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NHL commissioner urges council to move CalgaryNEXT project forward

Last Updated Jan 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm MST

Reporter Ian Campbell

Hockey’s top boss was in Calgary speaking to the Chamber of Commerce Monday afternoon and he wasn’t holding much back in terms of his support for CalgaryNEXT.

Not much has been released about the project since Calgary Flames President Ken King revealed they were looking for a new home.

Bettman came to the city in hopes of drumming up support and public dollars for the sports facility.

“Wouldn’t it be fun for fans, for people of this community if I could add to the excitement by announcing that the NHL draft would be coming back to Calgary for the first time since 2000? Wouldn’t the community love it if we could announce if they NHL is bringing it’s All-Star celebration back to Calgary for the first time since 1985? Wouldn’t it be great for the business community if we could announce that Calgary would be one of the host cities for a future World Cup for another major NHL event? It would be nice to fantasize, but let’s get back to reality,” said Bettman.

Gary Bettman said there is no way the project gets done as just a sole private venture.

The long-time Commissioner of the NHL suggested those possibilities are off the table until Calgary replaces the Saddledome with a new state of the art facility.

He referenced Edmonton as an example to look at:

“By July 1st 2017, when Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Battle of Alberta hockey will still be legendary but the Battle of Alberta arenas won’t even be close, and that’s no joke.”

Bettman said the Scotiabank Saddledome is older than all but four Calgary Flames players and older than nine NHL franchises.

He told business leaders he has seen what a new arena can do for a city, he says the clock is ticking and the opportunity for the Calgary is great.

If the Flames were to look at their current suggested location of the West Village, it would be another five years before the arena is ready.

He told the audience he’s well aware of the state of the Canadian dollar and of the current Alberta economy.

“And under these circumstances, for a Canadian NHL team, it’s imperative that it have every conceivable resource including a suitable arena to be viable for the long term.”

“I’m also certainly aware of the argument that public money should be directed to anything other than sports arenas where well-paid players compete on behalf of private ownership but that is a view that is not based on the realistic assessment of the important infrastructure and economic benefits that these facilities bring to a community,” he said.

Bettman maintained that he wasn’t levying threats towards the city, it’s mayor or the politicians.

“It’s not about keeping up with the Jones’ of Edmonton or Detroit, I’m talking about a vision for the future that increases Calgary’s stature.”

He’s hoping that CalgaryNEXT will be home for the next generation of NHL hockey.

“I encourage you, in fact, I beg you to support this project,” he said, asking those in the audience to encourage local politicians to support the project.

“First you need a franchise that’s well owned and stable, and committed to the community like you have in Calgary. Second, you need vision for a project. It’s more than just an arena,” he said later to Calgary Chamber CEO Adam Legge, in response to the recipe for a new facility.

He told business leaders the will of government leaders is what’s needed to move this forward, it has to be a mix of public and private support.

Both he and Calgary Flames boss Ken King have a meeting with city administration Tuesday in hopes of moving it forward.

The commissioner had hoped for a meeting with Naheed Nenshi but said the mayor’s schedule wouldn’t allow it.

Bettman said the time to act is now, adding it’s only going to get more expensive.

In a scrum later with reporters, he said the Calgary Flames are under no obligation to open their books even if they ask for public dollars.

“The Flames are not a public entity,” he replied. “You don’t build one of the buildings completely privately anymore, unless it’s a public-private partnership, it’s not going to work, the tax payer dollars, if you have the vision and understand the economics, it’ll be generated from the project.”

“You don’t do major projects for a city based on one year, you have to look out 10, 20, 30 years to envision what you want the city to be like and over time, we’ve seen the dollar rise and fall and the price of oil rise and fall, you don’t do this based on what’s happening in 2016,” he said, in response to the city’s current economic climate.

Bettman says the process has been going on for awhile and there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of progress made since.

“I believe if it’s going to happen, the Mayor needs to embrace it, the city needs to embrace it and if he’s not going to embrace it, then people are going to have to deal with that…”

Listen to the full scrum with reporters here: