It is no secret that the Calgary Flames’ current arena deal is dead in the water. Whether that was on the city, CSEC, the building process, or just fate, at the end of the day if the Flames want a new arena, they and the city will be going back to the drawing board to develop the framework for one.
This also means that neither side is beholden to building the new arena on the Stampede Grounds, and allows for the opportunity to look beyond that one location to see where else in the city the arena could be built. Let’s take a look at areas that may be in contention.
The original location for the new arena, the Stampede Grounds seems like an ideal location. It is already the spot people associate with the Flames, it’s transit accessible, and the infrastructure for parking, food, bars, and not to mention the Red Mile are all already in place.
However, being right downtown has major drawbacks. Parking in downtown continues to be both pricey and difficult, with many fighting for the limited street parking. It also continues to get more difficult as gravel lots that were once lots are turned into highrise buildings, making parking near the arena difficult.
On top of that, traffic in and out of the city after a game is a disaster as everyone struggles to get out of downtown at the same time on the same two access roads off of 12th avenue. This causes major congestion late in the evening.
But the Dome location at the Stampede also allows for more utility value for concerts connected to Stampede. It also just makes the most sense to have the arena in the downtown core of the city, especially compared to teams like Ottawa and Florida who force fans to drive to Kanata and Sunrise respectively to catch a game. It makes a difference.
The compromise location to not the Stampede but still in downtown would be in Sunalta, specifically the old Greyhound Station building and adjacent dealerships lands. This was once the site of an old wood preserving site and has been contaminated by creosote since the 1960s with little impetus to clean up the area. As a result, the land right adjacent to downtown has sat underutilized for decades with little political will to clean it up.
Building an arena on this land would be a huge motivator to finally remediate this area, but would require investment from all levels of government as the cost has been put around $300 million. But building this arena would have huge economic value, and would serve as an anchor to the redevelopment of the entire area of Sunalta and of west downtown writ large.
This neighbourhood is in serious need of redevelopment at this point, and building the arena could be part of the use of a community revitalization levy that the city could apply for to the province for additional funding. This would be a massive help in building the new arena.
This was one of the two sites originally discussed for the new arena and would be hugely beneficial for both the city and for the team. It is a huge piece of land and is accessible by both train and road. Drivers would have easy access both towards and away from downtown, as well as both directions of Crowchild Trail and Bow Trail. There is also ample space for parking structures and lots while also being near enough to downtown for it not to be a hassle to go to games.
North Hill Mall
North Hill Mall was once a great place to go shopping, but alas no longer. The mall is going to ruin and offers little in the way of value for the average shopper. What is does provide is an enormous piece of land that could serve as the site of a new arena.
Located on a hill, the vantage points of downtown from the arena would be incredible, and building an anena on that hill would be immensely valuable for the aesthetic of the city. It would also be helpful to revitalize that section of 16th avenue as well as some of the surrounding areas, although many are already in redevelopment.
North Hill is transit accessible through Lions Park Station and SAIT already has parking facilities that it could profit off of as an additional revenue source on game nights. There is also lots of street parking on side streets in the neighbourhoods adjacent, although this may cause some concerns for neighbours. The food infrastructure is already in place on 16th avenue from SAIT, but would only grow with the arena right there.
The big problems would be convincing the neighbourhoods around of the value of the arena, which may prove more difficult than expected, but would be a big boon for the city to be rid of North Hill Mall. The other problem is it is outside of downtown with limited road access in and out of the arena. Both 16th Avenue and 14th Street are tough to get in and out of at the best of times, and both are hard to widen. This would be a bit of a headache for drivers.
Tsuu T’ina Reserve
If CSEC was really set of showing the city that they were fed up with working with them, they could do worse than building their next arena on the Tsuu T’ina reserve. Already hard at work on developing commercial operations on the reserve near the new Stoney Trail, the reserve seems like a prime partner to build an arena with.
While the team would not be beholden to the city or the provinces regulations, it would be forced to work with the Federal Government, as reserves fall under federal jurisdiction. A proverbial “screw you” move by the team would likely not be received well by Ottawa, and they would be unlikely to pony up on a local sports team the way that the municipal government would. The team would also not be able to access local or provincial grants to build on the reserve with the same ease.
While the lands on which the arena would be built would provide a massive revenue source for the community, they would be very difficult for fans. There is no train access to Tsuu T’ina, which would require everyone to drive to the arena. On top of that, while it is on Stoney Trail, it is still quite remote relative to downtown, which would be difficult for many to go to games particularly for those in downtown who work an extra hour then go to the game.
There is also only one major way in and out of the arena, which would be a traffic nightmare for fans before and after games. 19,000 plus fans going in and out by car before and after games would be a huge problem.
It is also hard to imagine the Tsuu T’ina nation paying nearly as much towards the development of the arena as the City of Calgary would. The nation already has the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex developed that they can use, and the idea of being asked to pay for a new arena would be a big ask. Their financial capacity is substantially smaller than the city’s, and unless Murray Edwards and the team’s owners have decided to pay for the arena themselves, it’s unlikely this is even a starter.
Outside of the city limits
As with Tsuu T’ina, it is hard to see the team opting to move to Airdrie, High River, Okotoks, or elsewhere. While land may be cheaper and property tax concessions greater, the actual cash being given to build the arena cannot compete with the big city. With this being the big issue for the city, it is unlikely that the team elects to give up on this in exchange for building in a nearby city.
On top of that, the nearby municipalities are not connected to Calgary Transit at all, making them near impossible to reach without a car. This then matches the Ottawa Senators’ problem where people are commuting upwards of 30 minutes each way to the game and no option to really get home by train after one (or six) too many to drink.
Cheaper lands and friendlier municipal politics are likely not enough to convince the team to move to another nearby municipality.
What makes the most sense?
Unless the Flames make the highly unlikely move out of Calgary entirely, do not expect them to move out of the city limits, and particularly out of a location that is transit accessible. Tsuu T’ina and Airdrie would be great for both communities, but would be near impossible to swing both financially and feasibly. They simply won’t work.
It’s very easy to see why the Stampede Grounds would make sense. It’s already there and helps for the Stampede, concerts, etc. but it also has some major drawbacks which are worth noting.
While it would benefit the city immensely to have the arena in Sunalta, it seems unlikely that anyone would be willing to pony up the money at this point to remediate the land around the arena. This is a very expensive ask and is going to be difficult to ask any level of government to spend on remediation as well as on building the arena. This is going to be the stumbling block.
North Hill would be a huge move for both the city and the team. It moves them just outside of the downtown core, but is close enough and accessible enough that it could almost work. The biggest problems are access to and from the arena as well as neighbourhood acceptance, which will likely prove to be an insurmountable hurdle.
As great as it would be to have the arena in Sunalta for everyone, the most likely move continues to be no movement at all and the Flames continuing to play out of the Stampede Grounds.