Calgary group pushing for new NHL, CFL facilities plan to move ahead

Fans enter the Saddledome. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — The group that wants to build a new NHL arena and CFL stadium in Calgary wants the proposal to move into the next phase despite a difference of opinion on what it might cost.

Calgary Flames president Ken King made a presentation to city council Monday to refute a city report from last April that pegged the bill for the project at $1.8 billion — with taxpayers bearing as much as $1.3 billion of the financial load.

King said the $1.8-billion figure is a half-billion dollars higher than the $1.3 billion estimate worked out by Calgary Flames Sports and Entertainment. He also pointed out that a field house and football stadium would be used by the public 94 per cent of the time.

King said he wants to move the project into the formal proposal stage and start negotiations.

“You have to be in a position to try and make a deal. So far I think there’s been a lot of impetus to try and not do this project,” said King during a break in Monday’s meeting.

“I think this council and the mayor need to determine if we’ve provided sufficiently compelling information to sit down. During that meeting, there was a lot of negotiating points. … Those are all deal points that traditionally and always should be negotiated. You can’t negotiate on a piecemeal basis.”

The initial proposal outlined last summer called for a 20,000-seat arena for the Flames, a 30,000-seat football stadium for the Stampeders and a field house in Calgary’s yet-to-be-developed West Village. The initial estimate of the CalgaryNext project was $890 million when announced last August.

A city report released last spring pegged the bill at $1.8 billion when costs of land, municipal infrastructure, environmental remediation and financing are incorporated.

“I think it’s wrong to focus on the discrepancy, because we could go back and forth and fight about the discrepancy,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “The point is even their best case scenario is still a lot of money we don’t have and that’s something we’ll have to address.”

The Flames have offered $200 million and a $250-million loan to be repaid through a ticket surcharge. King said prospects of the team putting up more money could be negotiated.

He said the facility could come in handy if Calgary bids for the 2026 Olympics.

“If this project goes forward it will be a huge benefit to the bid,” King said. “You won’t be promising to build infrastructure — you’ll take that bid and you’ll have that infrastructure.

“This is a very happy coincidence.”

The proposal drew the attention of CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, who was in Calgary to watch the proceedings.

Orridge said he is concerned about the long-term health of the CFL and noted there are new stadiums in Hamilton and Winnipeg — and another being built in Regina — that are drawing fans. He said that’s not the case at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium.

“I think it’s lagging woefully behind and I think Calgarians certainly, rightfully, deserve the best in class accommodations.”

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