Ken King pens open letter to Calgarians about new arena project

Wanting to clear the air over whether the Flames will or won’t move without a new arena, team president and CEO Ken King penned an open letter to Calgarians on Sunday.

'To be clear, no one has any obligation to meet the Flames’ needs for a new building to play in'

Ken King, president and CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, says the Flames will leave Calgary if the team can't strike a deal on a new arena. (Canadian Press/CSEC)

Wanting to clear the air over whether the Flames will or won't move without a new arena, team president and CEO Ken King penned an open letter to Calgarians on Sunday.

In the letter posted to NHL.com, King says rather than threatening to move the team during an interview on Sportsnet Fan 590 in Toronto on Wednesday, he was simply stating a reality in response to a question.

"In response to a question, 'Are you going to use the threat of moving as a tactic,' I said we would not. I also said we would 'just move,'" he wrote.

"The facts are we need a solution and if it is deemed that there is no made-in-Calgary solution, we will have to make a decision at that time, which logically could include deciding to move the team. It is merely one out of a few possible outcomes if we are unable to reach a deal with the city that will work for both sides."

Emphasis on positive outcome

Reached by phone Sunday, King said he doesn't want the idea of threatening to move the team to overshadow ongoing work by the Flames and the city to find a new home for the team to play, or the coming Stanley Cup playoffs. 

"The emphasis should be on a successful conclusion, not discussion about unsuccessful conclusions," he said. "And I should remain focused on that and only that, and assume nothing untoward is going to take place."

Briefing books obtained by CBC News show detailed drawings of CalgaryNext facility. They include precise locations of many amenities, including locker rooms, owners' luxury box and washrooms. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

King's radio interview came days after Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters the proposed CalgaryNEXT project in the West Village — which includes an arena, stadium and fieldhouse and would replace the current Scotiabank Saddledome — is "dead."

"To be clear, no one has any obligation to meet the Flames' needs for a new building to play in," King wrote in the open letter. "Any arrangement must meet all hurdles of public scrutiny and we welcome that part of the process when and if it comes. Our goal is simple. We need a place to play that provides long-term economic stability and allows us to be competitive."

Project proposed in 2015

In August 2015, the Flames organization proposed the concept for CalgaryNEXT, which includes an arena, stadium and fieldhouse in the West Village, where the Greyhound station and a car dealership now sit.

Ken King, president and CEO of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, penned an open letter to Calgarians. (CBC)

At the time, team officials pegged the price tag at $890 million, with $200 million coming from the Flames' ownership group and the rest through a $250-million ticket tax, a $240-million community revitalization levy (CRL), and $200 million direct from city taxpayers, in exchange for public use of a field house that would be included as part of the stadium component of the facility.

City officials later estimated the project would cost upward of $1.8 billion, which would include financing, building the infrastructure and cleaning up creosote contamination on the identified site.

City council is also considering what's been called "Option B," which could include building a new arena in Victoria Park near the current Saddledome, refurbishing McMahon Stadium and building a new fieldhouse at Foothills Athletic Park.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in Calgary last month to push for the project, calling the Saddledome "old, antiquated and inefficient."

The Saddledome is one of the NHL's oldest buildings, having opened in 1983. It underwent a major renovation in 1995 and was refurbished following the 2013 flood.

Below is Ken King's open letter to Calgarians, posted to NHL.com, in its entirety. 

Flames Fans and all Calgarians.

Confused about news reports about threats or non threats about a new arena?

So are we.

So let's explain.

Before that though let's all agree that our primary focus is the Stanley Cup playoffs and the thrill of the hunt. Nothing, including our fiscal challenges, should interrupt the joy and community pride of a playoff run. We look forward to all of us sharing in the excitement.

To be clear, no one has any obligation to meet the Flames needs for a new building to play in. Any arrangement must meet all hurdles of public scrutiny and we welcome that part of the process when and if it comes.

Our goal is simple. We need a place to play that provides long term economic stability and allows us to be competitive.

If the City feels an event centre is an important piece of infrastructure for Calgary and can be our new home as well as provide the gathering place for community, cultural and entertainment events, we are prepared to participate in its cost.

All of which brings us to the news reports of threats to move. In response to a question, are you going to use the threat of moving as a tactic, I said we would not. I also said we would "just move." The facts are we need a solution and if it is deemed that there is no made in Calgary solution we will have to make a decision at that time, which logically could include deciding to move the team. It is merely one out of a few possible outcomes if we are unable to reach a deal with the City that will work for both sides.

No one, including me, should speculate on what the decision will be. Time will tell.

Now, a quick history of our process:

1. In August, 2015, we presented a concept, CalgaryNEXT, that included an event centre, public fieldhouse and football stadium.

2. The City reviewed the concept and, in their view, determined it was not feasible. We challenged their findings in city council in June, 2016, with some success.

3. An alternate City vision for a Victoria Park event centre was brought forward (by the City) and council directed a comparison to CalgaryNEXT be made and brought to council by late October, 2016.

4. Just prior to the October comparison we were asked to abandon CalgaryNEXT in favour of exploring the Victoria Park city vision. We did not agree to abandon CalgaryNEXT, but did agree to put the comparison on pause while we listened to their proposal. We did so with the understanding the process would be expedited and that certain parameters would be understood to be our position. This was agreed to by both parties.

5. Since October, 2016, to now we have been meeting with City administration on the Victoria Park option. Recently we received their proposal in response to our stated parameters in which there are differences. We continue to meet for further discussion.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

We can assure you that we continue to meet privately with senior City administration in an attempt to find a beneficial solution for all Calgarians and southern Albertans.

Respectfully,

Ken King