A new $609-million Calgary Event Centre (CEC) planned as a gateway into Stampede Park is a massive anchor project that will provide stability for the construction industry, generate a substantial number of jobs and act as a catalyst for economic growth, says Calgary Construction Association (CCA) president Bill Black.
“It’s good for the industry to be building landmarks and big components of the city that will shape the city,” he said. “It puts some pride in the industry that we’re city-builders, we’re not just guys putting stuff underground that nobody sees. So, it’s a bit of pride and good visibility for what the industry does as Calgary continues to grow.”
The event centre, to be located on a 2.9-hectare site immediately north of Stampede Park, will be a front door to the downtown Rivers’ District. It will complement the nearby BMO expansion project, a $500-million, 560,000-square-foot convention facility that will be completed in 2024. The centre will be the new home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames and replace the Saddledome which will be demolished.
The city’s planning commission recently approved the development permit for the centre.
Black said the CCA is fully supportive of the new centre as it will result in construction jobs and encourage more private investment.
“You’ve got to look at projects like the event centre through two lenses at the same time. One is the industry lens and the other is the Calgary lens. From an industry perspective it’s always important to have one or two anchor projects, large long-duration projects. It’s like having a couple of anchor tenants in a building.
“It engages a decent portion, a core element of the industry, in a way that just provides a bit of stability overall.”
Earlier, the CCA sent a letter to the commission, formally expressing support for the project and noting that, as city builders, “we are excited to see the development of a new event centre and district that all Calgarians can be proud of.”
The letter stated the buildout of a cultural and entertainment district is important as it adds to the social fabric of the city, promotes community building, and sets Calgary apart as a destination to live, work and play.
“The CEC itself will put Calgary back on the map as the entertainment capital of Alberta by attracting the large-scale events that have previously driven three hours to the north.”
From an economic standpoint, the event centre will directly impact the construction industry, according to the CCA, as a 2019 Ernst & Young economic impact assessment estimated that 4,750 full-time jobs could be created during the construction phase of projects in the culture and entertainment district. Another 1,536 permanent jobs would also be created once all the new facilities in the area are opened.
Moreover, the CCA noted, the buildout of the district is primed to encourage further private investments into the area, generating new economic activity and jobs for the struggling downtown. Meanwhile, Black said the projects will provide the city with new amenities that will help attract labour.
“When you’re competing on the world stage for talent and possibly people younger and earlier in their careers, they’re looking at the full picture,” he said. “It’s not just the job and the hours and the salaries. It’s quality of life and worklife balance. If you’re going to compete on the world stage you’ve got to have some world-class assets and you’ve got to have some of these abilities to engage the population.”
Black said Calgary was hit hard due to the downturn of the oil and gas industry, then the COVID-19 pandemic, and the dip has lasted longer than previous cycles, so the uptick in large projects is a welcome sign.
The industry pulled back a bit due to the economy being slower and companies and organizations have a lot of core capacity to take on such projects, he said, and although labour is tight it shouldn’t be a problem.
“Everywhere seems to be feeling this tightness around labour. We’ve had a prolonged period of lower volumes so a few people have migrated away. But I think Calgary and Alberta has been a bit of a destination for labour as the work has picked up.”
The cost of living is lower in Calgary when compared to Toronto and Vancouver, and wages tend to be on the higher side in the area, so there are a couple of good dynamics that have helped draw labour back to the province, said Black.
But having anchor projects like the event centre and BMO expansion are a good way to attract talent back to the province because it provides stability for workers.
“The guys and girls that work on crews really need to see that there’s hours there. They need their 2,200-plus hours here because they live in the hourly world and when they see these larger projects they can see there’s a runway and it gives them some stability to be able to have confidence they can support themselves and their families.”