File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS The City of Calgary, the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Stampede, which owns the land, have agreed in principle to terms on an event centre that would be the new home of the city’s NHL team.

New NHL arena in Calgary back on the table, tentative agreement struck

CALGARY — Plans for a new arena in Calgary to replace the Saddledome are accelerating with a tentative agreement in place.

The city, the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Stampede, which owns the land, have agreed in principle to terms on an event centre that would be the new home of the city’s NHL team.

“All three parties have agreed to agree basically,” said Coun. Jeff Davison, who chairs an event centre committee.

The deal was to be presented to council behind close doors Monday afternoon and then put to a vote on whether to make it public immediately.

Calgarians would then have a week to voice their opinion before a council vote next week to ratify the deal.

The event centre has been estimated to cost between $550 million and $600 million.

The proposed site of the building is on land north of the Saddledome, which is almost 36 years old.

If the deal is approved, the earliest shovels will go in the ground is 2021, Davison said.

The vision for the venue is for it to be multi-purpose, with portions that can be sectioned off for art installations and concerts of different types, including Cirque du Soleil, as well as sports.

With a capacity of roughly 20,000 for sports, the new building would be the heart of a larger revitalized commercial and residential district east of downtown.

“Our number one principle is public money must be spent for public benefit,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

“As long as what is presented to us today meets those criteria and principles then I think we’ll be able to have a very good conversation with the public over the next several days about whether this is something the public thinks makes sense.”

Negotiations between the city and the Flames broke off in 2017 when Calgary Sports and Entertainment president Ken King called discussions “spectacularly unproductive.”

The city re-started talks with CSEC, which also owns the WHL’s Hitmen, the CFL’s Stampeders and the NLL’s Roughnecks, late last year.

Before talks broke off, CSEC offered to put $275-million into a $500-million arena, and said the city should raise the remaining $225-million through a community revitalization levy.

A CRL allows the city to divert property taxes from new development that would theoretically spring up around a new arena into paying for it.

The city had proposed a three-way split on the cost of a $555-million arena, with the city and the Flames each paying $185-million and the remaining third raised from a surcharge on tickets.

The arena has re-emerged at a time when city council is trying to find $60 million in budget cuts.

“The optics stink,” Nenshi said. “They really stink, but I’m not one of those people who tries to massage or manage the public discussion so we can get the outcome we’re looking for.

“If the deal is ready, the public deserves to know what’s in that deal.”

The event centre’s proposed location on the east side of the downtown came after an $890-million CalgaryNext project pitched by the Flames in 2015.

That concept included a hockey arena, football stadium and field house west of downtown.

Flames owners offered $200-million of their own money and proposed a $250-million loan be repaid through a ticket surcharge.

CalgaryNext was shelved when council determined remediating creosote-soaked soil on site would push the cost of the project well over a billion dollars.

A field house and an arena are on Calgary’s major capital projects priority list, but a football field to replace 59-year-old McMahon Stadium is not.

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