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Calgarians look out over a flooded Calgary Stampede grounds and Saddledome in Calgary on June 21, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Calgarians look out over a flooded Calgary Stampede grounds and Saddledome in Calgary on June 21, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Calgary Exhibition & Stampede grounds hit hard by flood Add to ...

By early Friday morning, the water began seeping into the Scotiabank Saddledome. Within several hours, it had completely filled the ice surface, spilling over the rink boards, flooding the first 10 rows, throuhgout the surrounding hallway into the Calgary Flames’ dressing room.

Building officials said they knew it was coming; they just couldn’t do anything to prevent it.

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Downtown Calgary was closed off Friday due to heavy rain and flooding, and that made the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede grounds, home to the Saddledome, one of the worst places to be in the city core.

Located close to the Bow River and its tributary, the Elbow, the low-lying Stampede grounds proved an easy target for the overflowing rivers. Libby Raines, the Saddledome’s vice-president of building operations, told various media outlets she and Stampede officials were aware of the dangers and did as much as they could.

“We knew there was going to be an evacuation order (for the Stampede grounds),” said Raines. “With this amount of water … there's just nothing you can do.”

Various reports put the water inside the Saddledome deep enough to cover the first 10 rows of seats, the entire lower bowl. The flood water also damaged the media operations centre where equipment is used to operate the arena’s Jumbotron video scoreboard. That, as well as the Flames’ and visiting team’s dressing, has also been damaged.

“The flooding has gotten into the dressing room areas," said Flames’ vice-president of communications Peter Hanlon. “The building is out of commission for an indefinite period of time. Until we get in there, it's impossible to assess the damage.”

The 20,000-seat Saddledome, which opened in 1983, serves as home to the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen and the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks. It is also used during the Calgary Stampede and was to host several concerts next month, including Carly Rae Jepsen, the Dixie Chicks and KISS.

The future of those shows is uncertain.

Stampede officials, however, were quick to Tweet their assurances saying: “Our volunteer and employee teams will be working hard to create and deliver the Calgary Stampede on July 5-14 as scheduled.”

Witness accounts said Stampede Park, where the rodeo and chuckwagon events are staged, was completely flooded, along with the barn areas where the horses and livestock are kept.

Ironically, the Flames have been preparing to announce a front-office shake-up that would see team president and CEO Ken King lead the charge for a new arena. The Edmonton Oilers recently finalized their plans and financing for a new $480-million downtown arena. The City of Edmonton is putting in $140 million towards the arena; the province has been asked to contribute a $100 million. The balance will be covered by a ticket surcharge and by Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz.

The Flames want a state-of-the-art facility with more luxury boxes and have approached the City of Calgary and the mayor’s office for general discussions. The city owns the Saddledome while the Flames own the management rights to the arena with a lease that expires in 2014.

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has expressed his willingness to talk about a new arena but has cautioned he doesn’t “believe in public money subsidizing private profit in general.” The difference now may be in how much it will cost the city to repair the Saddledome and whether it’s worth the effort.

The Flames also own a majority stake in the Canadian Football League Calgary Stampeders, who have played their home games at McMahon Stadium since 1960. There has been speculation the Flames are interested in having a new football and hockey complex built adjacent to one another outside of the Stampede grounds.

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