Development permit granted for Calgary arena project after lengthy debate

A rendering of Calgary's Events Centre from the southwest corner of the building. Courtesy: City of Calgary

Following hours of debate late into Thursday night, the Calgary Planning Commission gave the green light to begin construction on the new event centre.

The commission voted unanimously in favour of granting a development permit for the $608-million project in Victoria Park.

After reviewing the development permit application for the event centre, city administration recommended the commission allow work to move ahead on a new arena for the Calgary Flames to play in.

“The proposed development aligns with the applicable goals and policies of the Municipal Development Plan and the Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan,” the city report said.

But there are more than 70 conditions that need to be satisfied before the development permit is released to architecture and planning firm Dialog and its partner on the project, HOK.

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Exterior design elements, installation locations for solar power panels, pedestrian lighting and Indigenous elements were among the planning conditions. Others included engineering, transportation and landscaping concerns.

Another condition, added late Thursday by the commission, asks the developer to add proper infrastructure like lighting, power hookups and drainage to allow for a variety of outdoor events to take place in the area.

“If this was just an arena, you could have put this down in the Foothills Industrial Park at cheaper land costs than what this is,” said Ward 7 city councillor Terry Wong.

“This is not an arena. This is an event centre — a community gathering place… This is going to be a building that has 365 days (per year) activation. Whether it’s inside or outside the building, people are going to want to be there.”

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The planning commission also considered written letters from the local community and business improvement areas about the design and public space.

City planners said because of the space and budget limitations, they pushed to make the building and surrounding spaces as public-friendly as possible.

“These types of facilities usually require a lot of back-of-house space,” said David Down, the city’s chief urban planner.

“So we pushed them hard to activate as much of the street front as possible to meet the Rivers District Master Plan requirement of creating a very animated and active street front, particularly along 4 Street — festival street — and opening it out as much as possible.”

The building is expected to seat 18,377 spectators for hockey games and up to 20,203 people for concerts and other performances.

The arena is set to be carbon neutral by 2035 and achieve LEED Silver or better performance. It’s also due to have rooftop solar to cover 6.5 per cent of its electricity needs, a stormwater irrigation system, EV parking stalls and to prioritize car-free access.

Limestone and metal panels will be used on the exterior of the building, which will also include a large projector screen that will wrap around the building.

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Although a projector system has not yet been selected, the project team said it would have the capability to project video and not just still images.

Renderings of the building included in the application package show a plaza on the southwest corner of the building and a parkade on the southeast side, with spaces for commercial businesses and restaurants along the north and west sides of the arena.

According to the city, the vision for the event centre is for it to become a catalyst for development of the proposed Cultural, Entertainment and Education District.

While there is support for the project, there is some pushback to the development from some community groups that are concerned the plan to attract people to the area isn’t being met in its current design.

Both the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association and the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area wrote letters encouraging more “public activation” for people in the area when there isn’t a hockey game or concert inside the building.

“The promised activation of the cultural and entertainment district that this is supposed to be an anchor of, is really underwhelming and unconvincing,” said Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president Peter Oliver.

Oliver said his group has proposed a food market with local vendors and other initiatives to help attract people to the neighbourhood year-round.

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The project team told the commission that the building’s operator, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., wants to hold more than 170 events inside and outside the building year-round — and not just hockey games.

“You should be able to go down there, not spend a dime or set foot in the building, and still have a really high-quality experience,” said David Low with the Victoria Park BIA. “That is the overarching (goal) for the amount of public money going in that we feel should be present.”

Low added that he believes if the project is “done right,” then it would help create one of the best entertainment districts in North America.

“And I say that with a straight face,” he said.

Representatives with Dialog told the commission that connectivity with the street front area is included in the design with outdoor spaces incorporated into the future sites of restaurants and businesses.

In terms of how the building looks, the architecture team said it was tasked with designing a building that fits into the neighbourhood and buildings that will eventually be built around it.

“We very deliberately, from the outset, chose to not design an object building and to create a context building,” Dialog senior architect Doug Cinnamon said.

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“Each street is different in character.”

Construction on the event centre is set to begin in early 2022, with a goal of opening its doors in 2024.

The project is still subject to an appeal.

The development permit application for the Saddledome’s replacement came after a revised deal was agreed upon in July between the City of Calgary and CSEC that would cap the city’s contribution to the arena at $287.5 million, with Flames ownership taking on any potential cost overruns.

The revised agreement also saw the Calgary Municipal Land Corp. removed as project manager to allow CSEC to hire another firm.

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