Flames Arena Deal Back on Track (Again) for Now

After the original deal between the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) and the City of Calgary was signed in 2019, construction on a new $550 million event centre was scheduled to begin in August 2021 — just days from now. However, that plan was completely derailed in mid-April following major cost overruns and new facility requests from the CSEC.

Calgary Event Centre
Calgary Event Centre (Calgary City Council)

All forward momentum on the new downtown arena came to a grinding halt after projected costs ballooned to $620 million, $70 million more than the original budget. The CSEC also requested more land for the project, traffic changes and the removal of the city-run Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) as the construction project manager. The sudden influx of new roadblocks put the deal on hold, and the dreams of Flames fans hoping to watch NHL hockey in a new barn were suddenly in real jeopardy.

After Months of New Negotiations, the Project Is Moving Forward Again

After months of back and forth, Calgary city council has agreed to a new budget of $608.5 million, which is $58 million more than what was agreed upon in 2019. City council has also agreed to contribute an additional $12.5 million to the overall project budget, bringing the city’s portion of the new arena to $287 million, which is still in line with the original framework agreement.

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The 2019 deal had both sides splitting the costs evenly, but now the CSEC (which owns the Calgary Flames and other local sports teams) will now take on the role of development manager, will fund the additional $321 million and be on the hook for any cost overruns. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi dismissed concerns about the city-run CMLC being removed as project manager: “If the Flames are taking on the risk of cost overruns, they want the ability to appoint a project manager… I think that’s a very legitimate request.”

Nenshi went on to assure Calgarians that while the CSEC will oversee the construction, the city still has a big say in how this project will proceed.

“It really reduces the risk for Calgarians, but at the same, because the City is still the regulatory authority, we have to approve the permits and so on. We still have the ability to make sure this building is beautiful, that this building will meet the needs of Calgarians and will build the district of the neighbourhoods going forward.” 

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi

When Can We Expect Construction to Begin?

I actually won’t rest easy until there are shovels in the ground and this project has actually begun, but exactly when will that happen? First off, the agreements should be finalized within a matter of days and then work will begin on the development permit. That process should start up in August with more details coming at the Nov. 18 committee meeting. If they can get all of this administrative work out of the way this fall, we could see an official groundbreaking ceremony in December, with actual construction slated for January 2022.

As for what this building will actually look like, that’s anyone’s guess. There have already been two very different looking renderings released to the public, so I think we will simply have to wait until the development permit is released. However, officials are saying the seating capacity of the event centre will be around 18,300, which would be almost a thousand less than the deteriorating Scotiabank Saddledome, but close to the league average for the NHL. The ultimate goal is to have the new arena open in August 2024, which would have it ready for the Flames’ 2024-25 NHL season.

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