Less than a week after the City of Calgary and the Calgary Flames ownership group announced a “fresh start” towards a new event centre, Alberta’s new premier is weighing in on the project.
“Simply stated, Calgary needs a new world class event centre and arena, and the time to commence with this project is now,” Danielle Smith wrote in a letter to Calgary’s mayor, the chair of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. (CSEC) and the chair of the city’s event centre committee.
Smith also named Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver to be the provincial representative for the project.
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McIver was most recently the minister of municipal affairs before Smith named a new cabinet on Friday. He’s also served as a minister of transportation, minister of infrastructure and a Calgary city councillor.
“I’ve asked him to reach out to both the city and CSEC to request feedback on how the province can be helpful in this regard,” Smith wrote in a letter she published on social media.
“I would like to identify potential ways that our government can assist the city and CSEC in achieving a successful outcome for this initiative.”
Tuesday afternoon, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters the letter came as a surprise to her, noting she and Ward 2 Coun. Sonya Sharp – who chairs the city’s event centre committee – had not yet had an opportunity to discuss the letter with each other. But Gondek called the show of interest from the province “good news.”
“Right now there’s no money on the table, but I would assume there would have to be, otherwise I don’t know why we would have a liaison with the province,” Gondek told reporters.
“Any time we have more partners interested in helping us upgrade our infrastructure and bring a world-class facility to our city, (we are) happy to have those conversations.”
The premier’s office said there have been no discussions around funding yet.
McIver said it was “premature” to answer whether the province’s offer includes dollars toward a new arena.
“My job is to listen and to determine what assistance to Calgary Sports and Entertainment, and the City of Calgary would be appropriate,” he said. “We’re here to help. We’re not here to Bigfoot in.”
“We don’t have a — quote — seat at the table. I won’t be part of the committee. I’ll be a liaison.”
McIver said there could be an opportunity for the province to assist with the project via legislation or regulation, but didn’t speculate on what could be used for Calgary’s event centre.
Sharp said she was looking forward to talking about the file with McIver in light of the work the city has already done.
“We don’t want to slow anything down, but we did hire a third party — CAA ICON — that’s really taken the lead,” Sharp said. “Time is of the essence for this project, so we definitely don’t want to throw in more red tape or barriers in this process moving forward.”
On Wednesday, the city announced their trio of local third-party negotiators were successful in broaching new negotiations with the Flames owners and had contracted CAA ICON as the city’s representatives in the talks.
Sharp declined to comment on whether CAA ICON and CSEC had sat down together yet.
CSEC and the city have been working to replace the 39-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome since 2015.
The previous deal for a $608.5-million event centre to be located just north of Saddledome expired just before the end of 2021, when CSEC informed Gondek they were unable to move forward because of concerns of escalating costs.
Gondek said her office and city officials had been working with the Flames group to mitigate additional costs, including climate mitigation, and road and sidewalk work.
The original deal signed by the city and CSEC had the project pegged at $555 million, with costs evenly split between the parties and a $25-million contingency that would also be shared 50/50. Any additional costs would be borne by the Flames owners.
Construction was slated for early 2022.
In 2015, the failed CalgaryNext project was proposed for the city’s West Village, but cost estimates ballooned to $1.8 billion with up to $1.3 billion in public investment.
While a radio talk show host with Corus Radio, Smith argued in favour of the multisport complex. Corus Entertainment is the owner of Global News.
In 2017, Calgary city council voted for an alternate plan: an event centre in Victoria Park.
The Saddledome’s construction concluded in 1983 and became an iconic host of ice hockey and figure skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics. It’s the second-oldest arena in the NHL behind New York’s Madison Square Garden.
–with files from The Canadian Press