Calgary mayor: No public money for Flames arena unless public actually approves

More news from Calgary, where Mayor Naheed Nenshi was last heard from insisting that he wouldn’t provide any funding for a new Flames arena unless there was an equal public benefit. Now Mayor Nenshi says he’d need to negotiate any arena deal not just with the Flames owners, but with — get this — his constituents:

“It’s not going to be a deal that gets presented to the public with a ribbon on it,” Nenshi said Monday in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. “We will actually engage the public in discussions about what they think is right.”

Bonus points to Nenshi for that subtle use of “actually.” Clearly somebody understands that in the sports subsidy business, democracy is seen as crazy talk.

Flames CEO reportedly seeking arena plus CFL stadium, plus amateur fieldhouse to throw public a bone

Calgary Flames CEO Ken King has been promising to come out with a new arena plan for months now, and this week … he still didn’t actually come out with anything concrete, but the Calgary Herald leaked a bunch of news that it claims it has “learned” about the project, apparently from the ether, because it didn’t cite a source, not even “according to a source.” According to the Herald, King wants to:

  • Build a Flames hockey arena, a CFL stadium for the Stampeders (which King also owns), and an amateur sports fieldhouse for track meets, indoor soccer, and stuff like that.
  • Pay for the more than half-billion-dollar cost by, okay, they didn’t explain that part. But King told a radio show last month that “we’re not going to sneak in here and steal money from the city,” and he wouldn’t lie on the radio, would he?

There are a couple of clues here to how King could end up asking for subsidies while claiming he’s not asking for subsidied: The amateur fieldhouse could count as a “public benefit” of the project and thus something worthy of city dollars, the city could be asked to kick in free land, and in general big complicated projects are way easier to hide money in than small simple ones. The big question now is how Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has previously told King in no uncertain words that he’s not going to hand over money for nothing, and the city council respond once King actually releases his plan. He says “in a couple of weeks,” but he said much the same thing in November, so maybe somebody should ask him which couple of weeks.

Flames owner readies arena demands, Calgary mayor readies “No, weren’t you listening the first time?”

Calgary Flames CEO Ken King is getting ready to present the city with his plans for a new arena, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi still doesn’t want to hear about it if it involves public subsidies:

“It can’t be public dollars to subsidize private benefit. As much as we’d love to have Madonna here, I don’t think that you could convince most people that it’s a good use of public money to subsidize Madonna.”

In case you needed reminding, Naheed Nenshi is a total stadium subsidy badass.

BREAKING: Flames owner says arenas are “places where people gather for pro sports”

Billionaire oil tycoon and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards spoke about his forthcoming demand for a new arena on Friday (it’s Canada, they have some crazy Canadian Thanksgiving in August or something, so Friday was just a regular news day), and here’s what he said:

“We’ve been looking at options for both new buildings and new sites. We haven’t finalized on anything but we’re getting close and what we’re trying to understand is what works as the best model that works for the province, works for the city and works for the teams,” he told reporters at a business forum in Lake Louise.

“And when I say that, I don’t mean that in the context of the financial support or contributions. We haven’t got to that model, but the concept of something that’s an iconic building for the province, an iconic building for the city, something that’s a gathering place. You know, arenas in cities are gathering places, where people gather for pro sports or concerts or conventions.”

So let’s see, that comes down to: We want a new arena, but we don’t know where or how to pay for it, but we want it to look really really cool and arenas are important because people go to them!

Wake me when Michael Eisner weighs in, okay?

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.

Flames exec after nine straight years of sellouts: This arena blows, we need a new one

The last time we heard anything about the Calgary Flames‘ arena demands was nearly two years ago, when team execs said they were watching the Edmonton Oilers‘ plans closely; before that, it was way back in 2009 when team CEO Ken King said he hoped to start construction on a new building “as soon as we can.”

Cue Flames president for hockey operations Brian Burke, who yesterday let loose with both barrels at the 31-year-old Calgary Saddledome, calling it “a 1988 building” and “embarrassing”:

“An update on our new home? You know what? We need a new building. Obviously, everyone knows that,” said Burke, president of hockey operations for the Flames, responding to a question from the audience. “We have the finest state-of-the-art 1988 building in the (National Hockey League).”

