The deal is sealed: the NHL’s Calgary Flames are getting a new $800-million arena.
A preliminary deal announced in April for a new $1.2-billion event centre and entertainment district near the city’s downtown, including a new rink for the Flames, has been finalized, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Thursday.
The project plan includes plazas and gathering places, bars, restaurants and retail shops with the main event centre hosting the NHL team along with other sports, concerts and events.
Design and preparatory construction work is to start right away with an opening date for the arena expected around 2026 or 2027, said provincial Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen.
At that time, the Flames’ current Saddledome home — and its iconic saddle-shaped concave roof that was seen by TV viewers around the world in the 1988 Winter Olympics — will be put to the wrecking ball.
“This project is moving forward,” Gondek told a news conference in Calgary alongside Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.
Gondek said the project reflects the dual mission of the city to provide services to Calgarians while fostering ways to help pay for them.
“(The event centre) furthers our ability to develop healthy and sustainable revenue streams that allow us to then serve the public now and well into the future,” said Gondek.
Coun. Sonya Sharp, who chaired the city committee on the event centre proposal, said the numbers announced in April remain the same.
The Alberta government is committing a maximum $330 million for area infrastructure, to demolish the Saddledome and to cover off half of a new 1,000-seat community rink.
The City of Calgary will put in $537 million and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flames, will pay $40 million now and then $17 million a year over the course of a 35-year lease, with payments growing by one per cent a year.
The Calgary Stampede, which runs the city’s signature summer festival and rodeo, will transfer land.
The event centre will be built near the Saddledome, which has been the Flames’ home since it was built in 1983.
Only Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers, is technically older among NHL arenas. But even that comes with an asterisk as the Rangers’ Manhattan home underwent a massive renovation and modernization a decade ago.
The Flames and the city had been negotiating for years without success to come to an agreement on who pays for what amid broader concerns around public subsidies for a private enterprise.
The logjam was broken in April as city council and the Flames agreed to the funding deal and Smith’s government pledged its share.
Smith has also been a longtime opponent of public money subsidizing private operators but has said this deal passes muster because no money will go into the rink itself.
Dreeshen told the news conference: “No provincial tax dollars will go toward the building of a new arena.”
He said the $330 million from the province is a hard-cap ceiling and the city would bear any cost overruns.
While the Flames are the impetus and nucleus of the new district, any direct reference to the Flames was absent from the announcement.
Smith, Gondek and Sharp did not mention the team by name, while Dreeshen referred to it only when answering a reporter’s question on the Saddledome demolition.
John Bean, president of Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corp., was onstage for the April announcement but did not take part in Thursday’s formal presentation.
Bean was in attendance and later told reporters, “The legal stuff is never fun and sometimes it takes longer than you’d hope, but we got that across the line today and it’s really encouraging.
“It’s really important for the city of Calgary and for all our fans and all the citizens, quite frankly, that we solve the riddle on such an important piece of infrastructure,” he added.
“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.”
The Flames have won one Stanley Cup, in 1989.
The Flames are just one subgroup of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. It also owns and operates the Calgary Wranglers of the American Hockey League, the Hitmen in the Western Hockey League and the National Lacrosse League’s Roughnecks.
Once the building is completed, it will be the fourth home for the Flames franchise, which began in Atlanta in 1972 and played in the downtown Omni Coliseum before money woes forced it to relocate to Calgary in 1980.
In Calgary, the team played first in the relatively tiny Stampede Corral before moving to the Saddledome three years later.
— with files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press