Will a new event centre improve Calgary’s tourism, concerts?

Click to play video: 'Believers and skeptics weigh in on Calgary’s proposed event centre'
Believers and skeptics weigh in on Calgary’s proposed event centre
WATCH: Calgary’s business and arts community are chiming in on the proposed deal for a new event centre. Cami Kepke spoke to believers and skeptics. – Apr 26, 2023

Calgary’s business and tourism community is bullish on the new event centre deal announced on Tuesday.

But there are questions whether a new arena will bring in bigger concerts.

The $1.22 billion agreement in principle would go towards a replacement to the aging Saddledome, a community arena, area infrastructure development and public space improvements.

“The best way to describe this, this opportunity is holistically because it’s beyond just being an arena,” Calgary Chamber CEO Deborah Yedlin said.

Click to play video: 'Calgary, Flames ownership, province agree on $1.22B arena, area redevelopment deal'
Calgary, Flames ownership, province agree on $1.22B arena, area redevelopment deal

“It’s going to spur a lot of development because of the way the land parcels are being put together. It’ll spur development, it’ll add other amenities to the area. We’ll see hotels, restaurants and residential developments.

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“And that’s also really important for the BMO Centre because we know we don’t have enough hotel rooms as it is for the BMO Centre.”

The BMO Centre expansion on the nearby Stampede grounds is expected to be completed next year.

The combination of the bigger BMO Centre, an event centre, and hotels and restaurants that are expected to pop up in the area could bring other, larger events to the Rivers District.

“Having a new event centre also adds to the ability for us to go out and secure large meetings and conventions that will often use arenas and event centres as part of their programing,” Carson Ackroyd of Tourism Calgary said.

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s new event centre sparks mixed opinions as details remain unclear'
Calgary’s new event centre sparks mixed opinions as details remain unclear

On Tuesday, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) president and CEO John Bean said new facilities would add the city to the NHL’s rotation for the annual draft and all-star games.

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Ackroyd said a new arena would open the city up to higher profile concerts.

Click to play video: 'Timing of Calgary event centre deal comes with political implications'
Timing of Calgary event centre deal comes with political implications

“There’s no question that artists do pass on Calgary because of the set up of the current building,” he said.

Community advocacy group Project Calgary called the idea that a new arena would bring bigger acts to the city a myth.

“That’s an interesting myth that we’ve heard repeated over and over again,” Peter Oliver with Project Calgary said.

“A new event centre like we saw in Edmonton actually is only attracting roughly the same number of shows. In fact, the Saddledome is booked for more events in 2023 than the quote-unquote state-of-the-art Rogers Centre in Edmonton.”

Oliver said there are other factors at play, like the size of the market.

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“Where cities like Vancouver saw significantly more shows really because they’re four times the population (of Calgary), they’re closer to larger American centres and that just changes the economics of tours stopping in those cities.”

Tour promoter LiveNation has previously said the Saddledome’s roof prohibits modern concern setups.

The only indication of a timeline on the event centre — still just a memorandum of understanding — is three tranches of annual funding from the province for area infrastructure.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Saddledome replacement: Mayor announces deal reached to proceed with new arena'
Calgary Saddledome replacement: Mayor announces deal reached to proceed with new arena

The city is on the hook for 44 per cent of the total amount, but Sharp said the city’s $537.3 million contribution would come from the city’s commitment to the previous deal annulled by Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation at the end of 2021 — $295 million — and the balance coming from the city’s Fiscal Sustainability Reserve, also known as their ‘rainy day fund.’ She was quick to note this won’t impact city taxpayers on their municipal bill.

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The province is putting in $300 million for infrastructure and $30 million for the community arena.

And CSEC has committed $356 million over a 35-year term.

Part of the deal includes options for CSEC on four potential commercial development parcels and the right to first offer to develop the Calgary Transit Victoria Park garage lands. That maintenance garage was slated for closure as part of the Green Line LRT construction.

Yedlin said the parcels of land surrounding the proposed event centre, which largely sit as surface parking lots currently, are a “blank canvas” that is “ripe for development.”

“You’re activating a parcel of land 365 days a year, not just for Stampede or for a hockey game or for a concert,” she said. “It’s a place to go to all year round, which means businesses have certainty to operate all year round.”

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who also chairs the city’s event centre committee, said the vision of the new deal is more than just an NHL arena and more space for conferences.

“The indoor outdoor plaza, the community rink, the fact that you can just come down there, enjoy the space without a ticket, without having to purchase an event ticket – that’s the intention here. It was the vision,” Sharp said.

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The event centre and immediate amenities that include indoor and outdoor plazas and a community rink would sit on a 10 acre parcel.

“You can’t have such a large parcel of land not active 365 days a year, and you can’t be relying on parking revenue,” Yedlin said.

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