Flames fans hopeful deep playoff run could reignite plans for new arena

The Calgary Flames kicked off their quest for the Stanley Cup on a winning note on Tuesday, but the roaring hype of playoff hockey is now renewing even louder calls for a new event centre.

The 39-year-old Saddledome is the oldest arena in the National Hockey League after New York’s Madison Square Garden and league commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t mince words Tuesday when speaking about the ageing infrastructure.

"If we’re going to hold any league events here, there needs to be a new building," said Bettman who attended the Flames versus Dallas Stars game at the Saddledome.

"Obviously, this building is a little past its prime, to say the least. The Flames, the City of Calgary, the people who live here – whether it's concerts or shows or for hockey games – there needs to be a new arena, and I remain hopeful that will become a reality."

However, that reality is still to be determined as Flames fans hope a playoff run will accelerate talks for a new arena.

Long-time Flames supporter and host of the Shot Down in Flames podcast Noah Adler says a deep run could fuel that fire.

"The city needs to put money into this because the arena could bring in more revenue to the city and it’s not just for hockey, it’s for big-name concerts and other big events," he said.

Other fans, like Alesia Emment, also say an upgrade to the Saddledome could create a new sense of city pride.

"It’s kind of an ugly building," she said laughing.

"I think a new arena would make the city more beautiful and people would want to go to that area. I think the closest attraction is 17th Avenue, and if you don't want to drink or eat, there's really not much to do." 

 'WE ARE OPTIMISTIC': EVENT CENTRE COMMITTEE CHAIR

The City of Calgary is still far from breaking ground on a new arena, but chair of the city’s event centre committee Sonya Sharp says it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the building will be constructed.

"I would say it's very encouraging to hear that the NHL is also interested in seeing an event centre built in Calgary," Sharp said.

"We have a number of concerts that were never able to come to Calgary because we couldn't make it work, and it’s just the vibrancy of this area – you've got the stampede, you've got the BMO expansion, and now hopefully an event center – and then you move from there."

Sharp says her main goal is to be as transparent as possible with Calgarians about what next steps are being taken regarding negotiations for an event centre.

"We do need to have a sense of confidential agreement with our partners. The other thing of transparency, is being able to tell the public where we are with this project, that's important. So, we'll be able to balance that out again."

Sharp says the event centre committee will meet next on May 25. If Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) does not wish to move forward in partnering for a new arena, the city will explore other partners. 

A previous agreement to build a new event centre between the city and CSEC signed in December 2019 broke down in late 2021. It was originally agreed the $550 million project cost would be split, but that increased to $634 million before the deal expired on New Year's Eve.

Moshe Lander with the department of economics at Concordia University says it now comes down to how much funding the City of Calgary and its taxpayers are willing to put forward. 

He notes that Calgary is missing out on certain concerts and events to Edmonton, but says that won’t result in major economic losses.

"The public benefit is small to almost non-existent," Lander said.

"That’s it. You put in public funds, and you’re doing it as a civic pride exercise and so if Calgary taxpayers want to put their money into helping the Flames, awesome, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if anybody comes and tells you that this is going to provide economic benefits to the city, that’s absolutely not supported."

Lander says an arena is an ‘accelerator’ rather than a catalyst to generating a world-class entertainment district.

"So the fact is, that there's development in the East Village that's been going on for years now, that's going to be the type of thing that creates sustainable growth in that part of town."

Executive Director of the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area David Low agrees that development in the East Village and Victoria Park neighbourhoods is essential to driving economic growth in combination with a new event centre.

"I think that’s the elephant in the room: what’s the return on our investment and how can we leverage an investment into an event centre?” Low said.

“I" we look at municipalities throughout North America, they have really strong entertainment and experience offerings, not just arts and culture, but experiences. Those cities are doing extraordinarily well right now. I think if we can get smarter about that, and kind of expand the scope beyond just hockey, lacrosse and concerts then this could have a cumulative impact."

NHL Commissioner Bettman is meeting with Flames ownership Wednesday. CTV News has reached out to the Calgary Flames and Mayor Jyoti Gondek for comment but has not heard back.