Calgary Flames arena deal off the table…again

Feb 17, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; General view of the ice surface prior to the game between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Smack in the middle of an already disastrous season, it appears the desperately needed entertainment centre project has stalled.

It looks like the kids are fighting again.

In an announcement posted early Wednesday morning, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) declared that they would be walking away from the project that would have seen the Calgary Flames in a new 18,000 seat arena.  The team will, instead, continue to play in the aged Scotiabank Saddledome.

In advance of CSEC’s announcement, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek addressed the media late Tuesday to talk about the withdrawal and put forward the City of Calgary’s side of things.

The issue, according to Gondek, is related to 2 costs introduced by the City and not considered in the original project agreement between the City and CSEC.  A combined $16 million would need be put forward to address issues related to climate mitigation and sidewalk right-of-way issues.  Gondek claims the City was prepared to cover around $9 million of that, but that CSEC was unwilling to pay the balance.

CSEC, on the other hand, estimates these costs are closer to a combined $19 million.  But also cited steadily escalating costs ($634 million, up from $608.5 million) and increased risks of future costs stemming from COVID-related supply chain issues as reasons for their decision.

If this all feels a little familiar, it’s because we’ve definitely been down this road before. The late Ken King, then President of CSEC, reportedly pulled out of project negotiations in 2017 over a disagreement on the funding model at the time.

CALGARY, CANADA – FEBRUARY 26: An aerial view of the Calgary Tower and the Scotiabank Saddledome the home of the NHLâs Calgary Flames and partial view of the skyline as seen from above on February 26, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

It is difficult, then, to look at this with little more than an eye roll. Neither party is going to abandon a project with such an obvious return on investment. One needs only look up the highway at Edmonton and the Rogers Place/ICE District project. In 2019, it was reported that, 6 years after completion of the project, about $2 billion in new development projects were already approved. And the Oilers have one of the most enviable buildings in the NHL.

CSEC’s decision to remain in the Saddledome is a fairly clear indication that they are still willing to talk. Nobody seems ready to make threats like relocating the Calgary Flames. Add to that the Mayor’s stated willingness to remain in contact, and what likely remains is a temporary situation.

Still, I don’t think it matters what side you’re on here.  I am all for a new building, and am supportive of a model where CSEC splits the cost with the City.  On the other hand, I completely understand the argument of the non-sports fan who doesn’t want their tax money going toward any portion of something so frivolous as a sports arena.  Either way, I think we can all agree that the seemingly constant butting of heads between the Calgary Flames and the City is getting exhausting.

So, on behalf of fans and citizens alike, can we please play nice?