Replacing Calgary's Saddledome

Posted on
November 12, 2019

Calgary City Council Voted to Replace the Saddledome. What’s next? Calgary Tower?

“First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin…” – Leonard Cohen

The Calgary Saddledome is doomed. After 36 years as Calgary’s flagship tourist destination, City Council voted 11-4 to approve a new financial agreement to replace it with a new events centre which will be the new home of the Calgary Flames.

This means that the old Saddledome has to go. With its distinctive saddle shape, this building which graced postcards as a symbolic part of Calgary’s skyline will disappear forever.

The Saddledome’s significance for Calgary is similar to the Sydney Opera House for Sydney, the Sears Tower for Chicago, Toronto’s CN Tower or the New York World Trade Twin Towers - now replaced by One World Trade Center. You have to admit, New York’s silhouette is not the same since the loss of the famous towers.

In a city that already lacks its own symbols and sense of identity, demolishing one of our few important icons is a big mistake.

Mayor Nenshi referenced a study which made it hard to justify keeping or repurposing the Saddledome. He said, “You’ve got a giant round building that is extremely steep” and “There’s not a lot you can do there, and so ultimately, rather than as we’ve seen up the highway — have a big debate after the fact and spend a lot of time and money — we’ve just got to make that decision.”

Nenshi’s city council has a history of replacing significant heritage structures without looking at their historic significance for Calgary’s landscape, which more and more lacks tradition and continuation. Examples include the Inglewood Bridge as well as the ZOO Bridge, which had to go to allow for more “transportation-compliant” structures. Nobody tried to save them and incorporate them into the new designs.

I agree that we shouldn’t keep the Saddledome as it is. But why don’t we look at changing its function from a single venue with one user, to a multi-purpose venue by building a separate structure within the existing structure? Then it could act as multi-level internal sports centre with multiple floors for sport uses. Alternatively, it could be repurposed into a series of smaller venues built for mixed programming, i.e. more intimate performances.

When symbols are gone, there’s nothing left for us to hang onto. We are losing our identity as a city piece by piece.

Photo credit: Tomasz Sztuk

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