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Brian Burke slams city on CalgaryNEXT; Nenshi calls it 'part of the script'

Last Updated Jun 8, 2017 at 4:47 am MDT

The President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames not only slammed the City of Calgary regarding the process of getting public money for a new arena, but also alluded to where the team could move if a deal doesn’t get done.

“Quebec, let’s see, oh yeah they have a brand new building that meets NHL standards,” he said Wednesday during a lengthy exchange while giving a speech at the Canadian Club of Calgary. “They figured it out in Edmonton, but we’re smarter here, they figured out public money is useful towards rejuvenating downtown and making a statement and keeping jobs, but we’re smarter than that here.”

Burke touched on a number of subjects during his speech including concussions, the Olympics and the You Can Play Project.

But it was his comments regarding the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s CalgaryNEXT proposal that led to the most questions in the Q and A.

“Frankly, when we put out CalgaryNEXT, I was personally amazed that the City didn’t say thank you, let’s do it,” he said.

The original CalgaryNEXT proposal for a new arena and events centre had an estimated cost of $890 million, but a City report pegged the cost at closer to double that price tag.

Currently, the City of Calgary and CSEC are in negotiations over a new deal, focusing on alternate Victoria Park option.

Burke said in speaking with CSEC President and CEO Ken King, there’s optimism a deal will be reached in the near future.

Burke addressed the remediation costs of the CalgaryNEXT site in the West Village, which an environmental study said could cost $85-$140 million and take six to 10 years to complete.

“Don’t we have to do that anyway?” he said. “Some of my taxes will go towards the cleanup of that site, some of them will go towards correcting the road system in that area, some of them have already gone towards the library, fine with me.”

“No one complains about them,” he said of residents in other cities where tax money has gone towards arenas. “I can give you example after example and I don’t know if a group of taxpayers in one place is smarter than the taxpayers elsewhere, they’ve just decided a different point of emphasis.”

NENSHI CALLS COMMENTS “PART OF THE SCRIPT”

In response, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the comments are unsurprising.

“This is page 26 of the script,” he said. “We should say thank you for the opportunity to spend $1.4 to $1.8 billion of taxpayers money on private business? I don’t think so.”

Nenshi said five of the seven Canadian rinks are privately owned and that the comments will in no way impact the current negotiations.

“I do think that when you’re sitting opposite at the negotiating table for someone, insulting their intelligence and saying they’re not very smart,” he said. “Kind of interesting way to continue negotiations.”

Nenshi said if public money is used, the City will be transparent about how it gets paid back either in cash or social benefit.

As for comparisons with Edmonton, Nenshi said Calgary is in a completely different environment, pointing Alberta’s capital was in desperate need of a downtown revitalization.

“How many people know that the City of Edmonton actually pays money to the Oilers every year, millions of dollars every year to be sponsor of the Oilers?” he said. “That was part of the deal, we’re not doing anything like that.”

Ward 1 Councillor Ward Sutherland called Burke’s comments disappointing.

“It’s not helpful that he’s rehashing old information,” he said. “There has to be a win-win situation.”

“My advice is let the negotiations team negotiate and be quiet.”

KEN KING STATEMENT

Later in the day Wednesday, King released the following statement:

“Brian Burke runs Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames and he and many Calgarians have strong views about this topic. 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.”