Flames owner readying arena demand, Calgary mayor readying “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

The owners of the Calgary Flames haven’t been too aggressive with their hopes for a new arena, beyond occasionally griping about their old one. That all changed yesterday, though, thanks to a major package of articles in the Calgary Herald describing how:

  • Flames CEO Ken King “could be within weeks of announcing their vision” for a new arena
  • The arena will almost certainly require, in King’s words, “some sort of public-private” funding scheme.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the city council are vehemently opposed to giving King any cash, though some on the council may be open to providing free land.

According to the Herald, the arena talks have been going on for three years, if by “talks” you mean “the Flames owner asking for money, and city officials telling him to get lost.” (At one point Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim emailed colleagues in frustration, “I think we can be fairly certain that [Flames execs] haven’t listened to anything they have been told.”) Public opinion in Calgary is massively against giving any taxpayer cash to King, and elected officials reflect that position, mostly:

“Land is also public funding, so we need to have a really good answer for why it makes sense,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters…

Coun. Peter Demong is also skeptical about free land for a hockey and concert venue. “I’m not going to give away anything. That’s not in my nature,” he said during a council break. “That said, come talk to us.”…

“Under no circumstances would I put tax dollars to a new arena, but if we can assist as far as of land and things that’s there and they may be able to use, I think we should,” Coun. Shane Keating said.

Asked if that includes West Village, the city’s largest land holding in the downtown area, Keating said: “Wherever, I’m saying across the board.” Other members like Richard Pootmans, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward Sutherland and West Village councillor Evan Woolley said land could be available as part of arena talks.

This sounds like a recipe for a California-style “give them some huge tracts of land to develop, and pretend it’s not really a subsidy” deal, except of course for the fact that the mayor just said that it’s a subsidy. Things are still very early in the arena battle process, notwithstanding that it’s already dragged on for years, but it looks like this could be an actual battle, of the kind that isn’t very common south of the border. I mean, check this out:

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we need a new facility,” King said in an interview. (Nenshi has publicly questioned the need on Twitter.)

I’m not going to make my usual Canada joke, but mayors challenging whether teams “need” new buildings and newspapers actually making sure to report this? Yeah, they really are like a different country.


2 comments on “Flames owner readying arena demand, Calgary mayor readying “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

  1. Well, it is good that Mayor and council seem intent on asking the tough questions in Calgary…

    But let’s not forget that the schmucks in Edmonton talked tough early in the process too… then ultimately approved the spending of MORE money than the Katz group was intially seeking for the arena/district improvements (as I recall, some $480m in public money for a project that is supposed to cost about $600m… but who really knows? Numbers are hard to pin down when we are talking about welfare for billionaires…)

    I hope Nenshi & co stick to their principles. I fear they will not… especially since the former Mayor of Edmonton (Mandel) who satisfied Katz in every possible way now holds a high ranking cabinet position in the provincial govt despite having only just been elected to the legislature.

    Funny how things turn out…

  2. I don’t live in Calgary, but as a Canadian I can firmly say Nenshi is by far the country’s most intelligent and popular mayor of any of our large (all five of them!!) cities. For as long as he’s Calgary’s mayor, he won’t back down and he’s not going to be removed from office anytime soon. Unless another person buys the Flames, Calgary fans better get used to their seats at the Saddledome since it doesn’t look like private or public money will be getting used for a new rink.
    That being said, with Nenshi’s solid reputation, The Herald having a strong reporting staff and Burke having a well deserved status for being a hothead and an interesting quote, this will get very interesting. If Burke’s one of the main voices coming from Calgary’s camp on this, he and Nenshi (and Calgary’s council) will clash far more publicly than what’s happened already sooner rather than later.