CALGARY - To put in perspective just how perilous it is around the Scotiabank Saddledome, the only way Ken King was able to get near it Saturday was with the help of a John Deere tractor that picked him up in nearby Ramsay.
That said, the Flames president is convinced hockey will be played in it this fall.
“We’re going to be ready for the opening of the season,” declared King at a hastily called press conference held shortly after the Flames president and building operations VP Libby Raines toured the flooded rink.
“We have the biggest water pumps in North America on standby but they can only be put in place once the river subsides.”
Shortly before providing disturbing pictures and video of the carnage to the media King gave a frank assessment of what he saw.
“It’s a mess,” said King.
“The tales of it being up to row eight or nine are absolutely true. To put that into perspective that means if you were a hockey player walking out of the tunnel onto the ice you would be underwater yourself. It’s is a total loss on the event level. To the extent it is greater than that we do not know.”
The Zambonis, the video control room, archived footage of the team, most memorabilia, the dressing rooms, kitchens and the media lounge are all destroyed.
King would not venture a guess as to how many millions of dollars in damages there were, nor would he speculate on when the building could start to be cleared or eventually be open for business again.
Fact is, a July 5 agriculture event and the subsequent string of Stampede concerts aren’t going to happen. What King also refused to say is that the arena damage will indeed have an effect on the club’s hopes and plans for a new rink.
A frustrating lockout and a recovering economy previously helped delay the Flames plans to launch arena plans, not to mention the rink saga in Edmonton that dragged on forever. However the door is now ajar for open discussion on a $500 or $600 million project that will include requests for government to chip in.
“I don’t think it affects it at all,” King had to say so as not to muddy the waters on the highly-sensitive approach the club has taken on its soon-to-be-unveiled rink plans.
“We need to put the building back in service. In the event we started construction of a new building today that’s probably a two-and-a-half to three-year process and you couldn’t partially put this building back together waiting for that new building. It’s germane to that discussion.”
King and Raines confirmed the water level inside the 30-year-old building dropped a fraction Friday night and debunked reports the Jumbotron itself was sitting on the arena floor when the water started pouring in Friday morning. He says the damage to the city-owned but Flames-operated rink is covered by insurance and implored fans not to come near the building.
“It’s not safe,” said King who added many of the staffers – who did what they could to move some equipment Friday - will be relocated to McMahon Stadium.
“No one in the city, I don’t think, anticipated the gravity of this flood. When you see the photos and video of it its very difficult to describe millions of gallons of water sitting in that building. The stage is floating. The dressing rooms are totally submerged. Everything on that level…gone.”
Raines said contractors would study the building closely but was “fairly confident it should be structurally intact.”
“We are ordering everything including hockey equipment right now,” added King.
“We need to move with great haste.”
On both buildings.