Flames watching Oilers arena situation
ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
|In light of the fact Edmonton's $475-million arena plans were quashed last week, one wonders what sort of implications it will have on Calgary's bid for new digs. (Darren Makowichuk/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - 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.
It's an appropriate description given the Flames have, indeed, tracked the Oilers' path to try eliminating resistance while quietly drafting various plans of their own.
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.
He can say that because his organization has done a good job keeping its plans and timelines under wraps while watching to see how much money the federal, provincial and municipal governments might kick in.
However, given the feds and the province have made it clear they have no desire to prop up NHL buildings, the Flames have to find it somewhat troubling to hear Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi suggest his appetite to chip in for such a project is also lacking.
"For me, it is extremely difficult to justify spending very scarce public money on a professional sports arena," Nenshi said, when asked how closely he's been following Edmonton's sordid arena negotiations.
"Edmonton has a very, very different context, as they need a revitalization in their downtown, which we don't need as much. Before I was elected I told the Flames, 'if you want to have that conversation, I'm willing to have that conversation.' So far, they haven't brought me anything. I'm still waiting for some analysis and an idea of what it is they want. And I have to say even when they've talked to me informally, they've never asked for public money."
Clearly, now is not the right time given the failed negotiations in Edmonton, not to mention the bad taste billionaire owners and millionaire players have left in the mouths of Canadians with their labour war.
Given the changing attitude on funding pro sports buildings with public money, it only stands to reason whatever timeline the Flames had in mind to unveil their plans, it has surely been bumped back given the recent developments.
Many might be surprised to learn that, behind the scenes, King and his staff have been working closely with the Oilers on their respective arena projects. Even though Edmonton's project fell through Wednesday when owner Daryl Katz's absence at council meetings led to it being shelved, plenty has been learned.
King has said little about a Calgary arena for years and has asked only that, once it's unveiled, politicians and the public judge the project on its merits.
Rumours abound about possible locations, but the most likely areas are the Stampede grounds and nearby East Village. There has also been talk of a football/hockey complex at the University of Calgary.
One thing the Flames have going for them over the Oilers is the goodwill of its ownership.
"I think the ownership of the Flames are very decent, honourable people," said Nenshi, echoing the sentiment of Calgarians who recognize the work the ownership group has done for the community and local charities.
"They're not out to screw the public."
King says his club's goal is to build much more than a building, hinting at a significantly grander facility housing more than just an arena. If so, it will certainly give Nenshi more reasons to consider chipping in.
And while now is certainly not the time to say more than that, the climate will eventually change, opening the door for open-minded discussion at city hall, where aldermen will play an important role in how things proceed.
Given how important the Flames are to the local economy, the club definitely deserves the city's financial support -- the question is just how much.
"We've had cordial and preliminary discussions with the city around lots of things and potential locations and, at the right time, there will be more dialogue with the city and with the public," said King.
"We're not going to sneak up on anybody."
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.