The owners of the Calgary Flames are demanding Alberta's largest city pay for a significant chunk of a proposed new arena and exempt the NHL club from property taxes and rent, all while refusing to open their books as the two sides negotiate, according to a municipal insider.
The club's proposal does not include sharing profits or repaying the city for any contribution it may make toward building a new facility in Calgary's Victoria Park, the source said. The new facility will cost around $500-million, multiple city hall sources said. The Flames asked the city to cover well more than one-third of the bill, the source told The Globe and Mail. Victoria Park is near the Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Flames play now.
The details come after the Flames ownership group, along with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, resumed negotiating with the city through the media. The fight escalated when Ken King, the president of the organization that controls the hockey club and other local sports franchises, told reporters the discussions were "spectacularly unproductive." The Flames, he said, were walking away.
Neither the city nor the Flames have publicly released details about their proposals.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took his turn in front of the microphones Wednesday: "The city has a very fair offer on the table, I think one that many Calgarians – most Calgarians – will see as eminently reasonable," he said. "And there is another offer on the table that most Calgarians will see as eminently unreasonable."
City council, in response to King's surprise snipe, voted 8-4 on Wednesday to release the details of its proposal. The politicians, however, did not decide when to roll out the information.
Calgary has offered to finance one-third of the arena, providing cash instalments over a number of years, a source told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. That money would have to be repaid, the source said. The Flames, according to this plan, would cover another third and the final chunk would come from ticket surcharges. Nenshi, on Wednesday, confirmed this structure is "part" of the deal.
"The city has always negotiated in good faith and we remain at the table ready to negotiate in good faith," Nenshi said. "Council understands the importance of the Flames to this city. Council understands the importance of having the Flames downtown. We've worked very hard to come up with a deal that makes sense in this economy without impacting people's taxes."
The mayor's office declined to comment on the Flames' wish list. An official with the Flames said the club would not provide further comment.
The Saddledome is 34 years old and council does not dispute the city needs a new arena. Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. owns the Flames, Stampeders and other outfits. CSEC previously proposed a sporting and event complex dubbed CalgaryNEXT and wanted it on the western edge of downtown. Those negotiations crumbled and Calgary and CSEC have since focused on an arena in Victoria Park.
The new arena is tightly tied to the city's 2026 Winter Olympic aspirations. The Olympic Bid Exploration Committee's proposed master plan hinges on a new arena in Victoria Park. Murray Edwards, the Flames' primary owner, has other assets that are part of the Olympic blueprint.
The billionaire oilman controls Nakiska Ski Area, a resort that would hold scores of events should the Games come to Calgary. The bid committee's proposed budget calls for $28.06-million to be funnelled to the privately held operation in order to upgrade it up for the Games. This includes sprucing up the lodge and improving ski runs.
Edwards also controls Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C. While this resort is not part of the Olympic bid, Golden is about an hour away from Lake Louise Ski Resort. Lake Louise, according to the Olympic proposal, would hold alpine ski events. This means tourists will likely end up at hotels on Kicking Horse and in Golden.
Edwards did not return a message seeking comment.
The talk of a new arena in Calgary began well before the city started weighing its 2026 Olympic options. The construction of Edmonton's $480-million Rogers Place left Calgarians thinking they were next in line for a facility to replace the Saddledome.
Edmonton chipped in almost $313-million for its new arena. The bulk of that – $279-million – came from a community-revitalization levy from new downtown property taxes, along with increased parking revenues and the reallocation of a subsidy that was paid to the Northlands Coliseum, where the Oilers had previously played. The city owns Rogers Place arena and leases it to the Oilers.
The club and its owner, Daryl Katz, put in $166-million via cash and lease payments to the city. Katz agreed not to move the Oilers from Edmonton for 35 years. Oilers fans also pay a ticket surcharge that is expected to contribute $125-million over 35 years. The deal was negotiated before the bottom fell out of Alberta's oil-based economy.
At one point in stalled talks with Edmonton, Katz visited Seattle, threatening to move the Oilers to the Pacific Northwest. That exercise was ridiculed as gamesmanship because Seattle had no real plans to build an NHL-sized arena. Katz apologized.