By Drew Thomas, July 29 2019 —
With deals curdling over the past half-decade it appears an agreement is in the works for the replacement of the old Saddledome. As the second-oldest arena in the NHL — Madison Square Garden is the only one older — commenters have questioned for years when Calgary’s iconic saddle would be sent out to pasture. With several projects broached over the years, it appears that a nascent deal may be in the works. On July 22nd, the City of Calgary and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation — the Flames owners — announced fundamental terms and conditions that would mean splitting the $550 million costs of the new arena.
There have been several attempts at reaching agreements for a new facility over the past few years with the most recent breakthrough occurring in 2017. Talks resumed in the fall of 2018 to see if a deal could be reached. Early this year, votes to confirm the city’s negotiating position occurred behind closed doors. The current Saddledome is argued to be showing its age with several modern acts unable to utilize the Saddledome as a venue.
The Saddledome officially started construction in July 1981 at a cost of $97.7 million, to replace the Stampede Corral opening in 1983 as the principal venue for the Flames and in anticipation of the 1988 Olympics. The iconic landscape addition originally came from the inspiration of a sphere. The final shape, a Hyperbolic Paraboloid, was chosen to increase the occupancy of the arena while keeping the footprint small. The Saddledome has been an iconic part of Calgary’s landscape ever since. With an agreement in place, the Saddledome would be making way for a parking lot at the former site.
The split of the $550 million would be to build a new arena adjacent to the current Saddledome. The costs of the demolition of the Saddledome, not included in this figure, are estimated at $12.4 Million which would have an additional contribution from CSEC of $1.4 million. The deal touts 100% ownership of the arena for the City and a 35-year term agreement with CSEC for the operation of the new arena and an agreement not to relocate the Calgary Flames for that period. The project is directed at supporting the Rivers District Master Plan and hopes to bring in money to reinvest and revitalize the Culture and Entertainment District. The new arena would replace the 19,289-seat capacity of the 35-year-old Saddledome with a projected 19,000-seat capacity arena.
A seven-day public consultation on the deal started last week with the submission deadline being extended for an eighth day, giving the public until today to weigh in on the deal. This quick turnaround has sparked questions of whether the deal has been given enough debate and refinement. Following the tumultuous rejection of an Olympic bid for the City the year previous, concerns have also been raised over the City of Calgary’s assessment of returns at $400.3 Million over 35 years.
This Tuesday, City Council votes on this agreement. This decision comes just one week after the announcement of $60 million in budget cuts that included emergency services, transit service and affordable housing. For more information on the project please visit the City of Calgary’s website.
For information on the City’s proposed budget cuts to services visit their proposal. With a deal reached, construction would begin in 2021 and take approximately three years to complete.