The current hockey venue, the Saddledome, has the iconic horizontal swayback roof, and is a postcard-tourist landmark, and yet did the dirty digging into the corners – being the first North American rink to feature international hockey dimension standards by design. It is also perfectly positioned within the Calgary Stampede grounds. NHL President and general busybody, pissant Gary Bettman, perfectly and pedantically disdains the arena, calling it “old, antiquated, inefficient...” which is yet another reason for the Calgary populace, if they should need one, to stick to the Saddledome and tell Bettman to stick it where the sun don’t shine.
True, the Saddledome has been functioning since the beginning of time – 1983 – but it did undergo renos in 1994-1995. If the place needs an update, by all means update...but, of course, the big questions is: where would the Flames play if major renos are needed?
But this is where things get complicated – the City of Calgary owns the joint. The city is a public entity with a Mayor and 14 City Councillors. In other words, the buck stops with the politicians. And if they don’t want to fix up the Saddledome – they’ll certainly make the operator of it, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, of which Ken King heads, have an easier argument to make - in moving the team elsewhere. Of course the Plan A the Flames ownership consortium proposed, besides being hundreds of millions lower in costs than it would be actually, was to build its new team arena in the West Village of Calgary.
The West Village borders the banks of the Bow River – the same river that flooded out the East Village and lots of downtown Calgary in 2013. So Plan A is drowning in faulty dollar estimations and could be drowning in nearby natural eruptions.
Then the City of Calgary would continue to own the Saddledome featuring two lesser luminaries: the Calgary Hitmen, a Junior hockey team, and the Calgary Roughnecks, a Pro lacrosse league group – and while both may be stellar to their base – a junior hockey and a pro lacrosse enterprise – are, collectively, an oyster and singularly, no pearl, (though the Roughnecks have made the post-season yearly since 2002!)
First, however, one must make the argument that the Saddledome needs a new coat of paint, etc. Has this been conclusively determined? Bettman doesn’t offer specifics as to why he thinks the building stinks, but does proffer platitudes. He says a new arena is “vitally important.” But to who? Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi claims 99% of Calgarians don’t want him to spend a dime of their monies on a new building. So, is it important to Bettman’s ego, or to the sensibilities of the other NHL franchises ownership principals?
As for Mr. King – let’s call his bluff: where would he move the team to? Hamilton – Toronto would never go for it. Regina or Saskatoon – too few people and too many miles to attend games. Possibly Quebec City? Or would the Montreal Canadiens prevent such a move like they helped defer the QC city bid for a franchise in that hockey hot bed of Las Vegas, instead? Or would he try his luck in another part of the American Sun Belt? There aren’t a lot of great options.
He could be talking through his hat. Fortunately for Ken, he has the option, and does willingly exercise it here, of talking disingenuously when he masks the money pitch with this faux-self deprecating statement.
"If people smarter than us in more powerful positions than ours don't feel that we're a critical piece of the social, economic and cultural part of our city, then who are we to argue with that?"
One must suppose Ken thinks the Calgary Flames are a critical piece of the town. They’re certainly important, and loved, but to say any team, of any sport, is critical to any city, is nonsense. If Ken thinks the Flames are so hot, let him find private investors willing to spend dough on a new rink.
Yet, nowadays, a new arena is used for entertainment as well as sport. And music insiders say that Edmonton, with its new Rogers Place, has garnered top flight acts while Calgary has been shut out. So a new complex would help Cowtown compete in that milieu. But does a new structure boost a city’s economy?
Quick answer? Depends on the sport. NFL stadiums host so few games annually – let’s be generous and say 11 in total including pre-season and playoff(s) that the returns from the contests alone do not merit public investment. So says Stanford Economics professor, Richard Noll.
But an NHL team will have 41 regular season games, not including pre-season or playoffs, and according to Wayne Karl, a pundit an matters of Real Estate, residential property values nearby a new rink rise – bringing in more tax dollars to affected governments – so long as tax increases to bring about a birth of a new stadium are not part of the deal. He cites the aforementioned Rogers Place...
Ultimately, however, Calgarians might be willing to pay some dollars to keep the team. After all, if Winnipeg has an NHL outfit, Calgary HAS TO HAVE one.