CalgaryNEXT: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Bold

Finally. The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) came forward with their proposal for a new Calgary arena (Events Centre) and stadium (Field House) for West Village. I can now see why their vision of a massive integrated enclose arena and stadium complex would not fit at Stampede Park as per my Flamesville vs. Stampede Park blog (posted August 14, 2015). 

Now that CSEC’s idea, called CalgaryNEXT has been hatched, here are my thoughts on the good, bad, ugly and bold aspects of what has been presented.

Rendering of the CalgaryNEXT stadium and arena in the middle of West Village. The white buildings in the foreground and the taller buildings along the LRT and CPR tracks are the new tax generating building that would generate new tax revenue to pay off the Community Revitalization Levy loan. 

West Village with its proximity to the Bow River and downtown has the potential to be a very attractive and active mixed-use urban district with or without the addition of an arena, stadium and fieldhouse. 

The Good

The biggest GOOD that could come from CalgaryNEXT is the redevelopment of West Village, an underutilized urban wasteland with three car dealerships and the dying Greyhound Bus Terminal – not exactly the best use of land along the Bow River next to our vibrant downtown. The vision is CalgaryNEXT will attract hotel, condo, restaurant, bar, pub, lounge developers to redevelop all of the land surrounding the arena and stadium, creating a vibrant new urban community where Calgarians can “Live, Work & Play!”

CalgaryNEXT will also fast track the cleaning up of a creosote contamination on land next to the Bow River, something which should have been done long ago.  That is GOOD!

The proposed complex will also be unique in North America - maybe even in the world; this is no cookie cutter development. It is ambitious and contrary to Calgary’s usual pragmatic prairie conservative mantra. It will capture the attention of sports fans and urban tourists across North America.

It is GOOD that the stadium/field house will be enclosed allowing it to be used year-round and for more than just football and amateur events. This is a wonderful adaptation to Calgary’s harsh climate – cold in winter and evening hail and thunderstorms in the summer. It will also be designed with the idea Calgary might be able to attract professional soccer in the future.

There is also a $300 million savings by building the two integrated facilities vs. three separate facilities at different sites. That is GOOD!

It is also GOOD that the Calgary Stampede & Exhibition can move forward with evolving its master plan, knowing that a new arena will not be part of the vision. In addition, the University of Calgary can begin to determine how it might capitalize the McMahon Stadium lands.

Conceptual rendering of proposed new arena, stadium and fieldhouse west of 14th Street bridge

The Bad

Conceptual rendering of how the arena and stadium will be under one roof. 

Conceptual rendering of how the arena and stadium will be under one roof. 

The proposed funding program is a BAD deal for taxpayers with CSEC only contributing $200 million of the estimated $890 million direct costs of the facility and nothing to the possible billion dollars it will take to clean up of the site and upgrade several interchanges and roads.  Most major developments in Calgary today, have the developer sharing the cost of infrastructure requirements needed for the development.

The fact CSEC didn’t present some sort of business plan or time line for negotiations, community engagement and construction was a BAD mistake. I would suggest the best-case scenario for a timeline is:

  • 2015   determine the cost of contamination cleanup, infrastructure improvements
  • 2016   develop a master plan for West Village with CalgaryNEXT as centerpiece
  • 2017    finalize funding program with municipal, provincial and federal governments
  • 2018   commence clean up/ commence roads and infrastructure improvements 
  • 2019   finalize design and building permits
  • 2020   start construction
  • 2023   opening of complex 

As well, it would have been helpful if CSEC had introduced development partners like a major hotel and condo developer as part of their concept.  A residential/hotel development above CalgaryNEXT would make the project more viable as it would increase the tax base.

What about announcing a name sponsor for the project. Surely CalgaryNEXT is not the real name for the complex.  Imagine if CSEC had come forward with corporate sponsors for say $100million for 20 years for the two complexes and that the money would be used to cover capital not operating costs. That would have added credibility to the project and improved the funding structure.

