CALGARY – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is urging Calgary to move ahead on a new arena, suggesting the viability of the Calgary Flames – and maybe even the city itself – rests upon the success of the CalgaryNEXT project.
Speaking at the Calgary Chamber on Monday, Bettman suggested work needs to begin immediately on a new rink for the Calgary Flames, who currently play in the Scotiabank Saddledome. Built in 1989, the arena will become the oldest in the NHL by 2017.
“Why do I feel a sense of urgency? Because there are several clocks ticking and the opportunity for the city of Calgary is great,” Bettman told the sold-out crowd. “These facilities are anchoring urban change and progress all over North America. …Unless the city is going to embrace it and make it a priority, it’s not going to happen.”
“It is not an overstatement to say the future stability, viability and continuity of the Calgary Flames, and perhaps the city of Calgary, rests on the achievement of CalgaryNEXT,” Bettman said.
“Let’s make this a priority because it’s essential, it’s important, it goes to the quality of life, and it’s only going to get harder.”
WATCH: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman answers questions from the media after speaking to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
‘Wealthy people from New York’: Calgary mayor reacts to Gary Bettman visit
When asked about Bettman’s visit during a break in Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was interested to hear what Bettman had to say.
“I’ve met with him in the past about this project and nothing really changes,” Nenshi told reporters.
The city approved a multi-phase analysis of the proposed project in November, but a report isn’t expected until later this spring.
“I know that Calgarians require very wealthy people from New York to come and tell us what we need to do in our community because they understand vibrancy better than we do,” Nenshi joked.
Bettman and Flames president Ken King are scheduled to meet Tuesday with Calgary’s city manager and a few city councillors, but not Nenshi.
“I believe that if this project is going to happen, the mayor needs to embrace it, the city needs to embrace it,” Bettman said. “If he’s not prepared to embrace it, then people will have to deal with that.”
‘It doesn’t always get edgy’: Bettman fires back
Speaking on Global Calgary’s Morning News on Tuesday, Bettman said things haven’t been quite as heated in other cities.
“It doesn’t always get edgy,” Bettman said. “When I was involved in the process helping the sides stay together in Edmonton. It wasn’t contentious at all.”
Watch below: Commissioner Garry Bettman joins Global Calgary and reacts to Mayor Nenshi’s comments regarding the CalgaryNEXT project.
When anchor Scott Fee brought up the mayor’s sarcastic comment referring to Bettman as a “wealthy New Yorker,” the commissioner seemed surprised.
“He said that?” he asked, later adding he wasn’t “privy to the mayor’s thinking.”
“The one thing that is clear though, is that these projects don’t work in the absence of a public-private partnership.”
The CalgaryNEXT project calls for a 20,000-seat arena that would replace the Saddledome and a 30,000-seat indoor football stadium for the Calgary Stampeders that would also serve as a fieldhouse.
The estimated cost is $900-million. It is to be funded through a $250-million ticket tax, a $240-million community revitalization levy, $200 million from Calgary Flames Sports and Entertainment and $200 million from city taxpayers for a fieldhouse component.
Bettman’s visit to Calgary coincided with a special ceremony at the Saddledome Monday night to officially retire former defenceman Robyn Regehr as a member of the Calgary Flames.
With files from Erika Tucker, David Boushy and The Canadian Press