The Calgary Flames have shown their plans for a new arena/stadium to season ticket holders over a lunch hour session today. Another session, perhaps with more details, is planned for 2:30 MST this afternoon. Typing this up 40 minutes before that, I may be wrong on a few things, but I doubt it.
Why is this needed?
The plan is for a new arena to replace the 32 year old Calgary Maxipad - er - Saddledome, and the 55 year old McMahon stadium, home to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders and the University of Calgary Dinos. Stamps games are well attended; Dinos games draw less of a crowd than a US Peewee football game. The Saddledome needs to be replaced, there is not really any getting around that. It is soon to be the oldest arena in the NHL and it is an auditory nightmare. I have attended many concerts where, sitting to the side of the stage, you cannot hear a god damn thing. It was not built with acoustics in mind, and for that, many musical acts bypass the city in favour of Edmonton, a garbage city with a garbage arena located in the most garbage area of said garbage city. Despite this, this location is still preferable to the acoustic affront that is the Saddledome. Other acts that don’t give a shit about sound quality (hello Taylor Swift) bypass it because its stupid “saddle” shape (see maxipad, pringle) will not allow for the stage setups of todays mega-acts that use visual stimulus to distract you from the fact that they are talentless sponges, absorbing young people’s attention and their parents money.
The football field, I don’t really care about. CFL is bad football played by people who want to play football, but aren’t good enough to make the NFL and are delusional that they just need a shot to prove they are the next Cameron Wake. They are not. But you know, again, the stadium is old, and is by far the oldest in the CFL. It also used to hold giant 40,000+ seat concerts, but the rich people who own the university rental properties surrounding it decided to complain about an Eagles concert being too loud and essentially put an end to that (despite the fact most of them just own the homes to make money off students and do not in fact live there. People in this city suck). So this opens up the possibility for larger concerts, and will no longer force me to drive to Edmonton to see aging rockers (sup AC/DC, Rolling Stones?).
The plan also includes a field house! Oh boy! Calgary is pretty much the only city in Canada without one. Who knew. For some reason, a field house has been pegged at $200 million dollars by another group that has been advocating for one since 2008. Now to be fair, Calgary could use some indoor sports facilities. Snow and -40 do not make for good outdoor sport conditions for half the year. There is a severe lack of indoor soccer space in the city. I do not question that this is needed or useful, but I do question the $200 million price tag people have tied to it. However, the mayor and most of council have flat out rejected providing any funding for a project without a public component. The field house is thrown in to please the politicians.
So what exactly is the plan? It is to put one mega-facility on the west end of the city’s downtown that includes the above mentioned components; arena, football field, field house. All this for the cost of $890 million. It will include a covered football field, one of just a handful in this frozen tundra of a country (with the only other one I can think of being in Vancouver, by far the most temperate location of all CFL teams). The Flames ownership group, who also own the CFL team, the WHL (junior hockey) team, and the NLL (lacrosse) team, is made up of some of the richest citizens in the city (and country). Murray Edwards is worth over $2.1 billion and Clay Riddell is worth over $3.3 billion. Allan Markin is worth just a paltry $670 million. Three others round out the ownership group, who have net worths in the hundreds of millions. They are suggesting they pay $200 million, or 22% of the arena’s cost. They are asking for $200 million from the City of Calgary (because that’s what the fieldhouse was going to cost you anyway!), $240 million from a community revitalization levy, and $250 million from a ticket tax. Flames tickets are already pricey, and they are going to go up from here.
Here’s the best part! The land they want to build this on is super-contaminated with creosote, a wood preservative now known to cause all sorts of wonderful cancers, from a factory that operated between 1920 and 1960. Why this land has never been remediated is beyond me, particularly when it is directly next to the Bow River, an important trout habitat and serves as the drinking water more many communities downstream. However, estimates have the cleanup pegged between $50 million and $300 million. Is this price included in that $890 million estimate? Of course it fucking isn’t. Who is going to pay for the remediation? I’m sure as shit it won’t be the Flames ownership.
Speaking of river, that river spilled its banks and caused billions of dollars in damage in one of the worst floods the city has ever seen in history (and certainly the worst since the old frontier days) two short years ago. Now, some are pointing to the fact that the river didn’t really spill its banks in THIS particular area, but it sure came close and who knows what will happen for the next one now that the shape and flow of the river have, you know, CHANGED since that gargantuan flood.