Rendering of the proposed translucent roof that will give the feel of an outdoor stadium. 

As well, there were many references to the fact West Village could be developed using a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) like in East Village. While that looks good on the surface, East Village had a master plan that included almost 7 million square feet of development (office, retail and condos) in addition to its two sites for public (non-tax paying) uses (National Music Centre and Central Library).  East Village development has strategically staged private and public developments like The Bow Tower and condos with River Walk and 4th Street Underpass. 

For CSEC’s idea to work it would have to lead with the arena, stadium/fieldhouse (not tax paying projects) and hope that 7 million square feet of private projects will follow. A BAD scenario! For a CRL to work private development must happen at least concurrently with the public projects. 

It was also BAD when CSEC announced there was a $300 million savings by integrating the three complexes and didn’t say immediately that some of those savings would be passed on to the City. A good gesture would have been to say the City’s contribution to the fieldhouse would be $125 million instead of $200million as a result of cost savings.

The Ugly

While CSEC made reference to the need for road and transit improvements to accommodate the increased traffic to the arena, stadium and potential office, hotel and condo buildings, there was no understanding of the costs and who would pay for them.  In most if not all new developments the developer and the city share the costs of new roads and interchanges; in some cases, the developer pays 100% of the costs.  CSEC could have at least said they would expect to share in the cost, which would be determined in negotiations with the City.

The Sunalta station is designed for hundreds not ten of thousands of transit riders. 

While there was lots of attention given to where the province and/or the city would get the $300 million for cleanup and $200 million for the field house, what about the $1 billion for road work and upgrade to the Sunalta LRT Station. As it stands this could be an UGLY negotiation.

The cost to upgrade the Crowchild and Bow Trail interchange could easily be $500 million and take several years to design and build, it is on par with the Macleod and Glenmore Trail project. It will be ugly when and if the Crowchild, Bow Trail, 10th Avenue interchange gets redesigned.

In addition, 14th Street interchanges at 9th Avenue and Memorial Drive would have to be upgrades, as would Memorial Drive and Crowchild Trail and the enlargement of the Sunalta LRT Station.

The entire west end of Calgary City Center would be an UGLY, two billion-dollar nightmare for probably five years with roadwork, infrastructure work and construction of CalgaryNEXT.

Google Earth image showing the four major interchanges that would have to be upgraded and the Sunalta LRT station. The Bow River and the Canadian Pacific Railway main line also make this a very difficult site for access and egress. 

The Bold

While there are a lot of questions to be answered and terms to be negotiated, CSEC has put a BOLD idea on the table for debate.  If this debate results in Calgary getting a new arena, stadium, fieldhouse, environmental cleanup and a fix to the chaos on Crowchild Trail, it will be a win-win-win-win-win situation for Calgarians.

As with any BOLD mega project, it will require significant negotiations (think Ring Road, Cancer Centre and Green Line LRT), with give and take on all sides – government, owners, public, community associations and developers.  At least with CSEC’s BOLD announcement we no longer have to speculate on the site or the scope of the project. Let the negotiations begin!

Brilliant vs. Boondoggle

There is no perfect development for West Village, some have called it a brilliant idea, others a billionaires boondoggle. CalgaryNEXT deserves to be dissected and debated to determine if we can link vision with reality. We must roll up our sleeves, keep an open minded and work together to see if we can add another dimension to the vitality of our City Centre in a cost-effective manner.

Perhaps the best next step is to create a CalgaryNEXT steering committee with diverse representation and expertise to determine the feasibility of the idea of an arena, stadium and fieldhouse as the catalyst to transform West Village into something Calgarians will be proud of not only in 2023 (when phase 1 could open), but also in 2073 when it is 50 years old.

Last Word

Let's see if we can make CalgaryNEXT work, and if not - at least we tried.  Remember East Village had several unsuccessful redevelopment plans before the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation's plan commenced.

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Flamesville vs Stampede Park

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