Calgary arena deal appears further from reality than ever

Calgary Flames president and CEO Ken King meets with the media to address the ongoing stadium saga in Calgary.

It didn’t take long for Ken King to demonstrate just how frosty things are between the City of Calgary and his hockey organization.

At a press conference to dismantle the city’s earlier unveiling of its proposal to help build a new NHL arena mere metres from the Saddledome, the Flames president’s opening remarks involved taking a shot at the mayor’s presser.

"I think we’re supposed to flank ourselves with people," he joked, playfully summoning staffers to stand alongside him as the mayor did.

"I think we should probably think about taking the sharp objects out of the sandbox so neither they, or we, hurt ourselves."

Two things have become abundantly clear since the Flames announced they’d no longer seek an arena as a response to Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s disingenuous campaign platform, which included building said rink.

1. These guys don’t like or trust each other.

2. This deal is further away from becoming a reality than it ever was.

Mere hours after Nenshi unveiled the city’s proposal to "pay" one third of the $555-million price tag on a Victoria Park facility, King stepped forward to dismiss the notion they’re offering up a single dime.

"Their proposal not only has us paying for everything, but more when you consider incremental taxes," said King, reiterating the $185 million from the Flames owners and the $185 in ticket surcharges both stem from Flames revenues.

"Taxes, rent or lease. He wants their third recouped through one of those. Whatever form they want in payback comes from Flames revenue as well. So it’s all Flames revenue and if we thought that model could work we would have saved everybody a lot of time. They want to loan us a bunch of money and have it paid back. If that’s the definition of public benefit say so."

The city’s breakdown of their $185 million includes $25 million for restoration and then demolition of the Saddledome, $30 million for the land they’ll acquire in a swap with Stampede Park and $130 million in cash, to be recouped via the roughly $5 million the Flames would pay in taxes as owners of the building.

The Flames would rather lease and operate the city-owned building as they currently do.

"If we did this deal it would be worse than what we have now," King said. "We’re better off to stay here."

So they will. Indefinitely.

The city added it was open to discussing the amount and the form of the payback.

"If it is better for Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) to pay rent on a building owned by the city, or agree to revenue sharing, or provide an equity stake in the team, all of these things are open for discussion."

Giving Nenshi a seat at the team’s ownership meetings sure doesn’t sound like a real option, although it’d make for one hell of a reality show.

With a stated goal to ensure all information on the situation is crystal clear, King said his club would release its proposal next week. He reminded a packed Saddledome media lounge the club’s original vision was the Calgary NEXT arena/football stadium/field house on the west side of downtown.

"It was attacked and ridiculed — it was dismissed as a $1.8-billion boondoggle," said King, who disagreed vehemently on the price tag.

"The city was determined it would kill their Victoria Park concept."

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It’s just a sampling of the shots being fired in either direction on a fight that has no end in sight, especially since Nenshi is a heavy favourite to be re-elected next month for a third term.

Can they get to a middle ground?

"I don’t think so," said King, adding there was absolutely nothing in the city’s proposal he could agree on.

"I don’t know where it’s going to end but it’s not going to end with the city proposal you saw this morning.

"This isn’t a money grab — if it was we’d be long gone.

There are lots of other places to make a lot of money in sports other than here."

Nenshi said the city would bear roughly $200 million in indirect costs for infrastructure and public transit expansion to the area near the rink.

King called that "unadulterately gratuitous."

"These are not incremental costs. If we don’t go ahead the only thing that will be different is the absence of our funding. They’re going to build an underpass, a Green line and extend 17th Ave. either way."

King also got a bit of a chuckle over the mayor’s suggestion the absence of new rink wouldn’t get in the way should the mayor decide to proceed with a 2026 Olympic bid.

After all, said the mayor, the premier event of the Games could be held in Edmonton’s Rogers Place or rinks across the country.

Brilliant, progressive thinking.

Never one to back down from a good fight, hockey fans await Nenshi’s response in this increasingly vitriolic situation.

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