In April 2021 — days before an anticipated development permit application and public unveiling of the design — progress on Calgary’s new $550 million event centre / arena project in the Beltline was abruptly paused to address budget issues. Since the middle of June, it has become apparent that the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s (CMLC) project management role is in jeopardy. As a project that will make or break the future success of the Rivers District in the Beltline’s East Victoria neighbourhood, the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association (BNA) is extremely concerned and disappointed by this news.
The $550-milliion Event Centre project will make or break the future success of the River's District in East Victoria Park.
The arena is being developed as a result of a tri-party agreement between the City, the Calgary Stampede, and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), who own the Calgary Flames NHL franchise. In addition to addressing ownership of the new facility, cost sharing between the City and CSEC, and a land swap with the Calgary Stampede, the agreement names the City-owned CMLC as the project manager. Along with the BMO Centre Expansion and public realm improvements, the new arena is central to the Culture + Entertainment District and an intrinsic part of a fully realized Rivers District Master Plan (RDMP), which the CMLC spearheaded.
Given that the City will be putting $290 million toward the project (over half of the total) as well as assuming a large part of the financial risk, it is essential that the project demonstrates tangible and meaningful public benefits at the end of the day. In our view, the CMLC’s involvement will ensure both prudent use of taxpayer contributions and accountability to the vision and goals set out in the RDMP. For this reason, recent news that CMLC may be cut out of the process is deeply concerning to us — as it should be to all Calgarians. Should CSEC or another organization assume the role of project manager, a number of concerns come to mind:
Public engagement shouldn’t take a back seat
Even with CMLC involved, there has been little public engagement on the design of the new facility. However, CMLC and the City engaged with Calgarians and community groups on the development of the RDMP and the subsequent amendments to the Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP). Through this process, an overall vision for the event centre, and an approach for how it might integrate with adjacent residential development and Stampede Park was discussed.
The public engagement conducted by CMLC for the Rivers District will be key to the successful integration of the arena into a mixed use residential neighbourhood and instrumental to the success of the district as a whole.
Residents of the Beltline, like many stakeholders in the project, are keen to see how this vision has been considered in the design of the facility. We understand that a public unveiling was imminent at the time the project was put on hold. With the potential of reduced involvement by the CMLC, and a necessary look at the budget, we are concerned that design of the outward facing aspects of the facility may be watered down before public expectations and input have been firmly established. In short, this is a publicly funded project, and the public should be provided with an opportunity to provide meaningful input.
The CMLC has an excellent track record
In just a few short years, the CMLC has helped to develop and manage some of Calgary’s most impactful civic projects, including the RiverWalk, St. Patrick’s Island, the Central Library, the BMO Centre Expansion, 17th Avenue Extension into Stampede Park and Arts Commons. The impact that these projects have had (or will have) on the lives of Calgarians cannot be understated, and many of their initiatives have played a particularly significant role in reshaping the Greater Downtown and setting it up for long term success.
CMLC has proven themselves successful project managers for precisely these kinds of urban redevelopment projects where many others fail.
Consistent among these projects is a commitment to ensuring that they raise the bar for urban design and create public places that give back and contribute positively to the quality of life of all Calgarians. CSEC's mandate for the arena project is understandably focused on developing a world-class building for their hockey team. However, Calgarians have broader expectations for the arena and its impact on the Rivers District. A project manager partner with a vision that extends beyond the building's internal functions is critically important to the Rivers District's long-term viability and success as a vibrant cornerstone of the Greater Downtown. We need the CMLC.
The success of the Culture & Entertainment District hinges on the successful urban integration of the Event Centre
Unlike the Saddledome which stands on its own with few direct interfaces to built-up development, the new event centre is planned to be fully integrated into the urban cityscape of the Culture + Entertainment District. The result of this will be a building that is as much outward facing as it is inward for spectators of a sporting event or concert. The new arena will be an intrinsic part of the street along 12 Avenue, 4 Street, and 5 Street SE. It will sit directly across from mixed-use residential development and will in many ways drive the future success of the neighbourhood.
The Event Centre in Calgary must not repeat the mistakes of the Rogers Centre in Edmonton - it must provide active edges and amenities for everyone to use, regardless of whether or not they have a ticket to a game.
There is a lot at stake for this project, and it is important that its edges receive as much (and ideally more) attention than its seating bowl, corporate boxes and concourse level concessions. Details as mundane as sorting out the logistics of exiting 19,000 spectators to street level will have a profound impact on the quality of the neighbourhood. We don’t need another arena with multi-story blank facades that turns its back on the community. For $290 million of public investment, we need a facility that fits with its urban surroundings on a 24/7 basis, one which provides active edges and amenities for everyone to use — regardless of whether or not they have a ticket to a game — and balances the diverse and multi-faceted needs of many stakeholders.
With a holistic understanding of the issues, we believe that the CMLC is uniquely able to take on these challenges, and we are concerned that the success of the project to the community will suffer, along with Calgary taxpayers if CMLC isn’t leading the way.
We are asking City Council to maintain their support for the Rivers District Masterplan
CMLC has successfully led the development of the Rivers District Masterplan. They have demonstrated an impeccable track record that has earned them the trust of the community and Calgarians as responsible stewards of public investment and leaders in redevelopment in Calgary. They have led years of public engagement that has helped Calgarians shape the new Culture & Entertainment District. And they have proven themselves to be most capable of the challenging task that lies ahead, properly integrating the Event Centre into a mixed use residential area at the intersection of some of Calgary’s largest new investments including the new Green Line LRT, the BMO Centre Expansion, and the 17th Avenue Extension.
We are asking City Council to keep CMLC as Project Manager for the Event Centre
Removing CMLC from the project management of the Event Centre would be nothing short of abandoning the principles of urban redevelopment, city-wide engagement, and public trust that CMLC brings to the table. Therefore, as a direct stakeholder in the future of East Victoria Park (the Culture & Entertainment District) the BNA is asking City Council to not jeopardize the success of the surrounding community, or the hundreds of millions of dollars in public investments and to keep CMLC in their rightful role as project manager for the Event Centre.