Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park?

Let me see if I have this straight…most Calgarians would support the city getting involved in the construction of a new arena that will cost $500M (give or take a few million) as long as it doesn't increase their taxes! Sounds a bit crazy, but let’s keep an open mind. It would also seems that support is growing at the City for site in East Victoria Park just a block away from the Saddledome, but the neither the City or the Flames own - it belongs to the Calgary Stampede.  Sounds a bit crazy, but I am sure the Stampede would be willing co-operate if the terms were right.  But that isn't the only elephant in the room of the crazy new Calgary arena saga.  

Several Elephants In The Room

As the Calgary Stampede currently owns the land on which the proposed new arena is to be built, there has to be something in it for them.  They need City approval and funding for the expansion of the BMO centre. They have plans (feasibility, concept, costing and conceptual drawings done) and are ready to move on a mega expansion of the BMO Centre to the tune of $500M.  Plans include tearing down the 1950 Corral arena and expanding east to 4th St. SE. across the street from the proposed new arena site.  And they still have plans to convert Olympic Way into Stampede Trail with western-themed restaurants, bars, lounges and retail.  

It will be very interesting to see how negotiations with the Stampede play out.

Proposed Stampede Trail would create a year-round pedestrian street based on Stampede theme.

Proposed Stampede Trail would create a year-round pedestrian street based on Stampede theme.

Downtown Convention Center’s Future?

So, what happens to the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre if BMO Centre is expanded as part of their vision to create a world-class meeting and events destination in Victoria Park? Can Calgary operate two convention facilities?  The City has a contract with Marriott Hotel to operate a convention centre at the current location until 2030. 

What other uses could be made of the downtown convention space? Expand the Glenbow?  Create a new Art Museum? Something else? What would those costs be?

What happens to the Saddledome?

What other uses could be made of it? Current wisdom is that Calgary couldn’t support two major arenas (Edmonton is struggling with what to do with its Rexall Place now they have Rogers Place.) Current thinking is to tear it down, perhaps not until after Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid - if we do bid on and are awarded the Games.

The current plan is to literally move the arena one block north, which will locate it between the current Stampede LRT and the new 4th Street SE LRT station as part of the Green Line.

The current plan is to literally move the arena one block north, which will locate it between the current Stampede LRT and the new 4th Street SE LRT station as part of the Green Line.

No Rush?

Mayor Nenshi believes we don’t need to rush the planning process. While, the 2026 Olympics is 9 years away, a new arena, BMO Centre, LRT station etc. could easily take six to eight years to negotiate funding, design, get approvals and build.  There might not be much time as some think.

Link: Calgarians Support Olympic Bid

Profits & Losses?

What will be the funding model for the arena? Should the City invest any money in the arena, as most of the reasons for building a new arena are to increase revenues from NHL games to make the Calgary Flames more profitable?  How does the City benefit from the increased profits of a new arena and protect itself from any losses?

 Link: Forbes: Calgary Flames Value Breakdown

Windfall Benefits?

The value of an NHL team will increase with a new arena and long-term lease. For example, the value of the Edmonton Oilers increased from $225M US in 2013 to $445M US in 2016 when the new arena opened.  Today, the Flames’ worth is estimated at $425M US but with a new arena and long-term lease, the value would increase significantly - maybe not as high at the $700M US of the Vancouver Canucks but certainly north of $500M US.  Shouldn’t the City somehow benefit from this windfall?

Link: Oiler's Increase Value With New Arena

No Cash Cow?

The Rivers Community Revitalization Levy District that was created for East Village revitalization includes Victoria Park and Stampede Park.  So far the City has upfronted $375 M to be paid back from new tax revenues generated by future private sector projects on land in East Village. Back in 2007, the boundaries were extended to include The Bow office tower, which would pay sufficient taxes over 20 years to pay off the debt even it no other developments happened in East Village. Is there another private sector cash cow for the redevelopment of East Victoria Park and Stampede Park? 

Herd of Elephants? 

A few other elephants include, should the Calgary Transit’s Bus Barns stay or do they become a development site?  How do we deal with the huge Enmax substation and vacant land along the CPR lands that create a significant barrier to linking East Victoria Park to East Village and downtown, which is critical to the success of any convention and events district. 

Wonder What Bob Holmes Thinks? 

Holmes was Planning Commissioner, Chair of the Calgary Planning Commission and member of the Olympic Committee in the ‘80s and was heavily involved in negotiating the deal to get the Saddledome built.  He has put together many mega projects including Calgary TELUS Convention Centre/Hyatt Hotel/Calgary Parking Authority project, Alberta Children’s Hospital and South Health Campus.

Holmes thinks “The City should have taken a leadership role in the determining the need for and location of a new arena from the beginning.  There should never have been the “propose and oppose” conflict that was forced on the Flames.”  He adds, “The City is responsible for proactively planning all types of land uses, special districts and public assembly facilities, not just residential, commercial and industrial, as they contribute to our quality of life.”

Holmes is optimistic the new collaborative approach to planning for East Victoria Park will be successful in developing a comprehensive and practical master plan that benefits all Calgarians. He likes the move away from the “silo planning” of the past with the Stampede Board planning Stampede Park, CMLC planning East Village and City planners focusing on the City Centre.

He feels strongly, “the revitalization of East Victoria Park is more than just a new arena and expanded BMO Center. It is about developing a range of compatible land uses, public and private.” In his mind, “one of the most important planning objectives for East Victoria Park and Stampede Park must be must to create better linkages south to downtown and west along 10th, 11th 12th and 17th Avenues. We need a major mixed-use project overtop of the CPR tracks, like Hudson Yards in New York City to connect with East Village and downtown.”

Holmes wonders if perhaps Remington Development Corporation could be convinced to dust off their 10+ year old plans for a major redevelopment of their lands on both sides of the CPR tracks just north of the arena site.

Let’s hope Holmes is right and we have assembled the right team of professionals who can create wins for Calgarians, Flames, Stampede and Victoria Park. 

Link: It is what happen around stadiums and arena that make them successful

Let’s Not Fool Our Selves

The master planning of East Victoria Park (EVP) to accommodate a new arena and expanded BMO Center is just as costly, complex, risky and messy as the West Village site. The big advantage in EVP over West Village is all the stakeholders are ready for the challenge.

Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary thinks, “what is the most critical for everyday urban vitality of EVP is what get built around the arena and convention centre. You need a critical mass of residential, retail, restaurants and hotels, to create vibrant streets and public spaces, not just mega event centers.”

We must create a SHED (sports hospitality entertainment district) we can all be proud of not only when it is built, but as it evolves over the next 50 even 75 years.

Maybe a new $500+M arena just a block away from the current arena isn't a crazy idea, but is sure one that we need to think about carefully.  Creating sustained urban vitality in East Victoria Park and Stampede Park is more than just building a new arena. 

Maybe a new $500+M arena just a block away from the current arena isn't a crazy idea, but is sure one that we need to think about carefully.  Creating sustained urban vitality in East Victoria Park and Stampede Park is more than just building a new arena. 

Last Word

Moving the arena two blocks may or may not be a crazy idea! And in defense of Nenshi, we shouldn’t rush this process.  We need to take our time and make sure we get this RIGHT.  

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