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) is a privately-owned professional sports and entertainment company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, formed in 2012 and owned by N. Murray Edwards, Alvin Libin, Allan Markin, Jeffrey McCaig, Clay Riddell, and Byron Seaman.

Walcott said his aim on the committee will be to ensure any new development in East Victoria Park will be meaningful for all Calgarians. The people that are going to be sitting within this space have to guarantee that whatever is being provided to the public, and the bill that is being footed to pay for it, is something that everybody can see value in.”

The previous Event Centre deal collapsed late last year when the Flames ownership group walked away over cost increases, after $16 million in infrastructure and climate resiliency expenses was added to the project. The City had offered to cover $6.4 million of that and to seek grants from other levels of Government to offset some of the other costs, but CSEC officials said at the time they saw “no viable path” forward.

The City and the CSEC had spent a combined $24 million on the project before its demise, with additional costs associated with winding down the deal to be split between the parties.

The arena deal was never entirely dead because the Saddledome will need to be replaced, Concordia University (in Montreal, Quebec, Canada) economist Moshe Lander said. He said the introduction of a third party will allow the parties to get back to the table and iron out a new agreement.

Lander said he believes current on-ice success for the Flames, coupled with the removal of COVID-19 public health measures, create a more favorable environment for a deal to be reached. He added income from a deep playoff run, which he estimated at up to $2 million per home game, could further move the project forward – “The last two years have been devastating for most teams because they haven’t been able to put bums in seats. The Flames aren’t going to be contending anymore with social distancing or limited capacity . . . They can envision now a stream of income coming that’s been really hurting for the last couple of years.”

The new committee is expected to convene for the first time within the next four weeks.

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