When the Calgary city council announced a new Flames arena negotiating committee without Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was the guy on the old committee who clearly knew the most about negotiating arena deals, it was a worrisome sign. But hey, maybe the new committee was going to be smart, too, and they just wanted Nenshi out of the way because the Flames owners hated him and this way they could bargain without him being a lightning rod for criticism?
Turns out, not so much:
Reporters were told that on May 31, Coun. Jeff Davison sent a letter to Flames’ CEO Ken King, asking for a new round of talks.
King responded with a letter which started with: “While we would never decline your formal request for a meeting, we do have some concerns based on past practice.”
King requested a preliminary discussion so the Flames can see what’s changed in the city’s position, and then the team could decide if it’s worth returning to the table…
King’s letter also came with a caveat.
“If we are to proceed, a simple and preemptive imperative is media silence. Public and/or media involvement must only be rendered in the event of an agreement,” wrote King.
So the Flames owners’ official position is: Tell us your offer, and we won’t tell you our offer, and then maybe we’ll consider discussing things with you. But nobody is to talk to the media about anything, because we will only negotiate — by which we mean listen to you negotiating against yourself — behind closed doors, with any open democratic debate to take place after the deal is already done.
That is … what’s Canadian for “batshit”? Surely Davison could see that, right?
Turns out, not so much:
He said the letter is a good sign.
“We haven’t heard officially from the Flames in months and getting moving on a conversation quickly was important,” said Davison.
Also, the CBC reports that Davison says he “understands the condition” of not revealing anything to the media.
If you want to bend over backwards to give Davison the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he’s just trying to nod and smile to get King and the Flames execs back to the table, and at that point he’ll start playing hardball. (And he did release the letter to the media, which shows he’s not going to negotiate totally in secret, though he also noted that the letter was going to be subject to freedom of information requests anyway.)
But still, why is he so eager to get the Flames execs back to the table, when it’s the team, not the city, that is desperate for a new arena? Nenshi’s approach — show me why we should build you an arena, and we’ll happily listen — may not have led to progress toward construction, but that’s largely because building an arena that the Flames would profit from would be a terrible deal for the city, while building an arena that wouldn’t cost the city much would be a terrible deal for the Flames. So yeah, there’s an impasse, but that’s only because $1 billion–plus arenas in medium-sized cities that already have perfectly okay if lacking new-car-smell arenas are terrible investments, something that no amount of smiling and nodding and negotiating is going to change. It’s still early, but “Please let us negotiate with you for this thing that you are demanding from us” seems like a very, very, very bad sign.