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Gord Gillies: It’s time to step up and get an arena deal done in Calgary

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Editor’s note: A quote in the original article saying the mayor previously referred to “millionaires and billionaires” has been corrected.

I had a nightmare this weekend. In my dream, I woke up to find an email marked “high priority.” It was short and to the point:

 “The Calgary Flames would like to thank the citizens and fans for many wonderful years. Thanks for the memories. We’re moving to Seattle.”

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That was it: “Thanks for the memories.”

The worst part about the dream was actually waking up and realizing it might happen. There is a lot of anger right now on both sides of the arena debate. Some key people involved in trying to reach a deal can’t stand being in the same room with each other. That’s not a recipe for success.

What happened? The past few weeks have given us a glimpse.

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WATCH‘The file is closed’: Ken King on Calgary arena deal

‘The file is closed’: Ken King on Calgary arena deal
‘The file is closed’: Ken King on Calgary arena deal

I attended the first mayoral debate in the civic election in September. Naheed Nenshi was pressing Bill Smith about what he’d do to get an arena deal with the Calgary Flames. It was clear there was a ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ sentiment. The mayor wanting to know from the others in the race how much they’re willing to hand over to the hockey club.

I cringed as I listened to the back and forth and it was the mayor’s posture that alarmed me – it was the tone, dismissive and angry. I thought to myself, “my god he hates the owners, there’s no way we’ll ever see a deal.”

LISTEN: Gord Gillies shares his thoughts on Calgary arena deal

READ MORE: Gord Gillies: Make the arena an election issue

On election night, in his personal email, the director of communications for the Calgary Flames tweeted this out:

I can’t believe it YYC.  Having @Nenshi as mayor is worse than @realDonalTrump being president. #arrogant #bracefordisaster #outoftouch.

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Sean Kelso found himself in hot water and it touched off another firestorm. It wasn’t the only tweet with Flames connections that took aim at the mayor during the campaign. Even tweets with 140 characters can capture tone and anger. The Flames distanced themselves from the content but supported their employees’ right to free speech.

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I have a better understanding now of how the mayor feels.

How did it get to this? I don’t think that matters anymore.

What matters is that things are so toxic that if someone doesn’t hit reset – and soon – my bad dream will become a reality.

LISTEN: Gord Gillies asks Ken King about their publicly released arena proposal

I’m a Calgary Flames fan. I think the team is a huge part of what makes this city exciting and vibrant. One Stanley Cup, many thrilling rides, and enough painful heartbreaks to remind me why hockey is so much a part of our Canadian identity.

To me, this isn’t just about possibly losing the hockey team. This is about losing a huge part of the heart and drive that makes Calgary such a dynamic city.

The impact of the Flames is everywhere:

  • The Hotchkiss Brain Institute – Healthy Brains for Better Lives
  • The Libin Cardiovascular Institute – Heart research, education, and care
  • Edwards family Neonatal intensive care unit – Alberta Children’s Hospital
  • Rotary Flames House – supporting families facing the death of a terminally ill child
  • Flames Community Arenas
  • Seaman Stadium
  • Riddell Library and Learning Centre – Mount Royal University
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The list goes on and on:

“Oh, if I was that rich I’d be cutting big cheques as well.”

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I hear that one a lot. That might be the case but it’s certainly not the point. The Flames owners HAVE been handing out millions of dollars and they continue to do so. That philanthropy is making all our lives better.

LISTEN: W. Brett Wilson weighs in on arena debate with Host Gord Gillies

“I can’t afford Flames tickets. Why should my taxes go to a new arena?”

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This is a tough one. Going to cheer on the Flames can be very expensive. The only times I’ve sat in expensive seats is when they were freebies from work or invites from friends.

But there are ways to make it more affordable. For four years I owned a quarter share of season tickets in section 223. A pair of second level seats for 11 games added up to about $1200 a season or $100 a month.

I could fit that into my budget. I’ve also sat in the “press” level (nose bleed!) seats a few times and it can be more fun there than any cushy club seat. I do appreciate that even a night out there with family can add up in a real hurry.

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(FYI – I dumped my tickets a few years ago because some nights it seemed the Flames played like they didn’t care. It ticked me off. I’ve been thinking I might jump back in because they’re fun to watch again)

WATCH: Nenshi and Calgary Flames respond to negative election-night tweet

Nenshi and Calgary Flames respond to negative election-night tweet
Nenshi and Calgary Flames respond to negative election-night tweet

Does the mayor hate the owners? I don’t believe that’s really the case. But, I hope he’s the one who picks up the phone.

Should city hall sell out to the Flames to keep them here?  Of course not.  But this team and these owners are worth finding a compromise.

Are the Flames “playing the script” by blackmailing their way into a new arena?  Not this group. They care about the community as much as anyone. Here’s hoping something, some way, makes sense.

These days the big dream is that Amazon falls in love with Calgary and sets up its new headquarters here. Wouldn’t that be awesome? But if they do, it won’t only be because of the available office space nearby

Mountains or tax breaks. The clincher will be the people: a wealth of talent and a spirit that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. A spirit that’s being tested right now.

There are great leaders on both sides of this bitter arena debate. Please, Game On.

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