Flames agree to talk with committee, thawing arena stalemate

Calgary Flames president Ken King speaks to reporters about the team's position on the Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — The door opened a crack on arena talks in Calgary as the city and the Flames have re-established contact.

A city council committee struck in May to revive the arena issue and Calgary Sport and Entertainment have exchanged cordial, but noncommittal letters.

Committee chair Coun. Jeff Davison sent a letter to CSEC inviting it "to commit to a new round of conversation to assess the topic of Calgary’s new Event Centre together."

CSEC president Ken King replied "while we would never decline your formal request for a meeting, we do have some concerns based on past practice.

"As a result, we would like to have a preliminary discussion to determine what may have changed in the city’s view to warrant our re-engaging."

The correspondence is the first public movement on a new building to house the NHL team since last fall, when replacing the 35-year-old Saddledome became civic election fodder.

CSEC broke off negotiations within days of Mayor Naheed Nenshi kicking off his campaign for a third term.

"Things fell apart very abruptly. Everything kind of came to a grinding halt," Davison said Tuesday. "I’m not expecting the Flames would ever come back waving the flag saying ‘thank god, we’re ready to go.’

"What’s encouraging is they’re interested in having a conversation."

Nenshi talked about a new arena as part of his vision for the downtown east side’s revitalization prior to the civic election.

He has one vote on council, although his voice carries influence as mayor. And it was his voice countering King’s in the public back and forth over who should pay how much for a new arena.

King speaks for Flames owners Murray Edwards, Alvin Libin, Clayton Riddell, Allan Markin and Jeff McCaig.

CSEC also owns the also owns the Canadian Football League’s Stampeders, Western Hockey League’s Hitmen and National Lacrosse League’s Roughnecks in addition to the Flames.

CSEC had offered to put $275-million into a new $500-million arena built just north the Saddledome, and said the city should raise the remaining $225-million through a community revitalization levy.

A CRL allows the city to divert property taxes from new development that would theoretically spring up around a new arena into paying for it.

The city proposed a three-way split on the cost of a $555-million arena, with the city and the Flames each paying $185-million and the remaining third raised from a surcharge on tickets.

Nenshi voted in favour of forming the committee to revive arena talks in May, but said it would be difficult to convince him, city council and Calgarians to put "a lot more public money on the table."

The Victoria Park location for an arena came after an $890-million CalgaryNext project pitched by the Flames in 2015. That concept included a hockey arena, football stadium and field house on the west side of downtown.

Flames owners offered $200-million of their own money and proposed a $250-million loan be repaid through a ticket surcharge.

CalgaryNext was put on the back burner when council determined the project would cost as much as $1.8-billion, due to remediation of creosote-soaked soil on site.

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