Calgary Flames head of Hockey Operations Brian Burke is at the centre of controversy regarding a new arena in Calgary.
Speaking at a luncheon Wednesday, Burke spoke about how much he likes Calgary, and how he has wanted to work in the city since he was in town for the 1988 Olympics.
After the luncheon there was a question and answer period where Burke was asked about a new arena for the Calgary Flames.
Burke told the crowd he does think the city should be supporting the CalgaryNEXT project, and he does not agree with the city of Calgary’s arguments against building the arena at the west end of downtown.
”Anyone tries to leave the city by Bow Trail in rush hour knows-that’s one of the biggest choke points in the city. We gotta fix that. It’s got nothing to do with whether we put a stadium there.”
“Someone says, “we gotta clean up that land. That’s part of the project costs.” Why? Don’t we have to do that anyway?” Burke said.
Burke was light-hearted in his responses to questions, and refused to pick a favourite team in the current playoff run between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators. “Not with these cameras running.” He laughed.
The former Maples Leafs General Manager said he thinks taxpayer dollars should to go toward a new arena project, and as a part of that he is expecting to see some of his tax dollars set aside to fix the roads on the west end of downtown and also to remediate the land.
“Some of them (taxpayer dollars) have already gone toward the library – fine with me. Some of them have already gone toward the music hall, which I’m not sure that’s gonna makes sense for anyone in Calgary long-term. But that’s okay. Now I want some of them to go toward fixing the stadium and arena project.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi was asked about Burke’s comments Wednesday and said he was not surprised. Nenshi told reporters five of seven NHL arenas in Canada are privately owned, “Only Edmonton and Calgary are publicly owned. So there are many many different models out there.”
“We will continue ignoring all of this stuff in the media and trying to come up with a deal that makes sense for Calgarians, that makes sense for taxpayers and makes sense for the team.” Nenshi said.
Ken King, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation President and CEO made a statement hours after the luncheon that indicated Burke did not speak on behalf of his organization:
“Brian Burke runs Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames and he and many Calgarians have strong views about this topic. However, he is not our spokesperson regarding a new events centre for our city. We remain committed to our dialogue with the City and very optimistic we will get to a positive conclusion. We admire everyone’s enthusiasm on this subject.”
Nenshi said he stands by council’s position that public money must have public benefit.
Burke said building a new arena is not just a benefit to the sports teams that would play inside of it. He pointed out the multiple Garth Brooks shows that recently played in Edmonton, but did not play in Calgary. “Part of it’s (that) they can make more money in Edmonton. Part of it’s (that) our building is so antiquated that it can’t handle the weight-load of these big shows.”
“That’s a trend that will continue, as long as we have the nicest building that was built in 1983.” Burke said.
At the end of the luncheon Burke was pushed on whether the Calgary Flames have any options other than staying in Calgary.
“You don’t think we could find a place to go? Let’s see, Quebec. They have a new building that meets NHL standards.”