The announcement was made at a city council event centre committee meeting Wednesday morning after a lengthy closed-door session. It comes after a deal between the city and CSEC for a new arena to replace the ageing Saddledome ended in January this year after concerns were raised over rising costs.
The original deal signed between the City of Calgary and CSEC saw the project’s total cost of $550 million split 50/50, but it was revealed costs had ballooned to $634 million in late 2021.
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The city said it will be represented by CAA ICON, a management consulting firm focused on sports venues, throughout the negotiations. CAA ICON also had a role to play in various other event centre projects, such as Rogers Place in Edmonton and the Calgary Convention Centre.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who also chairs the city’s event centre committee, said the hiring of CAA ICON is the difference between the upcoming discussions and the previous talks with CSEC.
“This is what they do,” Sharp told reporters. “They’re subject matter experts in this field and the City of Calgary went through the process to make sure that we have the right people in place for this next phase.”
CAA ICON will report to the event centre committee, which will, in turn, bring matters to city council as a whole for any major decisions, Sharp said.
According to the city, all discussions in these formal talks with CSEC moving forward are expected to remain confidential.
Once committee completed the vote to kickstart discussions with CSEC, committee members shared their thoughts on the signal progress on the project sends to Calgarians.
“This is all about the economic future of Calgary and how we continue to grow as a city,” said Deborah Yedlin, president and chief executive officer of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Yedlin is also a member of the event centre committee..
“This is a sign that we are investing for the future, we have a vision for the future and we are not afraid to invest in the future.”
“I see this as fundamental to who we are as a city and where we are going… It’s critical for Calgary’s economic future.”
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said he is excited to be a part of this work, noting that the event centre has dominated the city’s conversations for several years.
“This opportunity is immense. It was clear to us for years that Calgarians demanded a deal that represented the collective culture of the city as well as something that is responsible for the collective future of our city: socially, economically and environmentally,” Walcott said at the committee meeting.
The committee was created back in January and was tasked with finding a third party to gauge CSEC’s interest to come back to the drawing board, along with seeking other parties who may want to be involved with the project.
“The committee and council had asked for patience as we built a relationship and figured out whether this was something that we could revisit, and it turns out that we can,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said. “It’s a great news day for Calgary.”
The third party selected was trio of Calgary businessmen who helped mediate a return to the negotiation table with CSEC: CBRE executive vice president John Fisher, NAIOP Calgary director of strategic initiatives Guy Huntingford and Ayrshire Group executive chairman Phil Swift.
“We appreciate the efforts of Guy, John and Phil,” CSEC president and CEO John Bean said in a statement. “All parties share a collective desire to see a new event centre constructed in Calgary. We look forward to discussions with the city to see if we can find an acceptable path forward.”
There isn’t a set timeline in place for both sides to reach a formal agreement, but Sharp told reporters CAA ICON would be “running the show” and will be in charge of setting those timelines.
City officials said time is of the essence to sign a deal but added both sides will “take the time necessary to reach an agreement that will meet the city and CSEC’s needs.”
Sharp described the restarted talks as “a fresh start,” in which location, design and other project components will be on the table.
It comes as the previous deal saw much of the behind-the-scenes work — including assessments, engineering and design — completed on a location north of the Saddledome; the City of Calgary took on $16.8 million in costs related to the closing of the previous deal.
However, Sharp said the focus for the city is to build a new arena “in the downtown.”
When asked about what a new event centre could cost city taxpayers, Sharp said it was still too early and those details will emerge in in continued talks with CSEC.
Calgary Economic Development president Brad Parry said the formal negotiations are a good first step and sends a signal to the world that Calgary is ready for growth.
“I think it’s exciting day to suggest that we now have everybody back on the table and have those conversations,” Perry said at Calgary Economic Development’s 2023 economic outlook on Wednesday.
“What kind of signal does that send to the larger world? I think it sends a signal that we’re a community that’s ready for growth and that we’re already setting ourselves up for success in the long term.”
For Flames fans, like Noah Adler, the hope is “third time’s the charm” for an agreement to be reignited to build a new home for the Calgary Flames.
“I was confident they were going to start digging the ground last December and look what happened with that,” Adler said. “I have a level of cautious optimism this time around.”
The back and forth over a future event centre in recent years has grown frustrating for Concordia University sports economist Moshe Lander.
“I think that 10 months ago, we were this close to having shovels in the ground. And what they announced today is that they’re ready to start negotiations,” Lander said. “This is a major step backward from where we were.”
Lander added that the rising costs due to inflationary pressures could also impact the future of a new event centre.
“That third party really needs to bring those two heads together, knock them around, and get this done and get those shovels in the ground quickly before this really turns into a billion-dollar arena deal because they waited so long.”