With a new Calgary Flames arena moving forward, the team and the city will engage in a planning process that could lead to the venue opening in 2024.
Last week, the Calgary City Council voted to ratify an agreement with the Flames to construct a new C$550 million arena in Victoria Park. The funding plan calls for both sides to contribute C$275 million. The arena will fall under city ownership, while the city will receive proceeds from a ticket tax and a share of naming-rights revenue. In addition, the Flames will assume operations and maintenance costs over the course of a 35-year lease with the city and receive an option to buy two nearby city-owned land parcels.
For the Flames, the vote represented a significant step forward in the team’s pursuit of a replacement for the Scotiabank Saddledome. Multiple discussions had unfolded over the last several years without success before the most recent proposal, as the ambitious CalgaryNEXT concept failed to gain traction and previous discussions involving a new Victoria Park arena broke down in the fall of 2017 because of disagreements over the economics of the plan.
Now, however, the city and the Flames have a path in place toward the construction of a new arena. The sides will now focus on a planning process that will include public engagement, design, and obtaining the necessary permits. From there, the goal is to begin construction in early 2021, with the new arena completed in time for the 2024-25 NHL season.
The arena project comes with a few notable elements. It will result in a replacement for the Scotiabank Saddledome, an aging venue that opened in 1983 and is currently the second-oldest facility among full-time NHL arenas. Furthermore, it is also expected to help facilitate new amenities in the surrounding area, as the options on city-owned properties that are included in the deal could give Flames ownership Calgary Sports & Entertainment the opportunity to play a major role in development.
There are still some questions on the development side, however. The two properties that Flames ownership received options for include the former site of the historic Enoch Sales Residence–which was destroyed by a fire earlier this year–and the existing site of Victoria Park bus barns. With the bus barns site, Flames ownership will have 10 years following the new arena’s debut to exercise its option to purchase the property.
In theory, that allows plenty of time for a redevelopment plan to be mapped out, though there are several moving pieces involved. For starters, the bus barns on the site are active, and the agreement does not obligate the city to free the site up for redevelopment. If the city were to move forward with selling the property to Flames ownership, replacements for the bus barns would have to be built at another site. Extensive remediation could also be needed at the site, but there are still questions about the cost and how it would be paid for.
As for the Saddledome, the prospect of a new arena makes its future very uncertain. A new arena seems likely to render the venue obsolete, and there is a financial framework in place for demolishing the facility. The city and the Flames would both pay toward the demolition, with Calgary’s C$12.4 million paying the bulk of the cost and the Flames contributing another C$1.4 million. Given the timeline for building a new arena, however, any potential demolition of the Saddledome would be years away.
By moving forward with plans for a new arena, the Flames and the city have now set a path to resolving what had been one of the most challenging facility situations in the NHL. Plenty of work will need to be done leading up to the new arena’s completion, but last week’s vote certainly brought some level of clarity to the situation.
This article originally appeared in the weekly Arena Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the free weekly newsletter