Calgary Flames CEO and president Ken King said the team could be looking for a new hometown if a new arena isn’t built, but the organization won’t resort to threats or tactics to sway a decision from council.
King raised the issue of the Flames leaving Calgary during an interview on Sportsnet Fan 590 in Toronto on Wednesday, just days after Mayor Naheed Nenshi declared the CalgaryNEXT project “dead.”
King told Postmedia Saturday his comments shouldn’t be viewed as an ultimatum to council, but the option to move the team is an unfortunate reality if “both sides of the table” can’t agree on a deal for a new facility.
“We’re not threatening people,” King said. “And furthermore, I think and hope we’re going to get a deal. The truth of the matter is, we would just move. Which is not to be confused as a threat.”
King said the Flames wouldn’t use “silly tactics” like shopping the team to different cities and touring arenas to force a decision, alluding to Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz’s trip to Seattle in 2012 while the fate of Rogers Place was still up in the air.
Many saw the visit as a threat to move the team, drawing enough public outrage that Katz issued an apology to Edmontonians.
“This has to be good for everybody, and if it isn’t good for everybody it shouldn’t happen, pure and simple,” King said. “And if it turns out to be not working for us then nobody’s going to argue that we should try to secure our future in whatever way’s necessary.”
King said CalgaryNEXT — the proposed $890-million arena, stadium, and field house complex in the West Village — isn’t dead but “just sleeping” as Calgary Sports and Entertainment (Corp.) looks at a Plan B location in Victoria Park at the request of council.
Daorcey Le Bray, communications advisor to the mayor, said Nenshi’s comment about the death of CalgaryNEXT was his “personal opinion” based on public cost and infrastructure required for the project, adding the fate of the CalgaryNEXT “has yet to be discussed and decided upon at City Council.”
The two proposed projects differ in both location and scope, with Plan B looking at building just a new hockey arena while CalgaryNEXT would be a new home for both the Flames and the Stampeders, replacing the more than 50-year-old McMahon Stadium in the creosote-contaminated West Village.
“I think actually the best solution for the city and for us are different,” King said. “So what’s best is what can actually be accomplished. Can we achieve most of what everybody – including, most importantly, the citizens – needs to have in the city?”
Despite the mayor’s declaration that CalgaryNEXT is a non-starter, Coun. Evan Woolley agreed with King that the project is still on pause while council and the Flames weigh both options.
“While I appreciate the mayor has never liked the CalgaryNEXT project this is a decision of council, it’s not his decision,” Coun. Evan Woolley said. “There has been no decision by council; the mayor is not the one who makes this decision alone.”
Nenshi issued a statement on Saturday responding to King’s comments about possibly moving the team.
“I am confident that a new project that has public benefit for public money exists, and I know both sides are working very hard on that,” Nenshi said. “The owners of the Calgary Flames have repeatedly assured Calgarians that they would not threaten to move the team, and I assume that they have not shifted from that position. I plan to enjoy the playoff run while letting the conversations continue.”
King said both proposed locations and projects “have merit” but there is still more work to be done before deciding which project will be most beneficial to the city and Calgarians.
“It’s not us being right and them being wrong,” King said. “There’s no need for this to be an adversarial process at all … we need to try and find a happy solution that works.”