Replacing the Saddledome
Potential development in Calgary could include a new Flames arena
Patrick Gibson, Contributor
Snow is beginning to dust the 30-some cranes that occupy the north part of Edmonton’s downtown, but they show no signs of freezing up. As Calgary City Council slowly begins the debate process over a replacement for the aging Saddledome, $2.5 billion dollars of investment is well underway on a new home for the Edmonton Oilers and a revitalization of the surrounding area.
“It’s probably one of the fastest developments in a democracy in the world,” says Glenn Scott, senior vice-president of real estate for the Katz Group, who along with the city are the two key players in the project. While this may seem like a hyperbole, the development (known cumulatively as the ICE District) broke ground last March and now has multiple large infrastructure projects underway including the first of two skyscrapers, a casino, an LRT station and a massive 24,000 square foot public gathering space.
Scott credits the pace of development to a healthy relationship between the Katz Group and the City of Edmonton. It’s a sentiment echoed by Rick Daviss, the Executive Director of the Downtown Arena Project for the city.
“This was not something that was initiated by the Oilers, it was not initiated by the city, it was created by the city working together with the Oilers saying we both think an arena can have a significant impact on our downtown,” he said. According to Daviss, the relationship at the beginning was tepid but learning to trust each other was key. “It took a while, but we’re at the point now where we have a tremendous amount of respect and trust in each other.”
Three hundred kilometres to the south, the situation remains murky. There are certainly parallels. Edmonton and the Katz Group are using the new Rogers Place as an anchor for a revamp of an area not known for prosperity or excitement. The Flames-driven CalgaryNEXT proposal places the arena and surrounding urban village in the west end of downtown along the Bow River, currently inhabited by car dealerships, parking lots and millions of litres of leaked creosote wood treatment.
The area’s councilor, Ward 8’s Evan Woolley, is interested. “The West Village is an unbelievably horrible space now. You’ve got a huge environmental problem and you have a bunch of car dealerships,” he says, adding that a redevelopment plan has been in place since 2010. The plan doesn’t involve an arena, but Woolley’s open to suggestions.
“For us as a city, a council and a community to not look at this proposal with an optimistic lens like ‘How can we make the West Village a better place to live?’ it would be silly of us not to say ‘wow this is pretty interesting, let’s see if we can’t make this work.’”
However, he stresses that community benefit comes first and that the assessment process will have to be thorough. “It’s hard work to get everyone around an idea and have constructive conversation,” says Woolley.
For that kind of constructiveness, the city and Flames owners may have to take a page from the Edmonton project, where the city and ownership speak of each other on glowing terms. “We have a shared vision, and we’re willing to pull out all the stops to work with each other to realize it, not against each other,” says Daviss.
Scott agrees, “It’s quite synergistic.”