This is, of course, a time-honored tradition in sports, slagging your current home in an attempt to shame elected officials into helping you build a new one. Of course, given that nothing is imminent on that front — even King admitted back in January that “It’s our hope to announce something, I guess when we’re ready, and we’re not there yet” — you’d think he’d want to worry about driving fans away by telling them their home arena is a dump, but given that the Flames have sold out every game for the last nine years, maybe not. Though it does make you wonder why they “need a new building,” except as a way to make more revenue off of luxury suites and the like, which would more honestly be stated as “We want more money.”

B.C. city bails on minor-league hockey deal after 5 years, $77m in losses

It’s not often that you see a city decide to cut its losses and jettison a deal to bring a pro sports team to town, but that’s just what has happened in the small British Columbia city of Abbotsford, which has terminated its deal with the minor-league Abbotsford Heat hockey franchise after five years and $7.2 million in losses:

The [Calgary] Flames were persuaded to leave town for $5.5-million, as Abbotsford was staring at annual losses of about $2-million, estimated at a total of $11-million, before the deal expired. The hockey team likely will move to New York State. While Abbotsford has cut off potential losses, it is left with a gleaming arena – including 15 luxury boxes – with no primary tenant.

The deal for the Flames’ top minor-league club was supposed to last ten years, but was apparently a disaster for several completely foreseeable reasons: Abbotsford is Vancouver Canucks fan territory, it’s a huge travel distance from the rest of the AHL, etc. Thanks to this terrible planning, plus one of those horrible “Sure, we’ll cover all your team’s losses, why not?” deals that someone should really be staging interventions when elected officials even consider them, the city will now be on the hook for a total of $12.7 million in subsidies and buyout, plus the initial $64 million it paid to build the Abbotsford Centre, but at least maybe now it can book some more concerts that Canucks fans won’t mind going to see.

But I know what you’re thinking: Enough about Abbotsford, what does this say about Chilliwack? Never let it be said I don’t have you covered.

Flames arena flood damage should be fixed for NHL season

So there were huge floods in Alberta starting Friday, and the Calgary Flames failed to seal all the doors at the Saddledome, and … this happened:

“It’s shocking what we are looking at,” said Libby Raines, VP Building Operations for the Calgary Flames.

“You’re eyeballing it but there’s a lot of water and it’s up to the 8th, 9th or tenth row. However, from the last report it doesn’t appear it has risen at all since then.”

Indeed that means the rink, the ice plant and a few thousand seats are submerged by the shocking overflow that swept over Stampede Park and the downtown core.

It also means the dressing rooms, the Jumbotron nerve centre, the Ed Whalen Lounge and the Hot Stove Lounge are all likely destroyed, as well. Plenty of history will likely be ruined too, including a massive championship team photo from 1989 signed by most team members that hangs outside the Flames dressing room.

The good news is that Flames CEO Ken King says insurance should cover the damage,  there should be time to get the building operational in time for the upcoming NHL season, and this won’t be used as an excuse to hurry the team’s slow-burning plans for a new arena. Meanwhile: disaster porn!

Checking in on Calgary: Flames arena plans still simmering

Just in case you were wondering if the Calgary Flames are still looking to get a new arena like they hinted at three years ago: Oh yeah, the Calgary Flames are still looking to get a new arena.

Oilers president Patrick LaForge uses the cycling term “drafting” to describe how closely the Flames have been following Edmonton’s quest for a new arena…

However, in light of the fact Edmonton’s $475-million building plans made like Lance Armstrong and were quashed last week, one wonders what sort of implications it will have on Calgary’s bid for new digs.

“It has no effect on us,” assured Flames president Ken King.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi responded that “it is extremely difficult to justify spending very scarce public money on a professional sports arena,” but also called the Flames owners “very decent, honourable people” who are “not out to screw the public.” says this means “the Flames ownership does have the respect of the current Mayor,” which I guess it does, at least compared to the scene unfolding across the province.

Calgary arena push is on; funding, site unclear

The Calgary Flames arena push heated up this week, with team president Ken King saying the team wants to begin construction “as soon as we can.”

That could be a while yet, though. The team still hasn’t picked a site, or figured out financing for a new arena. City and provincial elected officials have all promised that no public money will go into arena construction, but notably didn’t promise that no taxpayers funds would go for any part of an arena project: Alberta premier Ed Stelmach said he’d consider funding improvements to a light-rail line serving the arena site, while Calgary mayor Dave Bronconnier said the city could provide the land.

As for King, he was mum about any funding talk, saying only, “We will make a presentation when and if we seek public funding. In what quantum and if that’s going to take place has not been determined.” I don’t speak fluent Canadian, but that sure sounds to me like: “We’re still trying to figure out what we can get away with.”