Calgary 'remains at the table' in new arena talks, Nenshi says

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city remains at the table and ready to negotiate in good faith with the Calgary Flames ownership, despite Ken King saying the group has dropped its plans for a new arena.

Team president Ken King says announcement Flames have dropped new arena plans wasn't political

Nenshi says city still open to negotiating a new arena, despite Ken King's comments

CBC News Calgary

4 years ago
Ken King, president of the corporation which oversees the Calgary Flames, Stampeders, Hitmen and Roughnecks, says the group is dropping its plan for a new arena. 0:37

Naheed Nenshi says the city remains at the table and ready to negotiate in good faith with the Calgary Flames ownership, despite CEO Ken King saying the group has dropped its plans for a new arena.

"Council understands the importance of the Flames to the city, council understands the importance of having the Flames downtown," said Nenshi, who is running for his third term as mayor in the upcoming municipal election..

"We worked very hard to come up with a deal that makes sense in this economy, without impacting people's taxes, that nonetheless participates in both the risk and the upside of this."

In an interview Wednesday with CBC's Calgary Eyeopener, King denied that the Flames were playing politics in saying the organization had walked away from talks with the city.

"All we're really doing on behalf of the ownership group is acknowledging that this is not moving forward," said King, who is the president of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation — which oversees the Calgary Flames, Stampeders, Hitmen and Roughnecks.

King and the Flames dropped the bombshell a day after the mayor announced he supported building a new arena in Victoria Park as part of an overall vision of transforming that area. 

The timing spurred speculation in some quarters that it was tied to the Oct. 16 municipal election. 

Flames president and CEO Ken King told the Calgary Eyeopener that the team's decision to end negotiations with the city on a new arena isn't connected to the upcoming municipal election. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

King characterized Nenshi's Victoria Park comments as a part of his campaign platform, but denied there were political motivations behind his news conference on Tuesday.

"I'm always amused by the notion that we are so Machiavellian that we knit all of these disparate things together," King said.

"I think we're smart, but I don't think we are that clever."

'He might have misheard'

Nenshi told reporters Wednesday afternoon he would have to take King "at his word" that his announcement was unrelated to the upcoming election. Nenshi said he was surprised by the news, as the city was given no advance warning of Tuesday's news conference.

On Tuesday, King said he called Nenshi's office the day before to talk about his vision for a new arena, and said it was clear when talking to the mayor's chief of staff that what he considered to be a fair deal would not work.

Nenshi disputed King's version of events.

"What happened was he called the mayor's chief of staff and said, 'Are you are going to accept the proposal?' To which the reply was, 'Well, council has put another proposal on the table and we're at the table and let's keep talking,'" Nenshi said.

"How he turned that into 'the city has walked away,' I'm not quite sure. He might have misheard."

City to release negotiation details

Earlier in the day, Calgary city council voted to release release information related to arena negotiations with the Flames organization.

The Flames' owners offered $200 million of their money and proposed a $250-million loan be repaid through a ticket surcharge, with taxpayers footing the rest of the bill.

Council disagreed with the CalgaryNext price tag, saying the project would cost approximately $1.3 billion when cleanup of creosote-soaked soil was included.

CalgaryNext moved to the back burner when council showed more enthusiasm for building an arena closer to the current Scotiabank Saddledome in a planned arts and entertainment district on the downtown east side.

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)

"I can tell you that the city has a very fair offer on the table," Nenshi said, "one that most Calgarians will see is eminently reasonable and there is another other on the table that Calgarians will see is eminently unreasonable and I will have the opportunity to share some details of those thanks to the vote." 

Coun. Andre Chabot, who is also running for mayor, voted against the motion to release the information.

"I'm not sure it's going to help," he said. "In fact, it may actually hurt future negotiations."

Not about Seattle deal

King also claimed 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.

King said the team's owners weren't even aware of the Seattle announcement before they decided to make their statement. They found out from NHL president Gary Bettman, who was also in Calgary on Tuesday.

He said it was a specious argument to suggest a new arena should be built entirely with private funding, like the Seattle deal or new arenas that were built over the past two decades in Toronto and Montreal.

"[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.

In previous negotiations, the Flames management and the city 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.

He said for situations comparable to Calgary, the most obvious — and recent — parallel is Edmonton where the $600-million Rogers Place opened in 2016 through a mixture of private and public funding.

"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.​

With files from The Canadian Press and the Calgary Eyeopener