CALGARY – Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke says taxpayers in other Canadian cities recognize the need for new arenas and stadiums, so why not in Calgary?
The long-time NHL executive addressed the Canadian Club of Calgary on Wednesday with his trademark salt and spice.
Burke refused requests for media interviews, but he was grilled by club members on various topics in a question-and-answer session after a speech.
A new arena for the Flames dominated the discussion.
In a heated exchange with audience member Chris MacRae, a bristling Burke said ‘you’re saying you don’t care if the Calgary Flames leave? You don’t think we could find a place to go?”
Almost two years after the Flames pitched the CalgaryNext proposal to city council, the two sides are still negotiating location and who should pay for what.
“I can point to examples where public contribution has been an amazing boost to the city, or state, or province, or all of the above,” Burke said. “I think most intelligent people get this.”
His examples were Edmonton’s arena for the Oilers that opened last year, as well new football stadiums in Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa for their CFL teams. The Flames also own the Stampeders.
“It’s discouraging when other venues cheerfully, willingly construct venues, hockey rinks in Manitoba, football stadiums in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, hockey arenas in Alberta, but our little city is a little smarter than all those people and we’re not going to do it,” Burke said.
“We remain committed to a solution here in Calgary. We’re optimistic we’ll get one here in Calgary, but keep in mind we’re playing against teams in the U.S. that have their venues built for them almost 100 per cent cost and have favourable leases.”
“It’s discouraging when you hear someone from the city say that we have zero economic impact. We think it’s hundreds of millions of dollars.
The initial CalgaryNext project proposed in 2015 included an arena, football stadium and public fieldhouse costing $890 million.
Flames owners offered $200 million of their money and proposed a $250-million loan be repaid through a ticket surcharge.
City council declared CalgaryNext would cost a lot more than that — around $1.3 billion — with taxpayers footing over a billion of it.
The city has shown more enthusiasm for a Plan B, which is building the arena on a parcel of land just north of the 34-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.
CalgaryNext isn’t dead, but on the backburner, Burke said, while Flames chief executive officer Ken King discusses what’s called the Victoria Park option with the city.
The Flames issued a statement from King later Wednesday.
“Brian Burke runs hockey operations for the Calgary Flames and he and many Calgarians have strong views about this topic,” Kind said. “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.”
Burke praised Flames season-ticket holders for sticking with the team in a down economy, in which luxury items are the first to be cut from a household budget.
“We haven’t seen a decline in our season tickets,” he said.
MacRae, who says his family has bought Flames season tickets for three decades, challenged Burke on his comparisons to Detroit.
MacRae says Red Wings owners are putting a lot more of their own money into that city’s new arena than taxpayers.
“I’m not opposed to some tax money being involved,” MacRae said. “Some of the figures and some of the articles and research I’ve read tend to show it’s a poor investment for taxpayers.
“That being said, the Flames are an important part of our fabric. I also work in film and entertainment so the Saddledome does restrict what concerts we can see, as far as civic pride goes.
“I do have a problem with a blank cheque being written to five of the richest men in Canada.”
Burke was also asked about the NHL’s record on concussions.
“The NHL, in my view, has been the industry leader in concussion identification and treatment,” Burke said.
“The notion that we’re going to get rid of concussions in hockey, I say to people give your head a shake. It’s a full-contact sport. If you choose a full-contact sport, there is a good chance you’ll have a serious injury.
“If you don’t want to get a concussion, you can be a swimmer.”