The Calgary Flames have had little to say publicly about their plans for a new arena, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been silent behind the scenes.
The NHL team has examined several locations for a new facility throughout the city, according to sources, and has had architects draw up designs. There has been speculation the Flames are so far along in the process that they could conceivably leave the Scotiabank Saddledome and be in their new building before the Edmonton Oilers skate into their new $601-million arena and entertainment complex sometime in 2016. Ron MacLean of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada even said last weekend that the Flames will be unveiling their arena plans in the next “three to four months,” which further ignited excitement about the potential for new digs.
Flames’ president Ken King acknowledged team officials had spoken with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi about the arena plans, but nothing formal has been put forward.
“We have not made any proposals, recommendations or requests,” Mr. King said.
“We have been working, and continue to work on, plans for a multi-purpose arena,” he added. “We have no deadline when we’d be making those decisions, but when we’re ready to unveil them one of our first steps will be to go to our civic officials, including the mayor.”
When it opened in 1983, the Saddledome was praised for its nearly 20,000 seating capacity and swooping architecture, which made it an instant hit on the downtown skyline. That was 30 years ago, back when it was known as the Olympic Saddledome, but over the last five years or so, the talk around town has been about building a state-of-the-moment facility with more luxury suites and better amenities.
The mayor’s office has heard nothing formally about a new NHL arena for the city. No proposal has come forward. There’s been no request for public funds and no land rezoning request.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi declined a request for an interview, but his office said his recent comments on Twitter make his position clear.
“I’m open to conversation but I don’t believe in public money subsidizing private profit in general,” Mr. Nenshi tweeted. “It will be hard to convince me it’s a good use of public money.”
Mr. Nenshi even went further, publicly questioning “What’s wrong with the dome?”
Some have complained that big concerts and other events bypass the city because the sloping shape of the Saddledome roof places weight restrictions on lighting and staging.
“Is it worth spending limited tax dollars so that Lady Gaga may or may not come, and few can afford a ticket? I don't see it,” Mr. Nenshi wrote. “I called the biggest concert promoter in Canada and they said 1-2 concerts a year skip Calgary. Is that worth half-a-billion?”
The Flames own the management rights to the Scotiabank Saddledome, but also a majority ownership stake in the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. The Stamps plays at McMahon Stadium, which opened in 1960 in the city’s northwest and was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies during the 1988 Winter Games. The Stampeders, coincidentally, are also exploring plans for a new facility.
Calgary alderman Ray Jones, who also sits on the Saddledome Foundation, which oversees the facility operations and hands out grants to amateur sports, said rumours about a new building have been swirling for years, but the place is hardly a relic.
McMahon Stadium, on the other hand, has “seen its day,” Mr. Jones said – which makes a combination facility to house both sports an intriguing concept. But a dual-purpose facility could come with a $1-billion price tag, he suggested, adding that knocking down the Saddledome alone comes with rumoured cost estimates of $30-million to $50-million.
Mr. Jones said there are parcels of land available downtown, so a property deal – either privately or with the city – could be a possibility. But he doesn't expect the city will be ready to cough up any funds, especially as the provincial government faces budget pressures. Historically, whatever Edmonton receives Calgary expects – and vice versa – and Alberta Premier Alison Redford has flatly denied any direct funding to a new professional sports arena in the capital.
"We already have $12- to $15-billion in infrastructure projects over the next 20 to 25 years,” Mr. Jones said. “And no idea where the money is coming from."