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Flames bombshell: We're no longer pursuing an arena in Calgary

September 13, 2017 2:30 AM
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Flames bombshell: We're no longer pursuing an arena in Calgary

The owners of the Calgary Flames are no longer going to pursue a new arena in Calgary, Flames president and CEO Ken King said during a news conference with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday.

After months of talks with Calgary officials, King said it became clear the city has no genuine interest in helping build a new arena for the NHL team.

"We're no longer going to be pursuing a new facility," said King. "The owners' group are pretty clear and pretty definite in their view on that."

He said the Flames will continue to play at the Saddledome, without investing any more in it or McMahon Stadium.

"We'll just go on and run our business and do what we can to operate and try and figure out what the future will look like at some point later."

Bettman said the 34-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome will affect the ability of the franchise to be competitive in the future.

"They're going to hang on as long as they can," the commissioner said. "At least, that's the current view.

"That's not a prospect that thrills them or anybody else. But it is a realistic assessment of the situation they find themselves in."

Bettman suggested Calgarians speak out on the issue, just six weeks before a municipal election.

"You need to make your voice heard if you think the city is moving in the wrong direction," he said.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who is seeking a third term on Oct. 16, has clashed with King about a new arena on multiple occasions.

On Tuesday evening Nenshi, who has spent the last two days in council meetings, quickly rushed past reporters during a dinner break, declining to comment until Wednesday.

Nenshi said he was not aware of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp.'s new position because he had been chairing council's last meeting of the term and wasn't prepared to discuss it.

On Monday, Nenshi pushed a plan for creating a cultural and entertainment district in East Village and Victoria Park, which he said would ideally include a Flames arena. King called Nenshi on Monday evening. On Tuesday, King said their meetings with the city about Victoria Park have not been productive.

"We were asked ... if we'd look at a Victoria Park vision and we've been meeting directly for months, and they've been spectacularly unproductive meetings," said King.

A key point of contention between the Flames and city officials is how much, if any, public money should go towards the construction of a new arena. On Monday, Nenshi reiterated his position.

"It's about money, it's about real money and people have to come to terms with making sure that, as I've said from the very beginning, public dollars have to have public benefits."

King said the owners had "agreed to put up a substantial financial commitment" for the Victoria Park arena.

The Flames are owned by some of the wealthiest men in Canada. For example, co-owner Murray Edwards has a net worth of $2.96 billion, and is the 28th wealthiest person in the country, according to Canadian Business magazine.

While some cities do cover significant costs of new arenas for their NHL teams, others try to build without dipping into taxpayer dollars. Seattle is currently finalizing a memorandum of understanding with a group offering to renovate its KeyArena for US$564 million. Seattle hopes the new facility will be used for large scale concerts, and potentially attract an NHL or NBA team.

The specifics of how much the city would be asked to pay for the Victoria Park arena, and how much the Flames' owners would cover, has not been made public.

In June, Brian Burke, Calgary Flames president of operations, suggested the team could move to another city if a new arena wasn't built, and floated Quebec City as an option. Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said he thought the Flames weren't being serious.

"It's a negotiating strategy. We're used to it. Everyone is calm, the Flames will not come to Quebec," said Labeaume.

On Tuesday, though, King said the team is not shopping around for a city that would be more willing to help pay for an arena. That's a key difference from back in April, when King suggested the team would move if they didn't get an arena.

"I think and hope we're going to get a deal. The truth of the matter is, we would just move. Which is not to be confused as a threat," said King at the time.

In April 2016, city administrators said the Flames CalgaryNEXT pitch could cost $1.8 billion, with taxpayers covering two-thirds of the cost. That proposal included a field house, stadium and arena in the West Village.

After that plan stalled, the Flames met with city administration dozens of times, eventually coming up with a proposal in April 2017 for a new arena in Victoria Park, on a two-block site south of 12th Avenue S.E. between Olympic Way and 5th Street S.E., on land currently occupied by parking lots and roadways.

On Tuesday, Bettman said he was not surprised the Flames no longer thought an arena would be built, calling it inevitable.

"At some point, there will be consequences that will have to be dealt with," said Bettman.

Nearly all of the talks between the city and the Flames have been behind closed doors, but that hasn't stopped disagreements between Nenshi and King from being aired publicly. At one point King said the $1.8-billion CalgaryNEXT proposal was still an option. A few days later Nenshi described it as "dead."

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