Nenshi says '99.999997%' of Calgarians don't want public money, or Gary Bettman, involved in arena

Nenshi and Gary Bettman offer differing takes on March arena meeting

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Calgarians have been loud and clear in their opposition to using public dollars to finance a new arena for the Flames, and to the NHL commissioner jumping into the debate. 

"The calls to our office, the emails, the comments have been, I would say, 99.999997 per cent saying please Mr. Bettman stay out of it and no, there should be no public money for this," said Nenshi.

Bettman was in town this week lobbying for a new home for Calgary's NHL team and meeting with Nenshi. Bettman said the Flames needed a new arena "yesterday" and warned of increasing costs the longer it takes to build one. 

He called the Scotiabank Saddledome an "old, antiquated, inefficient building."

"It's a grand old building. It's got a great roofline. It's historic in many ways, but ... these aren't the facilities our hockey teams typically have," said Bettman.

Edmonton and Calgary

It's essentially the same message he brought to town last year, including stoking Alberta rivalries by pointing to Edmonton's new hockey palace, Rogers Place, which opened in time for the current season. 

That arena cost just over $600 million, including almost $313 million in public dollars — much of that coming from a community revitalization levy, the same tax deferral mechanism used in Calgary's East Village. 

"The Flames will have the dubious distinction, with the oldest arena in the NHL," Bettman said in January 2016, adding "there is only [one] box left to check off on my arena checklist.

"It would be a shame if Calgary fell further behind."

'Good partners'

Nenshi said he's not sure it would be helpful for Bettman to act as a facilitator between the Flames and the city, but he did say there's room for discussion if the stars align.

"Certainly we'll be good partners on this. We will have an open and honest discussion about what might be possible, where there might be a win-win," he said. 

"I continue to say that, as always, public money must be spent for public benefit and if we can figure out a way that there's public benefit in an interesting project in Victoria Park, we'll take that to the citizens and see what they think."

Victoria Park versus CalgaryNext

City council is waiting for a report on a proposal for what's called a new "events centre" in Victoria Park, however it's not known when that will happen.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the Flames, Hitmen, Roughnecks and Stampeders, has been pushing for a new complex dubbed CalgaryNext that includes an arena, stadium and fieldhouse on the west side of downtown. 

Cost estimates for that project range from $1.3 to $1.8 billion and would involved hundreds of millions in public dollars as part of the current plans. 

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