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‘It’s for everyone’: Calgary Flames announce new arena, sports complex

ABOVE WATCH: After months of speculation the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation has announced plans for a new arena and field house. Global’s Gary Bobrovitz has the details.

CALGARY – The president of the Calgary Flames unveiled plans for a new sports complex, including an arena, sports field house and football stadium in Calgary’s West Village on Tuesday afternoon. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says there are “very significant funding challenges” with the project, and that public money must be for “public benefit and not private profit.”

The “transformative project” has the working title of CalgaryNEXT. The plan calls for a 20,000-seat arena that would replace the Scotiabank Saddledome where the NHL Flames currently play. It also includes a 30,000-seat indoor football stadium for the CFL Stampeders that would also serve as a fieldhouse.

The facilities would be built on the western edge of Calgary’s downtown along the Bow River, where the city’s Greyhound bus depot and some car dealerships now sit. The land would have to be decontaminated as it was the site of a creosote wood-treatment plant until the 1960s.

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It’s expected planning and decontamination would take up to two years, with another three years of construction after that.

WATCH: Global’s Lisa MacGregor takes a look at what impact a new arena and field house will have on the amateur sports scene in Calgary.

King said the arena, called an event centre in his presentation, has a “unique design not seen anywhere in the world” but would include a conventional upper and lower bowl.

The Calgary Hitmen and Calgary Roughnecks will call the facility home, as well. King emphasized amateur athletes will also benefit.

“The operative word here is ‘public,’” said King at an afternoon press conference. “It’s a 365 day a year facility; it’s for amateur athletes, high performance athletes … it’s for everyone.

“It’s not for the elites…it’s for all citizens in our city. When a kid plays soccer during the day, at night it transforms to a CFL stadium.”

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WATCH: Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation released this video to announce CalgaryNEXT.

When asked if it would have an “iconic design” like the Saddledome, King said the new centre wouldn’t be a “clone.”

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“We probably are not going to build the son or daughter of the Saddledome,” he said. “The roof of the stadium field house, we would like to look at it being translucent. We went to Minnesota – the Nordic ship they’ve built for the Minnesota Vikings….[is] half membrane roof that you can see sky, sun, clouds. It’s a ‘want to,’ not a ‘need to’ or ‘have to.’

“It will be fun to unveil the design in due course.”

The proposed budget stands at $890 million if all components of the sports complex are built at the same time (see graphic below). King said at an information session the project could cost up to $1.2 billion if the facilities were built individually; CalgaryNEXT officials said there was no intention of building separately.

“The funding model includes a public/private partnership reliant on significant owner equity in combination with appropriate public funding mechanisms,” said the CalgaryNEXT website, referring to the below graphics. Cost was estimated assuming development would start in 2017. CalgaryNEXT organizers said the project will not raise property taxes.

The plan calls for the project to be funded through a $250-million ticket tax, a $240-million community levy, $200 million from team ownership and $200 million from city taxpayers for the fieldhouse.

The “ticket tax” listed in the below graphic is a user fee applicable to anyone buying tickets to events at the facility. The CalgaryNEXT website said “ticket prices may increase.”

King said his group didn’t have a Plan B if the Calgary project doesn’t receive approval.

CalgaryNEXT

WATCH: Ken King breaks down the financial details of CalgaryNEXT

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In a statement, Mayor Nenshi listed the following as challenges that must be addressed:

• The proposal has not been part of the City’s comprehensive capital planning process, and does not form part of the plan, under which the City’s capital funds are fully allocated through 2018.
• The proposal includes incorporating the City’s proposed (and much-needed) fieldhouse into the facility. However, that project, while a very high priority for the City, remains unfunded.
• The funding proposal includes a $250 million “ticket tax”, but it is unclear if the City will be asked to provide the upfront financing for this.
• The proposed site requires significant expenditures to remediate the environmental contamination there. That remediation is also unfunded.
• In addition, the proposal requires the contribution of land, a community revitalization levy and significant investments in infrastructure to make the West Village a complete and vibrant community.

CalgaryNEXT

“There are very significant requirements for public funding beyond the fieldhouse funding, and there is currently no money,” said Mayor Nenshi in a statement. “I have said for a long time—and continue to strongly believe—that public money must be for public benefit and not private profit. The question for council, the ownership group, and all Calgarians is whether this proposal meets that test.”

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WATCH: There is no shortage of reaction to the proposed Calgary event centre, and field house that will be home to both the Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders. Jenna Freeman looks at what people are saying.

The City of Edmonton spent years debating a similar deal with Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz.

Construction began on the $600-million city-owned facility last year with $200 million coming from a community revitalization levy and $80 million from the city. Katz is to chip in $150 million in leasing fees and cash and another $125 million is to come from a ticket tax.

An FAQ section on the CalgaryNEXT website said the West Village was chosen as the location because of its proximity to downtown and access to transit. The FAQ said a West Village location has “more and better points of access” than the Saddledome. The site claims such a project would have “a positive influence on neighbouring communities’ real estate values.”

West Village land is owned by the City of Calgary, which would also own the CalgaryNEXT facility. Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) would be responsible for operations and maintenance.

Talk of a replacement for the aging Saddledome, which opened in 1983, had been circulating for years. CalgaryNEXT officials said renovating the Dome had been seriously considered, but there was “no economically feasible renovation program that would provide a new era facility to meet Calgary’s growing needs over the next several decades.” It said the future repurposing of the Saddledome is “under review” and that the University of Calgary’s McMahon Stadium would likely be removed.

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The arena is one of the oldest in the National Hockey League. Even Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this year he believed it was outdated and needed to be replaced.

“The Calgary Flames are an exemplary member of the National Hockey League and the NHL is excited to learn that Calgary is taking the next step toward the introduction of a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose facility for its community and professional sports teams,” Bettman said in a release Tuesday.

“While this is an extremely important initiative for the team, it is even more important for Calgary’s fans and the community.”

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Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Monday she is keeping an “open mind” when it comes to contributing provincial funds toward the construction of a new hockey arena in Calgary.

“I’m going to keep an open mind and look at what proposals come forward and we’ll go from there.”

CalgaryNEXT sign
The CalgaryNEXT sign outside the Archie Boyce Theatre Aug. 18, 2015. David Boushy / Global News

With files from Melissa Ramsay and the Canadian Press

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