NHL commissioner Gary Bettman visited Calgary Monday and made a rallying cry — even referencing the "Battle of Alberta" — about the urgency to make the CalgaryNext arena project a reality sooner rather than later.
Speaking to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Bettman said the project "needs to happen" in order for the city and its NHL team to stay current with others in the league.
"This is not a threat. I'm expressing the realities," he said after noting Calgary won't get the NHL Draft or All-Star Game, for example, without a new arena.
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Bettman also talked about how the new Rogers Place in Edmonton will be open and ready for business on Canada Day 2017 and, by then, 29 out of 30 NHL franchises have newer arenas than Calgary.
"The Flames will have the dubious distinction, with the oldest arena in the NHL," Bettman said, adding "there is only box left to check off on my arena checklist."
"It would be a shame if Calgary fell further behind."
Bettman argued the timing is right — despite Calgary's current economic woes — for a project like this, saying other cities have seen an economic boost from new arena projects.
"I'm having trouble understanding why there hasn't been further progress on CalgaryNext," Bettman said, estimating an opening night for a new arena in the city won't happen before 2021 or beyond.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi, when asked about Bettman's visit during a break in Monday's city council meeting, said he didn't realize the commissioner was in the city or what he was talking about.
But the mayor maintained his earlier position about needing more details on CalgaryNext before moving forward.
"I'll be interested to hear what he has to say," Nenshi said of Bettman's visit. "I met with him in the past about this project and nothing really changes. We're still waiting for some numbers and we should have more to talk about with the public this spring."
Bettman said the CalgaryNext project — which comes with an estimated $900-million price tag — will require some level of public involvement.
"Obviously, this project cannot happen without the support and the leadership from the city," he said.
He cited examples of new arenas being built recently in places such as Tampa Bay, Detroit, Winnipeg, Buffalo and even Quebec City, which doesn't have an NHL franchise.
"All have used the economic opportunity of a new arena project to transform their cities into the future," Bettman said.
Bettman concluded by saying he's interested to hear from the city and "activate a project that can lead for positive results ... despite the challenges," such as the low value of the Canadian dollar.