Calgary retains commercial real estate team to revive new arena

The City of Calgary has recruited three people from the commercial real-estate sector in an effort to get a new event centre to replace the aging Scotiabank Saddledome.

CBRE executive vice-president John Fisher, director of strategic initiatives with NAIOP Calgary Guy Huntingford and Ayrshire Group executive chairman Phil Swift have been retained to engage both the city and the and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) to reach a new deal.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the city's planning and development manager Stuart Dalgleish told committee members the group has already begun their work.

"We are at a stage where our third party is having discussions with both the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and the City of Calgary, with a view to determining whether there is interest in discussions toward a new event centre, and a new deal towards the new event centre," Dalgleish said.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek is optimistic the team will be able to break the impasse between the city and CSEC.

"Today's news is good news, and we need to be patient with what comes following this,” she said.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who chairs the event centre committee, says naming a third party to assist in negotiations is a big step to seeing a new arena rise from the ashes of the failed deal.

"I'm very satisfied. There's been a lot of work been put into this to get to where we are today," she said.  "Everybody wants an event centre built."

However, sports economist Moshe Lander says it might not be such a great deal for most Calgary taxpayers.

"The issue about who should pay for it is something that goes on in every city, more or less, anytime there's an arena or stadium discussion," he said.

"In almost every single case, the public sector blinks first and ends up throwing money at a project that's not going to recoup its costs."

"Really, it's just an issue at this point of how much money does the City of Calgary want to throw at this project, understanding that it's not going to get it back? How much does it want to sell to the taxpayers that this is what you're going to be on the hook for, even though the vast majority of residents in the city are not going to use that arena in any capacity?"

CTV reached out to CSEC on Wednesday to ask if the owners still had any interest in reviving the deal. There was no response by publishing deadline.

The original agreement was signed in December 2019. In it, the city and CSEC agreed to split the cost of the $550 million project. When the price tag jumped to over $630 million, the Flames ownership group balked and cancelled the deal. It officially expired New Year's Eve 2021.

Earlier this month, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with CSEC to discuss the arena, among other topics. At the time, he told reporters he remained hopeful a deal could be struck.

"I’m always optimistic," said Bettman. "There’s nothing going on right this second to report that would indicate there is going to be a solution immediately, but my hope is that everybody can figure this out."

Bettman also warned without a new arena or an updated Saddledome, Calgary would miss out on significant NHL events such as All-Star games.

The Saddledome is the second-oldest NHL arena behind only New York's Madison Square Garden.

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