The Calgary Flames have what they want: movement on an arena deal. It’s just not the deal they originally proposed and now it puts part of the sports corporation’s business in a bind.
Calgary City Council voted Monday in support of ‘Plan B,’ an arena site in Victoria Park that is now being used as a parking lot for Saddledome and Stampede customers west of 5th Street between 12th and 14th Avenues Southeast.
What Plan B doesn’t include is a ‘Fieldhouse,’ the code word for a football stadium that the Stampeders desperately need.
Having the distinction of operating out of the oldest buildings in both the NHL and CFL, the Calgary Flames Entertainment (CSEC) is trying to catch up and get an entertainment facility built for three of its four teams (Flames, Hitmen and Roughnecks).
It’s been nearly two years since they proposed CalgaryNext, an ambitious riverfront project that would include homes for all their sports teams. Council, especially mayor Naheed Nenshi, never seemed too keen on the CalgaryNext plan, which started with an $890-million proposal for a massive land redevelopment.
The city replied that it could cost twice as much to revitalize that land, in the West Village, and balked at the proposal.
The long back and forth between the city and CSEC got a bit heated last month when Nenshi said CalgaryNext was dead, which prompted Flames boss Ken King to say it was just ‘sleeping.’ King then made the bold statement that if CSEC didn’t get a deal it liked, they wouldn’t threaten to move the team, they would just move. (Let’s recognize that non-threat as a threat, shall we.)
King clarified his statement, which was made on a Toronto-based national radio show and for some reason took a while to register in Calgary, but it was clear that city council was moving in the direction towards Plan B regardless of how the Flames felt about it.
For many reasons, the Victoria Park site is much more attractive when it comes to just an entertainment facility. There is existing transit in place, it’s right next door to the current arena and it won’t need a major land redevelopment.
It solves a problem even bigger than just a bigger revenue generator for the NHL club.
Calgary has tired of becoming a second-class city when it comes to entertainment as the majority of the major concert announcements in Alberta are for Edmonton, and that was even before Rogers Place opened last fall. The Saddledome can’t host the elaborate stage shows most major artists use, so Calgary often gets skipped on big tours, despite having a big fan base here. It leaves most of them heading north to see these shows, spending their money in the capital instead of at home.
Of course, when the Oilers unveiled their fancy new digs, it was easy to see CSEC get jealous, just as they will be green with envy once the Saskatchewan Roughriders kick off their new Mosaic Stadium this summer.
Getting Plan B off the ground only solves half the problem for CSEC, which is why King refuses to let the CalgaryNext proposal die. It was voted on Monday in council to completely cease any further consideration for CalgaryNext, but that failed by a 12-3 count. That’s a win for King at least, as he wants to carry that plan in his back pocket.
It’s clear Calgarians support a new arena project, but as always they are reluctant to pay for it. CalgaryNext came with too high a price tag for taxpayers to stomach — with around $200 million coming from the city — and the reaction from council was appropriate.
But if CSEC moves ahead on the Victoria Park plan, at some point soon they will be going back, hat in hand, to try and get something in the works to replace McMahon Stadium, which is the one of the most rundown of all CFL facilities because of all the new buildings in Hamilton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Regina, and with the refurbishment of B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.
Would a new CFL stadium cost less than $200 million in a different site? Where would it go? And would CSEC want to pay for some or all of that cost?
Those questions will be left unanswered for a while as long as Plan B is moving forward. King won’t have any leverage to scare the public if he gets the arena built and still needs a football stadium. There’s no chance a threat to move would work for a CFL team in one of the biggest markets in the country.
As for right now, it looks like there will be a long road ahead for the Stampeders to get a new facility. It seems we are just beginning down another long path.
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