Calgary councillors want to revive arena talks

Talks with the Calgary Flames owners fell apart just before last year's municipal election

Negotiations with Calgary Flames owners fell apart just before last year's municipal election

Coun. Jeff Davison says between 10 and 12 councillors have been involved in talks about forming a negotiating committee for a new arena in Calgary. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

A group of Calgary city councillors wants to take matters into their own hands when it comes to reviving talks with the Flames over a new arena. 

The talks fizzled in spectacular fashion last year when the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation — which owns the Flames, Roughnecks, Stampeders and Hitmen — said it was walking away from the table just before the municipal election. 

Since then, the city's position has been that it's still at the table and willing to chat about replacing the Saddledome.

"I think this is a different council, we have some new councillors, we have a fresh perspective, and I think part of what we have to look at here is what went wrong the last time. And it's not about pointing fingers or names, it's just about establishing a new committee and how we move forward," said Coun. Jeff Davison. 

No communication with Flames

There's no word on the structure of a potential negotiating committee, but Davison said between 10 and 12 councillors have been part of discussions so far. 

The group has not reached out to Flames officials to see if they'd be interested in returning to negotiations. 

Davison said it would make sense to include councillors as well as a representative from the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, which is in charge of the master plan for East Victoria Park, where the city wants a new arena and entertainment complex.

The city and the Flames both released their negotiating positions last year after talks collapsed and publicly squabbled over the details and how much money each would contribute. 

Calgary Sports and Entertainment said in a statement Monday they have no reason to believe anything has changed this time around.

"Based on what has transpired to date, we have no basis on which to believe anything is changed with respect to a new arena. If the reports are true, it will be interesting to see what if anything the city decides to do," the statement said.

​Nenshi's role

One thing that seems clear: Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who clashed with the Flames organization and the NHL, isn't high on the invite list to the potential committee. 

Coun. Sean Chu said that ultimately the decision to include the mayor would be up to council, but he said he personally believes the mayor would hurt negotiations. 

Davison said they'd probably be fine without Nenshi. 

"I think the mayor's office is going to be well aware of what we're looking to accomplish," he said. 

"Whether or not they're involved in the negotiation team, I think with three councillors on board we should have that well in hand."

Nenshi said if the councillors are willing to give negotiations a go, he isn't going to stand in their way. But, he is personally not comfortable at the negotiating table.

"The thing I worry about is that, to date, there haven't been any politicians at the negotiating table. The negotiating table has been professional negotiators," he said, "and all of council ultimately are the ones that make the decision and set the mandate."

"If they want to give it a go, who am I to say no. I just want to be very, very clear on what the implications are," he said.

Council will discuss the idea at an upcoming meeting. 

With files from Scott Dippel