The November 13th, 2018 non-binding plebiscite on whether Calgary should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games was defeated with the No vote acquiring 56.4% of valid cast ballots. This places the renewal of Calgary’s sports infrastructure solely on the City of Calgary to determine, plan and fund. Ken King reminded Calgary after the vote that the city’s stadium infrastructure still needs to be replaced at some point.
The Calgary 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Draft Hosting Plan Concept report details an $80 million investment in McMahon Stadium that would improve entry areas, washrooms, seats and double the space in the concourse areas while reducing permanent seating to 29,000 after the games. In addition, a field house planned for the vicinity would provide possible indoor practice facilities.
An Olympic bid proposal that estimated costs and infrastructure improvements planned (which includes only McMahon upgrades and a new fieldhouse) to host the games, allowed some members of the Stampeders shared their thoughts on the facilities.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has expressed his concern over the state of McMahon Stadium, which due to its age and despite upgrades over the years, lacks the comfort and amenities expected by fans and delivered in other communities. Despite reporter ignorance/naiveté, the Stampeders play 10 home games per year (1 pre-season, 9 regular season) not the eight cited, and have averaged 11.04 games per year at McMahon the last 25 years (1993–2017) — 276 total; 250 pre-season/regular season, 23 playoff and 3 Grey Cups — not to mention the usage by the Calgary Colts and Calgary Dinos along with other organizations and events. The facilities built in Calgary in the 1950’s and 1960’s served the city until the 1980’s, when the city’s growth and desire to land an NHL team and host the Winter Olympics resulted in the building of the Saddledome and McMahon Stadium renovations. Now, the largest period of growth in Calgary’s history in the last 25 years requires this infrastructure to be replaced to meet the needs of the doubled population. The commissioner is willing to pitch anyone in Calgary on the need and benefits to improving the stadium situation.
Shuffled off the agenda with the city and public officials divided over a new arena, McMahon’s fate was raised again when Calgary was awarded the 2019 Grey Cup, leaving some to hope this would be the last Grey Cup the stadium hosts, either by the city’s choice or the league’s, if only the discussion could shift to the reality of how to accomplish.
In the developing saga of CalgaryNEXT, the posturing over the hockey arena reached new levels in September 2017, with CSEC walking away from new arena talks, the city presenting their proposal, CSEC publishing theirs and the city responding. With a civic election coming in which the arena will be an issue, newly elected leadership is expected before any negotiations can resume. The original CalgaryNEXT plans for a field house doubling as a covered stadium replacement for McMahon are dead and no longer part of the discussions. While a field house is still being lobbied for, the vision is a normal sized facility for amateur sports that could be used for Stampeder practices, but that’s all.
Revealed details of the potential Olympic bid $722-million infrastructure plan include a $272-million field house with an ice surface, $10 million in upgrades to the Saddledome and $50 million in upgrades to McMahon Stadium, ignoring the fact that both existing facilities are in need of replacement according to their tenants. An Olympic bid, opposed by the majority, should at least provide options to replace those facilities, or hosting a Winter Olympics 30+ years after the last and ending up with the same facilities as were used 30+ years ago provides little incentive.
With prospects for an arena replacement dimming and the idea of a stadium replacement dead, and no leadership on a McMahon upgrade solution, all Calgarians’ have to hang on to is civic envy over their neighbours.
At the end of 2016, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) CEO Ken King indicated CalgaryNEXT was on pause in order to, at the city’s request, investigate the Plan B of a new arena and event centre on the Stampede grounds, a field house in the northwest and improvements to McMahon Stadium. Clarity on the details of Plan B were expected in the first quarter of 2017, with negotiation and decisions moving forward through 2017, though funds for community revitalization are already committed.
In August 2015, CSEC unveiled plans for an arena and combined stadium/field house in downtown Calgary called CalgaryNEXT. They expect funding and other questions to be worked out with local and provincial political leaders over the next two years. The first phase of the analysis, released in April, 2016, estimated a total cost of $1.8 billion when infrastructure and site remediation costs are included which will lead to further discussions and negotiations about the project. Additional artist renderings of the new complex were released in June, 2016. In September, 2016, polls on the sports complex subject showed thin support for replacing the arena and stadium and addition of a field house, while the CalgaryNEXT proposal and funding model found little public support, a fact that did not bother the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Company. Later, Calgary MP and Cabinet Minister Kent Hehr hinted federal money may be available for the amateur portion of such a complex.
The Calgary Stampeders unveiled a few changes to McMahon Stadium for the 2014 season, including a new scoreboard, auxiliary scoreboard, new field turf and concourse expansion. For the 2013 season half the aluminum seats were upgraded with seat cover inserts and an upgraded Red and White Lounge with “plans for new concessions, washrooms and VIP area”.
The primary tenants of the University of Calgary’s McMahon Stadium have had a wish list of improvements they envision since 2008, but private and public funds need to be raised before they will be completed. A new building to house coaching and administrative offices as well as meeting and video rooms was started in 2008 and completed in 2009. This provided room to expand the Stampeders’ locker room and training facilities, completed before the 2010 season. Future changes hope to focus on re-configuring the stadium to widen concourses to improve the flow of fans to washrooms and concessions. These plans were made prior to the idea of replacing the stadium as part of a multi-sport complex.
Despite the original 21,000 seat 1960 stadium construction (completed in 100 days) cost of $1 million (almost $8 million in 2013 dollars) being partially funded and fully guaranteed by Frank and George McMahon, there have been no private contributors (corporate or otherwise) stepping up to fund renovations today and neither the McMahon Stadium Society nor the University of Calgary have the resources to finance renovations themselves. With a lack of funds to even renovate the stadium, replacing it is not likely to happen for a while.
In March, 2011 the university announced it was entertaining proposals for development of land surrounding the stadium to help pay for stadium improvements that are required over the next few years. In April it was revealed multiple proposals were received. The situation was thrown up in the air when the Calgary Flames purchased majority ownership of the Stampeders in March, 2012, fueling speculation the Flames will propose a combined stadium/arena complex for downtown Calgary.
In November, 2012 the Stampeders announced plans for a $15 million renovation of McMahon Stadium, opening discussions on how to fund such a project, including selling naming rights to the stadium. McMahon Stadium has been given 10 years of life before replacement or massive renovation is required, causing speculation the Flames/Hitmen/Stampeders/Roughnecks owners are working on an arena/stadium sports complex plan that would be mostly privately funded. Rumours of a football/hockey complex in the University of Calgary area are now being fuelled by the 2013 Calgary floods and talks that no new development will be allowed on the flood hazard zones along with speculation of a potential 2026 Winter Olympics bid. Something like hosting the Olympics could bring the public money needed for the complex, but without that, a management/development deal for a larger initiative with small government contributions seems to be the only option since the public has no stomach for taxpayer money to be used for this type of infrastructure. Still, work is being done in secret on a potential new arena/field house and presumably stadium project(s) and rumours revolve around newly purchased land by the city, though this seems to be more rumour than fact. Most see the complex as a forgone conclusion to being built, though the commissioner’s comments may be interpreted that McMahon will be inhabited for a while longer before a new complex is complete. Logically, the best case scenario can be seen as five years away, more likely more depending on the timing of the announcement and the speed of the funding and political approval.
Article Aug 2015: CalgaryNEXT Unique Multi-Sport Complex
Link Mar 2015: Calgary Teased With Sports Complex Announcement
Article Jan 2014: New Year, New Stadiums
Article Nov 2012: News From Three Stadiums
Link March 2012: The McMahon Question