Four groups are vying to design the planned Calgary Event Centre, which will be home to the NHL’s Flames. (Rossetti.com) 

Firms’ joint effort puts them among finalists for NHL arena project

The Calgary Event Centre project has drawn a pair of heavyweights in sports architecture together to compete for designing the NHL arena.

Rossetti and Populous, which typically go head-to-head on sports facility development, have teamed up with local firm Gibbs Gage Architects. The other three finalists are HOK/Dialog, Manica Architecture/Brisbin Brook Beynon/S2 and NBBJ/Stantec, said sources familiar with the process.

Clare LePan, vice president of marketing and communications for the Calgary Municipal Land Corp., which is the project development manager, did not return phone calls to confirm the finalists. About 10 design teams submitted proposals, sources said.

Interviews are scheduled Thursday in Calgary to design the future home of the NHL’s Flames and the Calgary Stampede, the city’s annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that historically draws more than 1 million attendees over 10 days. 

The alliance of Rossetti and Populous, although somewhat unusual in sports design, makes sense, sources familiar with the project said. 

Both firms have a major presence in Calgary. 

Detroit-based Rossetti has consulted for the Flames over the past few years and developed a master plan for a sports and entertainment district. Populous is part of the group designing the $370 million renovation of BMO Centre, Calgary’s convention center. 

Both Rossetti and Populous boast an impressive portfolio of arena projects, both new construction and renovations, over the past 30 years. Populous alone is designing new NHL arenas in Seattle and New York. Both are $1 billion developments. 

As a firm, HOK designed two of the most recent NHL venues, Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and Rogers Place in Edmonton, which opened in 2017 and 2016, respectively. Dialog, with offices in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, was HOK’s design partner at Rogers Place.

“Rossetti has been doing a lot of the studies … and (team ownership) likes them,” said Bob Fatovic, a sports planning consultant and a former principal with Cannon Design with experience developing Canada sports venues. “Everybody likes the HOK project in Edmonton, so maybe Rossetti felt they needed an equivalent partner.” 

Manica Architecture designed Chase Center, the new $1.6 billion home of the Golden State Warriors. BBB, its Toronto-based partner, has recently been specializing in upgrades to facilities such as TD Garden, Wells Fargo Center and Madison Square Garden.  

NBBJ is designing $310 million in improvements to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., a project to be completed in 2022.

In Calgary, architects competing for the job face the challenge of meeting a tight budget of about $300 million in hard construction costs for a 725,000-square-foot facility. Multiple sources question whether an NHL facility with all the bells and whistles can be built for that sum, considering the price tags for other big league arenas in development.

The site, just north of Stampede Park near the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames’ current arena, is 6.9 acres, according to the request for proposal issued in late January. The Saddledome, which opened in 1983, and now stands as the NHL’s second-oldest facility behind MSG, will be torn down after the new arena opens in May 2024.

“It’s a small site, so there may not be a lot of room for other developments,” Fatovic said. “When you’re looking at costs, you’ve got to figure out what else is included. If it’s a billion dollars, does that include entertainment and retail space outside the arena?

To this point, there are no mixed-use projects tied to the Calgary Event Centre project. 

By comparison, Rogers Place, the home of the Edmonton Oilers, has a bigger footprint of 819,000 square feet and was built for $465 million. When construction started six years ago, though, the Canadian dollar was 5% to 7% stronger than it is today against the U.S. dollar, sources said.

It can be done. In Las Vegas, T-Mobile Arena, designed by Populous, cost a total of $375 million. The 650,000-square-foot venue opened in 2016 for the NHL expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights.

The Calgary site may ultimately work in favor of the stakeholders, said Jim Renne, national director of sports and entertainment for Jones Lang LaSalle and a former principal with Rossetti. Renne now fills the role of owner’s representative for teams building new venues.

“You can do it for less than what the latest arenas were built for,” Renne said. “It takes willingness for the team to be innovative and consider a different model, which while I was at Rossetti, we were very bullish about.”

The Flames and the city of Calgary are splitting the cost equally to fund the project. The total cost of $410 million covers soft costs such as fees for the architects and construction firms. 

Cost overruns would most likely be shared between the team and the city, although it’s not clearly spelled out in the proposal, other than stating an effort would be made to save money through cutting some aspects of design before increasing the budget.

The 19,000-seat arena will also be home to the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen and National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks.

The architects will be selected March 12, as stated in the proposal, with final design completed in December. Construction starts Aug. 1, 2021. The timetable calls for the arena to open in time for the 2024 Calgary Stampede, traditionally held every July, and the 2024-25 NHL season.