It’s no secret that the negotiations between the City of Calgary and the Calgary Flames regarding a new building for the hockey club aren’t going well. Heck, they aren’t going on at all right now following a public war of words in the run-up to last October’s municipal election.
But a group of city councillors, led by Ward 6 councillor Jeff Davison, are trying to get talks going again. Their approach is rather simple: changing up the people who are at the negotiating table.
Davison and a few colleagues are working on a motion to create a council sub-committee which would take the lead on arena negotiations with the Flames on the proposed Victoria Park Arena. While City negotiators have been in talks with the Flames on an arena since the August 2015 unveiling of CalgaryNEXT, frequently providing city council members with updates, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has become the public face of the City’s side of negotiations since this past fall.
A proposed Victoria Park arena was included in a Nenshi campaign video in September as a key part of a proposed Cultural and Entertainment District. That video prompted a back-and-forth between the Nenshi camp and the Flames which culminated in the Flames announcing that they were pulling out of talks – during their own training camp-opening golf tournament with sponsors and VIPs, no less – and seemingly waiting to see if the October election would give them a more open-minded city council. It didn’t.
But given how sideways things went between Nenshi and Ken King, it’s understandable that there’s some desire within city council to have some new faces in the mix.
Davison says councillors has not reached out to the #Flames.
We have reached out, but no word yet. The team was also approached at the Peters presser today, but focus was on that announcement.
While Davison says the mayor could be on, Chu prefers he wasn't. #yyc
— Lucas Meyer (@meyer_lucas) April 23, 2018
“I’m totally happy with having fresh blood at the table,” said Nenshi during a break in Monday’s council meeting. “And I know that many councillors have been getting lots of phone calls from lots of people and feel like they’ve got to do something. But I will remind you as well that the city is still at the table. We’ve been at the table this entire time, and the other party needs to indicate they’re willing to come to the table. And if they are willing to come to the table if they’re dealing with new faces, sure, that’s a good thing. I’d be very happy to continue those conversations.”
Davison has been pretty vocal since joining council on his desire to get two sides back at the bargaining table, even tweeting that all he wanted for Christmas was an arena deal. He noted during a break in Monday’s council meeting that the time is right to try again.
“We haven’t really had any discussions about it since being elected,” said Davison. “Obviously during the campaign I heard a lot from Calgarians that they wanted some kind of resolution and that nobody on either side of the equation was happy. And I think that’s really where we got to as the City, as well. Which is why we’re bringing this forward now. It’s the right time, we’ve done a ton of work to formally assess all the feasibility of areas and deals and all of that, but at the end of the day when those negotiations fail, through whatever fault it was, it’s time to get things on the books again and start a conversation.”
In addition to tying in with the ongoing development work in the East Village by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation – work that’ll continue later this year with the unveiling of the Rivers District Master Plan, which includes Victoria Park and a new arena – as well as tying in with a lot of recent work the City’s been engaging in regarding life-cycle assessments of City-owned assets. Given the age of the Saddledome and the difficulty of retro-fitting it, it’s a conversation worth having.
THIS JUST IN: Statement from the #Flames:
“Based on what has transpired to date, we have no basis on which to believe anything has changed with respect to a new arena. If the reports are true, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, the City decides to do.” – CSEC #yyc
— Lucas Meyer (@meyer_lucas) April 23, 2018
It’s worth noting that the City’s stance on sinking taxpayer funds into a new Flames building hasn’t necessarily changed – Nenshi expressed that people shouldn’t think that the City’s going to be talked into paying the full freight of a new arena – but it’s more about setting a different tone with new faces and getting dialogue going again.
The motion will be before city council in the near future.