Hopes that Calgary’s nearly 34-year-old saddle-shaped arena could be replaced have been reignited more than a year and a half after the Calgary Flames’ ownership group unveiled plans for its ambitious $890-million megaproject dubbed CalgaryNEXT.
In recent months, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., city hall administration and the city’s land developer have met more than 25 times to discuss an alternative to the hypothetical CalgaryNEXT project that’s faced hurdles since renderings and details were made public in August 2015.
The substitute plan for an arena in Victoria Park, on a two-block site south of 12th Avenue S.E. between Olympic Way and 5th Street S.E. on land currently occupied by parking lots and roadways, “appears feasible to all involved parties,” according to a report scheduled to go before city council on Monday.
The five-page report released late Friday is light on details but offers Calgarians a first glimpse at the “Plan B” officials have been considering since April 2016, when a city report concluded the CalgaryNEXT pitch slated for creosote-contaminated land in the West Village could cost $1.8 billion and was not feasible.
“We know CalgaryNEXT can’t work, so let’s focus on something that has potential,” said Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell on Friday.
The “Victoria Park option report,” which council will debate next week, is meant to inform the public and council on the work to date and serve as a starting point for public discussions about Plan B.
The report doesn’t include renderings, or information about cost or funding, and city administration refused to answer questions about the report ahead of Monday’s meeting.
“We need to figure out whether this location works for people,” said Evan Woolley, councillor for the site’s ward.
“There are thousands and thousands of people that are impacted by what a potential (Victoria Park) arena site might look like, never mind that all Calgarians need to be engaged.”
Woolley said moving forward with the examination of a Victoria Park arena doesn’t mean CalgaryNEXT is dead, but other councillors said there’s no use keeping the West Village proposal on the table.
“As part of moving forward with looking at Victoria Park for an arena, we need to also very clearly say that CalgaryNEXT is dead,” said Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pincott. “We don’t need to compare the two.”
While Ken King, the CEO of the group behind CalgaryNEXT, has told Postmedia the project is simply on pause while Plan B is considered, Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters last month that CalgaryNEXT, in the West Village, was dead.
“Once you go through the numbers — and the Flames have looked at the same numbers — it’s pretty clear that the mayor wasn’t being ridiculous when he used the dead word,” Ward 8 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said Friday.
The city report on the Victoria Park option states an NHL-level arena, to-be-determined ancillary services and plaza space could fit on the 2.9-hectare site near Stampede Park and would be consistent with both local plans and council’s recent approval of a new downtown culture and entertainment district.
This east downtown area is envisioned as a centre for theatre, dance, music, sports, dining, shopping, tourism and housing, and it’s seen significant investment in recent years, including the National Music Centre, under-construction New Central Library and development of East Village.
An arena on the site would be located within the existing Rivers Community Revitalization Levy District, known as a CRL, which is forecast to tally $150 million more in revenue over the next decade.
“It makes much more sense,” Farrell said of the Victoria Park option. “The infrastructure is already there, with the addition of the Green Line, we’ll have the best transit access in the city. It has better potential for a CRL.”
The city report states the proposed arena would be situated on land owned by the Stampede, and the Stampede is amenable to swapping its land for the city-owned land where the Saddledome currently sits.
Unlike CalgaryNEXT, which included an arena, multi-sport field house and football stadium, the Victoria Park option is only for an arena, and the city report makes no mention of a substitute field house plan.
“We have this long overdue need for our first field house,” said Sport Calgary CEO Murray Sigler on Friday.
“We’ll be continuing to press for that dimension of the plan to be updated in the context of Plan B.”