Flames put Calgary on map but Ottawa staying out of arena fight: sport minister

The Scotiabank Saddledome is seen in this undated photo.
The Scotiabank Saddledome is seen in this undated photo. Global News

Canada’s minister of sport has fond memories of when the Calgary Flames relocated to the city from Atlanta in 1980.

“I remember doing a project on the Calgary Flames coming to Calgary when I was at Jerry Potts elementary school,” Kent Hehr, who grew up in Calgary, said Thursday when he was in the city.

READ MORE: Nenshi promises to release Calgary arena offer details after Flames pull out of deal

“Me and my buddy Trent, we had a scrapbook. We built a little stadium. That sense of excitement that kids still have today around the Flames exists and it puts us on the map as a community.”

But Hehr, Calgary’s representative in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, wasn’t willing to go beyond a stroll down memory lane when it comes to the National Hockey League team’s quest for a new arena.

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Hehr said he doesn’t see a role for the federal government, even in a mediation capacity, but understands the importance of the team to the city.

“I understand they add value and they add enjoyment and my constituents feel connected.”

Earlier this week, the Flames said they were pulling out of arena talks with the city. Team president Ken King said the team’s owners believe they can’t make a deal because negotiations have been unproductive. But they are committed to keeping the Flames in Calgary for now, he added.

READ MORE: Flames no longer looking for new arena in Calgary: Ken King

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city remains at the negotiating table for a new arena and is ready to negotiate in good faith.

Nenshi posted a blog on his Facebook page Thursday afternoon saying “the Flames are a crucial part of our city’s cultural fabric and a new arena will have a positive impact on our city.”

WATCH from Sept. 13: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi responds to an announcement from the Calgary Flames that management is no longer pursuing a new arena in Calgary.

RAW: Mayor Nenshi responds to arena bombshell
RAW: Mayor Nenshi responds to arena bombshell

He added he’s surprised the Flames walked away from negotiations.

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“It’s true that negotiations have been long and difficult, but that is to be expected given the amount of public money at stake,” he wrote. “The city has a fair and reasonable proposal on the table and we were expecting negotiations to continue after our August break.”

Prior to the blog being published, Hehr said he’s “certain the municipal government has the ability and skills to deal with this at the local level,” Hehr said Thursday.

“Mr. King and Mr. Nenshi are both very capable, honourable people who are going to continue, hopefully, to work together for a long, long time.”

The initial $890-million CalgaryNext project the Flames pitched two years ago included an ice arena, football stadium and field house built on the west side of downtown.

WATCH from Sept. 12: The president of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) announced Tuesday they are no longer going to be pursuing a new facility. Doug Vaessen has details.

Calgary Flames no longer pursuing a new arena
Calgary Flames no longer pursuing a new arena

The team’s owners offered $200 million of their money and proposed a $250-million loan to be repaid through a ticket surcharge, with the city covering the rest.

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Council disagreed with the CalgaryNext price tag, saying the project would cost about $1.8 billion when cleanup of creosote-soaked soil was included.

READ MORE: Rob Breakenridge: Make no mistake, the Flames are playing hardball

CalgaryNext moved to the back burner when council showed more enthusiasm for building an arena closer to the existing 34-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome in a planned arts and entertainment district on the downtown east side.

Hehr said he will continue to watch the situation with interest and remains optimistic.

“I’m certain that people are going to continue to work together to try and build a better community and have professional sports being part of the mix here.”

— With files from Global News’ Heide Pearson.