All eyes in the City of Calgary are on the Calgary Stampede Grounds, with the Greatest Outdoor Show in the World currently in its final weekend. However, that space is going to look a lot different in the coming years with the City of Calgary, Province of Alberta, Calgary Stampede, and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporations (CSEC) teaming up on an agreement to build a new arena for the Flames, community rink, and other indoor and outdoor spaces.
This means the end of the Scotiabank Saddledome—which will be demolished as part of this project—but with it, the skyline will be adorned by a new arena that will undoubtedly be more modern than its predecessor. There have been few details released about the design and layout of the new arena, but there are a lot of items that the developers should take from other arenas across the league. Over the coming weeks, we will break down some of the arenas across the league, looking at what the Flames should borrow and what they should steer clear of.
Let’s start right here at home with the current Scotiabank Saddledome.
History of the Scotiabank Saddledome
The Saddledome was officially opened in October of 1983, and is currently the oldest arena in the NHL. With the Calgary Olympics in 1988 as well as the Stampede Corral falling below NHL standards, the team was well in need of a new home to play in. After much deliberartion, the arena was built in Victoria Park, just outside of downtown.
The arena was designed in a reverse hyperbollic paraboloid (a nice throwback to high school mathematics), similar to a pringle. This shape means there are no pillars to block the view and also reduces noice substantially compared to a rectangular design. At the time, the architects did not even think that the arena looked like a saddle, butb provided an uninteded homage to Calgary’s western spirit.
Since it was opened, the arena has undergone significant upgrades twice. First in 1994 to add luxury boxes and other general upgrade, then again in 2013 to remediate after the city went through the floods.
This arena is the only one to play host to an NHL, AHL, CHL, and NLL team at the same time, and as a result is very busy. While it is not the hottest spot on cross-Canadian tour circuits due to its age, it has played host to hundreds of big name artists over the years, and the new arena will undoubtedly be home to many more.
To wear or to tear
Here are the amenities that the new Flames arena should have (wear) or not (tear):
Wear: Iconic exterior shape
There is not another arena in the league with as iconic of an exterior as the Scotiabank Saddledome. Not only does the arena’s shape form a part of the city’s skyline, the way that it is located with little in front of it from many angles allows for it to be part of what you see when you come into town. The new arena should be able to retain the latter, but when it is built, prioritizing form and look should be a key part of the design.
Tear: Single concourse
By far the biggest issue with the current Saddledome design is the single concourse design. Prior to puck drop, during intermissions, and after the game, everyone is milling about in the same part of the arena, creating long lines for bathrooms and food options, as well as making it hard to move around easily.
The way that most new arenas have solved for this is to add a second or even third concourse to the upper levels, allowing those seated in the 200s, 300s, or 400s access to their own concourses, with food options and plenty of bathrooms. This makes it easier for people to walk around, provides easier access to food and drink, and allows for better flow throughout the arena.
It also creates more opportunities for fans to engage with displays around the arena, including adding photo walls, more food and merchandise options, and other unique touches, which should make for a more engaging experience for fans. Nobody wants to stand in long lines for bathrooms or be stuck in crowds if they don’t have to be.
Wear: Pricing structure for food and drinks
One thing that the Flames should try to maintain in the new arena is the cost of food and beverage at the arena. The cost to eat at the Dome is always going to be pricier than getting the same meal outside of the arena—and that is normal and expected—but the mark-up relative to other arenas around the league is substantially less. This makes it at least reasonably affordable to go to a game for date night or a night our with friends, have a meal and a drink, and head home without breaking the bank.
The Edmonton Oilers’ new arena prices—and the subsequent online backlash—should give the Flames pause when they look to create the price list for the new arena. Chicken fingers, fries, and a drink for $30 and a two-hamburger combo with two bags of chips and two beers for $55 are highway robbery. The Flames should try their best to keep prices reasonable at the new arena.
Tear: Lack of amenities within close walking distance
Despite being in downtown and on the Stampede Grounds, the entertainment and food options right near the Saddledome are lacking. While it has gotten better of late, with an increased number of restaurants and bars particularly on the ground floor of newly built apartment buildings, there still is a lack of real pre-game options within a short walk of the arena.
The development of the new arena should come in conjunction with the development and implementation of the Rivers District Master Plan. The city needs to develop a real district around the arena that goes beyond just apartment buildings and commercial office space. More needs to be done to make spaces for people to enjoy the area around the arena instead of it serving as just a destination for the game. This is something that will take coordination with the City, but should be done to enhance the appeal of the arena and encourage people to go out to games.
What to expect
The Flames are still a few years away from having a new arena, but the hope is that it is among the most beautiful in the NHL. Given the fact that the City, Province, and CSEC are splitting the cost, this should be reasonable to expect. This should also be done in conjunction with the development of the surrounding area, to make the whole area feel like a real district, similar to Edmonton’s ICE District.
The part that I think Flames fans should hope for is that the new arena has an iconic shape. It’s very easy to make the new arena look like every other building in the league, but the Saddledome has been such a huge part of the Calgary skyline and the city should fight to build a building that continues that legacy. The Saddledome reflects the history and traditions of this city and province, and the new arena should do more of the same.