New Calgary arena clears city hurdle after hours-long debate

The Calgary Planning Commission approved the development permit on Thursday night for the new events centre meant to replace the iconic Saddledome in Victoria Park.

The permit is one of the final hurdles developers needed to clear before construction starts, slated for January 2022. It was approved 8-0 after an hours-long debate that ended near 10 p.m. 

Ward 7 councillor and member of the planning commission, Terry Wong, says he still has issues with some of the design elements. But he says the building does meet the goals of the Rivers District master plan and it will be a catalyst for development.
   
“This is not an arena. This is an event centre, a community gathering place. This is a place where we’re going to build residential communities around it…This has got to be a building that’s 365-day activation, inside or outside that building, people are going to want to be there,” Wong said. 

The plan includes making the building carbon neutral by 2035, including solar panels on 70 per cent of the roof and connecting the building to the District Energy Centre on Ninth Avenue.

This comes as Calgary city council voted 13-2 to declare a climate emergency on Monday night. 

The arena will be located at the intersection of Olympic Way and 12 Avenue S.E. and was designed by local firm Dialog Architecture and global firm HOK. 

Community concerns

Over the past few months, some local groups have expressed dissatisfaction with the design of the events centre. The latest renderings of the proposed building were released in late October. 

The city received letters from the Beltline Neighbourhood Association (BNA) and Inglewood Community Association and Victoria Park Business Improvement Area (BIA) concerning pedestrian accessibility, environmental impact of the building and how it will be integrated into the neighbourhood. 

Left, a perspective drawing of the new Calgary event centre, right, Calgary’s iconic Saddledome. The Calgary Planning Commission approved the development permit for the new events centre Thursday. (Left: Dialog Architecture, right: Robson Fletcher/CBC)

“There is a need to mitigate our collective environmental footprint and demonstrate real leadership when it comes to the development of major municipal infrastructure,” wrote Tyson Bolduc, director of planning and urban development for BNA in an August letter to the city. 

The BNA said the planned parking garage in the building sends the wrong message about Calgary’s environmental priorities when there are already transit stations and outdoor parking nearby.

Though the city said the future Green Line Light Rail Transit (LRT) will have a station near the centre, the Victoria Park BIA said in a September letter that there was not enough consideration given to the centre’s integration with the Green Line. 

“Having discussed this with the property owner where the station is being contemplated, we feel that a significant opportunity is being missed to enhance public transit to the site,” the letter said. 

According to the development permit, the city also received 34 letters of support and four letters opposing the construction of the arena from the public. 

High costs

The events centre project had previously been halted over escalating costs earlier this year. But then the city and the Calgary Flames agreed to each pay $12.5 million more than originally planned to construct the building.

In exchange for the city adding the extra funds, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), the company that owns the Flames, agreed to pick up any further cost overruns.

The building, expected to open in 2024, will be owned by the City of Calgary and will be operated by CSEC.

The centre is projected to cost $608.5 million.

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