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Flames aren’t playing politics over new arena, says Ken King – Calgary

Calgary Sports and Entertainment president Ken King says the Calgary Flames aren’t playing politics around getting a new arena built.

In an interview Wednesday on the Calgary Eyeopener, King reiterated comments he made Tuesday about the motivation for his announcement that the Flames are ending negotiations with the city over a new arena in Victoria Park.

King denied, however, the characterization that the Flames were “walking away” from negotiations.

“All we’re really doing … is acknowledging that this is not moving forward,” King said. “I’ve sat here with you [CBC Radio] and said how certain I was that we would make a deal — and now I’m not so certain anymore.”

‘This isn’t about Seattle. This isn’t about elections.’

King also claimed that the Flames’ intent was not to play hardball with the city by making the announcement the same day that a private development group in Seattle announced a $600-million upgrade to Key Arena. That deal includes $40 million in transportation mitigation and a $20 million community fund, and the refurbished arena would be ready in 2020.

Saddledome closeup, downtown Calgary

The Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames, opened in 1983. The team announced Tuesday that after more than two years it is ending negotiations with the city to build a new arena. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

“This isn’t about Seattle. This isn’t about elections,” King said.

King said the team wasn’t even aware of the Seattle announcement before they decided to make theirs, until they found out from NHL president Gary Bettman, who was in Calgary on Tuesday.

“I did not know about the Seattle announcement, nor did our ownership group,” he said. “We were at our charity foundation golf tournament yesterday and found out about it (Seattle) when we were in our meeting with him.”

King and the Flames dropped the bombshell Tuesday, one day after Mayor Nenshi kicked off his mayoralty campaign by announcing that he supported a new arena being built in Victoria Park as part of an overall vision of transforming that area. The redevelopment would include expanding Arts Commons and revitalizing Olympic Plaza. But Nenshi also hedged a little when it came to the subject of a new arena.

“It [a new arena] certainly would help it a lot,” Nenshi said. “Is it absolutely necessary? No. You can certainly do the convention centre. You can certainly do some of the development without it. But it makes so much sense for the arena to be part of it as well.” 

Nenshi is scheduled to speak at noon Wednesday, when he is expected to comment on the Flames’ decision.

In previous negotiations, the Flames and the city have discussed various funding formulas using a combination of public money, private money and revenue generated from ticket surcharges — which King pointed out is Flames revenue.

‘I think there’s a lot of posturing going on’

“The city does have infrastructure and other issues, but we have always talked about contributing to the construction cost of the arena,” King said. “I think there’s a lot of posturing going on — you could accuse us of that, too. I think it’s important to be clear.”

He added that the argument a new arena should be build entirely with private funding, like the Seattle deal, or new arenas that were built over the past two decades in Toronto and Montreal, is specious.

He said for situations comparable to Calgary, the most obvious — and recent — parallel is Edmonton. That’s where they opened Rogers Centre, a $600-million arena, in 2016, with a mixture of private and public funding.

“[Some people ask], why don’t you do the [private-funding] deal that was done in Toronto? Why don’t you do the deal that was done in Montreal? If we had five million people, or four million people, we would do those deals,” he said.

Remaining competitive

“Like Edmonton, when you have a million and a half [person] city — which is a very marginal city in which to run a CFL football club, an NHL team, a junior hockey team and a lacrosse team, that’s kind of the minimum standard,” he said. “Both here and in the U.S., you have a private-public partnership.

“It did happen, I think quite successfully, in Edmonton, and it would appear that maybe it’s not going to happen here,” he said.

Bettman said that playing in the Saddledome, which opened in 1983, diminishes the Flames’ ability to compete with the rest of the league.

“The owners conveyed to me their frustration,” Bettman told reporters Tuesday.

“This arena can’t compete, for example, with Edmonton any longer, because they don’t have the resources or the building. I think there were 34 dates of concerts that the new Edmonton arena got that didn’t come down here,” he said.

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener

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September 13, 2017

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