CALGARY — There’s been a lot of talk all season about the state of the aging Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
But it’s come mainly from the visitors’ dressing room, often from players who played the previous night in Edmonton. The comments from the opposition are generally not so flattering when comparing Calgary’s arena to the Oilers’ lavish new Rogers Place.
There was more talking on Wednesday, this time between two parties that have considerably more at stake than NHL teams on a road trip.
As NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with media in his annual tour of NHL cities, he confirmed that he spoke earlier in the day with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. The idea of a new facility for the Flames to call home was one of the discussion points.
"I actually spent an hour this afternoon with the mayor. We had a very cordial, open, candid conversation," Bettman said. "I’m hopeful that the city and the Flames can be on the same page so this can move forward as quickly as possible."
Opened in 1983, Calgary plays in the third-oldest arena in the league. By next October when the Detroit Red Wings open the doors to their new Little Caesars Arena, it will be second oldest. The only facility older is Madison Square Garden and, while that iconic building in downtown New York was built in 1968, it underwent extensive renovations just a few years ago.
The closest thing to renovations in Calgary of late would have been the water damage repairs needed because of the 2013 Alberta floods.
"This building was built in the 1980s, they don’t build buildings like this any more," said Bettman. "It’s a grand old building, it’s got a great roof-line, it’s historic in many ways. but these aren’t the facilities that our hockey teams typically have."
Bettman says more than anything, it’s the fan experience that suffers.
"This is an old, antiquated building. And in terms of amenities for the fans, which is the most important thing, it doesn’t hold a candle to what’s been done in new arenas."
The team’s vision for a combined arena, fieldhouse and football stadium on the west end of downtown dubbed CalgaryNEXT was rolled out in August 2015 by Ken King, CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation — which owns the Flames, the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders and the NLL’s Calgary Roughnecks.
But it was not received well by the mayor or by many taxpayers in a city that continues to be in the throes of an economic downturn. The city suggested that the proposed cost of $890-million was too low and, with the significant clean-up required at the propose site, the price tag would be substantially more.
The city is reported to prefer a smaller-scale project of an arena only, and in the same area around Stampede Park where the current arena is located.
Regarding the pleas by some to not use any taxpayer money, Bettman says it’s being looked at the wrong way.
"I’m not sure that people that focus on the deal in the appropriate way would say no taxpayer money," said Bettman. "If in fact, a new project with development creates new revenues and new taxes that didn’t exist before, reinvesting it in the city, reinvesting it infrastructure, reinvesting it in quality of life, seems to make a lot of sense to me."
Either way, Bettman thinks that the timeline for a new facility should be sooner, than later.
"The longer this goes, I think in some respects it gets a little more difficult, building costs go up, the amount of time it will take to get into a new arena situation will be longer," he said. "The new building in Edmonton, for example, is doing a lot more business. Perhaps some of it is at the expense of Calgary in terms of concerts and the like."