Flames' Ken King holds out hope for CalgaryNext arena proposal as councillors look for other ideas
CEO of company that owns Calgary Flames and Stampeders not ready to surrender on West Village vision
A major report deeming the CalgaryNext proposal "not feasible" has some city councillors looking for other ideas to replace the Saddledome and McMahon Stadium, but Ken King isn't willing to give up on the idea just yet.
"There's lots of potential that remains here," said the president and CEO of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns both the Flames and Stampeders.
"I realize we may sound simplistically optimistic, but we still think there's some room here."
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In an interview on The Calgary Eyeopener, King admitted the city report presents a "hurdle" for CalgaryNext, but said the ownership group remains passionate about the proposal and won't stop fighting for it.
"They see this as a transformative project," he said of the plan to build both an arena and stadium in one facility, which would also serve as a fieldhouse for public use and, in the company's estimation, spur a larger redevelopment of the under-utilized west end of downtown Calgary.
"They see this as the completion, the connection of our downtown," King said.
"If you take the wonderful work that's been done in East Village and what we could do in West Village, you create an extraordinarily dynamic downtown core for a city."
The project would require hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, financing and related infrastructure investment from the municipal government, in addition to a major cleanup of the long-standing creosote contamination that plagues the area from industrial use decades ago.
Councillors looking for Plan B, or C
Most city councillors were already cool to the idea of putting public tax dollars toward a professional sports venue even before the report was released Wednesday, but in light of the document's estimated $1.2-billion cost to the public purse, many now seem ready to move on to other proposals.
"Eventually we need a new stadium, without question. I'm rooting for that," said Coun. Shane Keating.
"Where? I haven't decided yet. Does it have to be CalgaryNext in the West Village? I don't think so."
Coun. Evan Woolley suggested it would be wise for the city to not put all its eggs in the West Village basket.
"Having only one plan is probably not the best idea," he said. "We should probably look at a couple of locations. These are big conversations. We need to remember, these aren't simple projects."
Coun. Druh Farrell was already leaning toward a different location for a new arena — the north end of the Stampede grounds which, she noted, would fall right near the planned new leg of the LRT system, the Green Line.
"It'll be a major transportation hub for transit," she said. "The access and egress in this particular location is just extraordinary."
'We've never had a Plan B'
King said he hasn't had a chance to digest the city's 173-page report yet and Calgary Sports and Entertainment will take its time in preparing a response, which it plans to deliver to council in May or June.
He noted that the city's $1.8-billion figure includes a lot of items, such as infrastructure and financing costs, that the company explicitly excluded from its initial price-tag estimate last summer.
"We predicted that our project was $890 million," King said. "We did not say that there were not ancillary costs nor did we try to shield or hide that notion."
King also said it was a deliberate move for the company to put all the emphasis on a single proposal without any alternative options.
"We've never had a Plan B," he said. "We did not want to introduce competing visions."
Still, King said the ownership group would "absolutely" keep an open mind about other proposals for a new arena and stadium.
"We always assumed that someone might have a different idea and, at some point, would bring that forward," he said. "We would be hypocrites beyond measures if we didn't look carefully at other people's ideas as we asked them to look at ours."
He added: "Let's maybe even have them be competing visions and see which one emerges."