Anyways, thanks to this creosote soaked ground, the area in question currently houses some car dealerships and a greyhound bus station. None of these will be missed if they are forced, and the city owns the land. But that land - it has not been stated yet if the land is included in the price estimate or if the Flames are simply hoping the land is handed over. Thanks to the creosote, its realistically worth negative dollars, so it would not be all bad if the land was handed over on the condition ownership pays for the cleanup.
Obviously, an arena/football field location should be picked with attention paid to accessibility, right? WRONG. As this location proves. Wedged between downtown, a river, a railroad line/commercial/residential community, and a clusterfuck of a road and interchange, getting to and from this area sucks. It currently sucks and it will just get worse. If you were to drive to the arena, you have one option really; Bow Trail. Coming from the east, you have to go through downtown where two streets merge into one. It is absolute butt during rush hour. Coming from the west, you again have Bow trail. There are no other options. North and south, you can either come in from the east, again having to go through downtown, or come from the west side on Crowchild Trail via one of the absolute worst thought out interchanges of all time. The engineers who devised it deserved to be hanged. Actually, that would be too quick. Traffic will come to an absolute standstill from the south going to the arena about 10 KM away from the arena site, destroying mobility in one of the city’s few north/south corridors. From the north, there are god damn traffic lights everywhere. Traffic will be snarled. Driving to this arena will take 4 hours.
However, none of this will matter! Why? Because the Flames figure who the fuck needs a parking lot? No one drives, right? Especially in the winter in a city that regularly hits -20 Celsius. Transit for everyone! Now on this end, the Flames have lucked out a little with a brand new LRT line recently going in right by the Greyhound station, where this arena proposal will go. Great. Except train service is notoriously bad leaving Flames games and Stampeders (CFL) games. You can wait on the station forever, surrounded by drunk idiots. On top of that, the particular line is the LESS busy line of the two LRT lines, meaning people will cram on to go east, only to have to get off and get on a southbound train, or walk across the street after riding it a couple stops to get on a northbound train. For those that still try to drive, parking will be limited to nearby downtown streets (not many with its western edge location), nearby neighbourhoods (not many, lots of commercial and multi-family homes with already limited parking spaces). Calgary has not figured out how to move a mass amount of people and its not about to learn now, especially in the super confined space this project proposes to be placed in.
But this won’t just be a pro-sports complex! This will kickstart development of more residential and commercial towers! Everyone wants to live next to a fucking arena where 50+ nights a year, loud, drunk fans will stream into the streets. That’s just the NHL and CFL games. Add in the WHL games (range attendance between 4,000 and 15,000 people) and NLL games (attendance between 5,000 and 9,000) and concerts (10,000+). But hey, those new buildings WILL generate some tax revenue and create construction jobs.
Is this good for Calgary?
I’m a Flames fan. I go to 10+ games a year. I go to 10+ Hitmen (WHL) games a year. I go to 3+ concerts on average a year. The Dome is OK for hockey, but absolute shit for concerts. It could be better for hockey. It DEFINITELY needs to be better for concerts. I want a new stadium. I believe stadiums CAN be good for the local economy, and do not have a problem with SOME public money going to it. Calgary really could use the field house. City planners have identified this as a top need. If it can be included in this complex, great. The city can kick some money toward that. But when an ownership group worth more than $6 billion believes that $200 million or 22% is a fair amount for it to pay of the costs, that is when people will cry BULLSHIT.
On top of that, they aren’t even being straight on the costs. They aren’t contemplating the creosote costs in the $890 million. They do not appear to have contemplated the land costs. The roadways in the area are already a clusterfuck. Tossing in 20,000+ people on 50+ occasions is going to create a logistical nightmare.
The location is in danger of flooding. I’m sure they are taking this into account with their design, and I would hope it is more flood-proof than the Saddledome is. A flood would impact the usability of the field house and could impact CFL games (flood season is typically late June).
I want a new arena, but the arena deal in Edmonton was much better. The arena cost is $480 million. They got $200 million from the city; same as the ask in Calgary. However, much of that will be funded by property taxes from the rink and parking revenues. As noted above, parking revenues will be few and far between for Calgary thanks to the lack of parking at the arena/stadium proposal. The ticket tax will also be $125 million; HALF of the proposed amount in Calgary. The ownership group is kicking in $130 million; 27% of the total cost. While this is still paltry, it is more than what Calgary’s owners are preparing to spend from a much less wealthy owner.
Fuck these geedy owners, just move the team to LA already with the Chargers and Raiders.