Calgary Stampede looks to year-round event space for economic growth

CALGARY – The Calgary Stampede Park will soon be full of hundreds of thousands of fairgoers for the 10-day party that begins Friday, but the grounds will hardly go quiet once the show is over.

From the Cirque du Soleil to the Global Petroleum Show, the 65 hectares of land just on the edge of downtown Calgary hosts about 1,800 events annually, said Warren Connell, CEO of the Calgary Stampede.

“It’s really not about the 10 days,” he said. “The 10 days are important. They’re critical to the city, to southern Alberta, obviously to us. But it is a year-round operation.”

Plans are underway to make it even more of a year-round space so that Calgary can attract large conferences and boost the economy outside of oil and gas.

The non-profit Calgary Stampede organization opened the $61-million Agrium Western Event Centre, a 150,000-square foot space, in 2014. In June, it finished a two-year project to revitalize the 6.5-hectare Enmax Park and started work on the 10,000-square foot TransAlta Performing Arts Studios.

But the biggest project is yet to come, with plans to double the size of the BMO convention space, which at 265,000 square feet is already the biggest venue in the city.

Connell said the development will cost about $500 million, and while he has not made any formal requests for public assistance, he’s been engaged with all three about the project.

The expanded space would allow the city to host conferences like Rotary International, and compete with the major Canadian hubs of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, said Connell. He said the expansion would create 500 full-time jobs, plus construction jobs.

Adam Legge, CEO of the Calgary Chamber, supports the project and year-round strategy.

“I applaud the Stampede for trying to make it more of a 365-type destination,” said Legge.

“There’s a lot of under-utilized property in the Stampede-Victoria Park area and I think it’s really critical that they continue to try and build out their development plan to make it more of a destination, make it more lively and active.”

Calgary Tourism also says the convention space is needed.

“I actually think it’s critically important to our city to move into what we’ll call ‘A’ convention space as an economic driver,” said Cindy Ady, CEO of Calgary Tourism.

“We would be taking all the assets that we have that come from the Stampede — their ability to host, to put on great shows, that warm western hospitality welcome, and add those to a nice business mix of conference and convention space. We think that’s a nice magic little spot to be.”