Flames announce plans for new $900M arena

Calgary Saddledome. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — The group that owns the Calgary Flames hockey club and Stampeders football team has revealed a massive, $900-million plan to build a new home for the two teams.

It calls for a 20,000-seat arena that would replace the Scotiabank Saddledome where the NHL Flames currently play. It also includes a 30,000-seat indoor football stadium for the CFL Stampeders that would also serve as a public fieldhouse.

They would be built on the western edge of Calgary’s downtown along the Bow River, where the city’s Greyhound bus depot and some car dealerships now sit.

"Is this good for Calgary and is this good for Calgarians? If we come to an affirmative answer, what we will do is get to the starting line of a very difficult, very arduous process to bring this home and to bring it to fruition," said Flames president Ken King.

"Nothing good is easy."

The plan calls for the project to be funded through a $250-million ticket tax, a $240-million community revitalization levy, $200 million from team ownership and $200 million from city taxpayers for the fieldhouse.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi wasn’t ready to jump on the bandwagon.

He called the proposal "intriguing," but noted there are a number of hurdles that need to be addressed, including the fact that the facility is not in the city’s capital plan and funds from that plan have been allocated through 2018.

"I have said for a long time — and continue to strongly believe — that public money must be for public benefit and not private profit," Nenshi said in a statement. "The question for council, the ownership group, and all Calgarians is whether this proposal meets that test."

The City of Edmonton spent years debating a similar deal with Darryl Katz, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers.

Construction began on the $600-million city-owned facility last year with $200 million coming from a community revitalization levy and $80 million from the city. Katz is to chip in $150 million in leasing fees and cash and another $125 million is to come from a ticket tax.

King said the group didn’t have a Plan B if the Calgary project doesn’t receive approval.

The proposed parcel of land would have to be decontaminated as it was the site of a creosote wood-treatment plant until the 1960s. Nenshi noted the uncertain costs of the decontamination as another possible hurdle.

It’s expected planning and decontamination would take up to two years, with another three years of construction after that. The city of Calgary would be the owner of the facility once it was built.

King said the group considered moving the new arena out to the suburbs or keeping it on the Calgary Stampede grounds where the Saddledome is currently located, but it was deemed to be too small.

"If you consider cities in North America that have built their buildings and facilities in the wrong place, it’s essentially a death sentence for the vitality of the business," King said.

The Saddledome, which opened its doors in 1983, is one of the oldest remaining arenas in the NHL. McMahon Stadium, where the Stampeders play, opened in 1960 and has been expanded several times over the years.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement praising the Flames.

"While this is an extremely important initiative for the team, it is even more important for Calgary’s fans and the community," Bettman said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was asked about support for a Calgary arena over the weekend.

"Our view certainly when we were in opposition around the Edmonton arena was that no, that that’s not the first priority for government funds," she said. "But … I’m going to keep an open mind and look at what proposals come forward and we’ll go from there."

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