Bettman ‘optimistic’ for new Flames arena, but no progress to report


‘If we’re going to hold league events here, there has to be a new building. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone’

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National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman met with the owners of the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, with an update on progress toward a new arena for the team on the agenda.

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Speaking to the media in Calgary during the first intermission of the Flames’ playoff opener win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, Bettman said he remains hopeful a deal can be reached to replace the aging Saddledome.

“I’m always optimistic,” Bettman said. “Obviously there is nothing happening right now to report that would indicate there will be a solution immediately, but hopefully everyone can relate to that.”

An earlier $650 million deal between the City of Calgary and Flames ownership collapsed in late 2021 due to rising costs, just weeks before construction began.

Officials from Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. said they see no way forward for the project after the city added about $16 million in infrastructure and climate resilience spending, of which $6.4 million would have been covered by the city.

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Bettman didn’t suggest any possibility of moving the Flames. That’s consistent with his comments after the previous arena deal fell through, when he said the team was committed to Calgary despite the setback.

A view of the Saddledome before a match on September 26, 2021.
A view of the Saddledome before a match on September 26, 2021. Photo by Al Charest /Postmedia

But he said Calgary would miss the opportunity to host major events such as the Entry Draft or the All-Star Game until a new arena was built.

“If we are going to hold league events here, there has to be a new building. I don’t think that surprises anyone,” Bettman said. “Ultimately this building needs to be replaced, I don’t think there is any question about it.”

Calgary City Council recently formed the Event Center Committee, with the stated goal of creating a new event center for the city.

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Chairman of the committee, Con. Sonya Sharp has been optimistic about the prospects for a new arena, saying it’s a matter of when, not if, a deal is signed.

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Sharp told Postmedia on Wednesday that she was encouraged to hear the NHL reiterate its support for a new arena in Calgary and said she agreed it should be a priority for the city.

It didn’t come as a shock to her to learn that Calgary won’t be in contention for major NHL events until the Flames have a new home.

“We’ve heard comments like that before, and we’ve heard a little bit about the loss of concerts, with Calgary not being able to accommodate some concerts,” Sharp said.

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“A comment like that comes as no surprise, and I think it underscores the importance of this project to our city and adds a sense of urgency moving forward.”

City administrators have selected a third party to approach Flames ownership about resuming negotiations, but party details have not been made public. The Event Center Committee was scheduled to meet this week, but that meeting was pushed back to May 25 due to scheduling conflicts among members.

Sharp said city administrators are expected to present a broader update on the arena’s progress at that meeting.

Bettman said he had no plans to meet with city officials, including Mayor Jyoti Gondek, during his brief visit to Calgary. However, the two have been connected since Gondek took over in October.

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“Since the new mayor became the new mayor, we’ve talked on the phone a few times,” Bettman said. “I think everyone understands everyone. At least I hope they will.

Fans celebrate an Elias Lindholm goal during the first period of the Flames' playoff game at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday.
Fans celebrate an Elias Lindholm goal during the first period of the Flames’ playoff game at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday. Photo by Derek Leung /Getty Images

Calgary-based sports economist Moshe Lander said Bettman’s decision to travel to Calgary early in the postseason was curious. He said his visit did not change the situation of the city’s bullrings.

“There’s no logical reason for him to be in Calgary,” said Concordia University professor Lander. “It doesn’t make sense why, if you’re going to make an appearance on the opening night of four playoffs, that you chose Calgary, other than if you’re coming to remind everyone that we need to get the game built. arena.”

The Flames continue their first-round game against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, with an 8 p.m. puck drop scheduled at the Dome. Calgary leads the series 1-0.

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A long run for the Flames, who have locked the ice at home for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs, could change the tenor of the arena discussion, Sharp said.

“It adds energy to the conversation and positive energy,” Sharp said. “The fact that the Flames are doing so well, that the city is so excited, after going through two years of a pandemic and not being able to go see events, I think that adds to the whole story.”

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Twitter: @jasonfherring

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