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Calgary Flames pull out of arena negotiations during civic election campaign


CALGARY — The Calgary Flames say they're pulling out of talks with the city for a new arena as a civic election campaign heats up.

Team president Ken King said Flames owners believe they can't make a deal because negotiations have been unproductive.

Flanked by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, King said the Flames are committed to staying in Calgary for now.

"Scotiabank Saddledome will continue to host a couple million people a year," he told reporters at a hastily-called news conference Tuesday afternoon.

"We'll just go on and run our business and do what we can to operate and try and figure out what the future will look like at some point later."

Bettman said the 34-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome will affect the ability of the franchise to be competitive in the future.

"They're going to hang on as long as they can," the commissioner said. "At least, that's the current view.

"That's not a prospect that thrills them or anybody else. But it is a realistic assessment of the situation they find themselves in."

A proposal to put an arena on the west side of downtown took a backseat to talks of building it on the east side instead.

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 showed more enthusiasm for a Plan B — also called Victoria Park — and building a hockey arena on a parcel of land just north of the Saddledome.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is running for a third term. He declined comment until Wednesday saying the Flames made their announcement while he was in council meetings.

The Flames' withdrawal coincides with Nenshi ramping up his mayoral campaign, although King denied making the arena an election issue.

"We're not running for office. It's certainly not an election issue for us," King said. "We're certainly not trying to throw fuel on the fire. The reason we had the meeting today is that the mayor's campaign seemed to kick off with a vision for Victoria Park yesterday.

"I called his office last night. The reason I called is that in his vision he said the arena was very important. We respect that and appreciate that. Our ownership group thought it was so important in fact that they agreed to put up a substantial financial consideration in kind of what would have been our second choice."

But King would not say how much money the Flames would pay for the Victoria Park option.

Coun. Andre Chabot, who is running against Nenshi for mayor, said if he is elected he would push for arena discussions to resume.

"If I were the mayor of this city I would strive to re-engage with them," Chabot said. "I don't know why they came to this conclusion.

"As far as I knew discussions were still open. We haven't concluded our discussions."

— With files from CHQR

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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