A look at new arena hurdles facing Calgary, Ottawa, Arizona

Gary Bettman spoke with Roger Millions about building a new arena in Calgary, and why it’s important for the city and the Flames.

There was a time when discussions about new NHL arenas were all tied to re-location, or the threat of it.

But in recent years, and certainly the past few months, there appears to be a growing level of co-operation between the public and private sectors to work together to develop urban areas, and within that wide swath, new arenas.

That certainly seems to be the case in Ottawa, Arizona, and hopefully, Calgary.

In the past few weeks, we have seen positive moves by the Coyotes to partner with Arizona State University on land currently occupied by a golf course in Tempe, that would place the hockey club in a much larger urban area than its current home in Glendale.

In fact, since announcing the project with ASU, talks with the local government have begun and according to a local source, the initial discussions have been quite encouraging.

From a financial perspective, the team and university (which will contribute $100 million to the project) are looking for a “partial revenue reinvestment.” In other words, no big upfront cheque, just a partial reinvestment from revenues generated in the project. For the Coyotes, this would be a cut of the sales tax generated at the new venue. They argue that if the project isn’t built then there would be no sales tax generated from the land or project at all. On the surface, it appears a vast majority of the financial risk here falls on the Coyotes and ASU.

But there is still a long, long way to go before there’s a shovel in the ground. If the Tempe project is a go, look for the Coyotes to play three more seasons in Glendale before moving.

For a lengthy period of time the National Capital Commission has been trying to determine the best use of a huge swath of land situated right on the Ottawa river. They’re not just thinking about an arena, but a multi-layered urban plan that could include a state-of-the-art arena.

This past April, the NCC accepted a recommendation to negotiate with Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton proposal to develop the 21.6 hectare site in Ottawa’s core.

The significance of this exclusive negotiation received very little play outside of Ottawa. But needless to say, it’s important for the stability of the franchise, hence the NHL and its players. Like Ice District in Edmonton, Maple Leaf Square in Toronto and projects we’ve seen blossom around arenas in Vancouver and Montreal, Melnyk’s project could indeed redefine a great deal of downtown Ottawa.

The NCC is so committed to the project, there are two light rail transit (LRT) stations already planned within the area, with the LRT slated for completion next year. In sheer size the Ottawa project, when completed, will be more than twice as large as the project Daryl Katz created with city help in Edmonton.

But of course, urban planning can be tedious and bureaucratic. Talks between the NCC and Melnyk’s group will likely be arduous. But perhaps the biggest hurdle will be the cost to clean-up the LeBreton site. Contamination has long been the issue why the area has never been developed. It’s estimated the clean-up will cost up to $200 million. It’s also a reason why it’s difficult to pinpoint a completion date for the project.

Having said all that, the hope is the Senators’ new downtown address will be ready for hockey by 2021.

Finally it appears that one of the league’s oldest arenas is getting close to obsolete.

It’s quite amazing that since 1984 when it opened, and 1988 when the world came to visit, the Saddledome is now tired, cramped and in need of replacement.

Even a retrofit in the mid-1990s was unable to give extended life to the iconic building. Technology has changed everything, including arena construction. What has also changed are the requirements of a professional hockey team to satisfy a demanding fan base, not to mention the need for a state-of-the-art facility for its players.

Want to stream all 82 Flames games this season? Sign up for Sportsnet NOW

If you don’t believe me, drive the 180 miles north to Edmonton and visit Rogers Place. The difference between old and new is staggering and the need for change in Calgary is now palpable.

On the positive side for Calgary, the rather cynical initial reaction by civic government to the Flames’ Calgary Next, project announced in August of 2015, appears to have changed.

And while the larger plan for an arena, stadium and field house is on the shelf for now, the city and the team continue to talk about a potential “Plan B.” A scheduled meeting for late October was deferred to the new year as both sides discuss issues with Plan B, which appear to include an arena only, and on a different site than the original plan called for.

This Plan B is the city’s counter proposal to the Calgary Next project and there appears to be a real desire for the two sides to work together. And while the economy in Alberta is not helping the discussions (and who pays and how much?), it sure looks like the successful opening of the new arena in Edmonton has galvanized the desire to have a new venue in Calgary too.

Another factor is potential bid for 2026 Olympic Winter Games, which would require a new arena and the potential continued use of the Saddledome. There appears to be respectful communication between the two sides, but there has also been some vocal, local opposition to giving public money to a private entity like the Flames.

How both the city and the team manage that opposition, is yet to be determined. I do believe however that if the Flames were to get the same financial deal that the Oilers negotiated, then their chances of building a new arena would be excellent.

Like Ottawa, the hope is to be in an new arena by 2021, but that just might be too optimistic for even the most positive of thinkers. And that’s assuming the two sides continue to have meaningful dialogue through the next year or so.

In all three cases, working with the public sector will be key to the success of building new arenas. To many, it allows for a win-win scenario without forcing additional taxation, all the while creating tax opportunities, employment and a better fan experience.

From a hockey perspective, they all make perfect sense, securing the long-term financial viability of the franchises. From a public perspective, quite simply, the projects should not be burdens to the taxpayer.

It will be interesting to watch which, if any or all, get built and which team will be playing on a new, fresh sheet of ice first.

Let the race begin.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.