Sports Hockey

Calgary Flames' Brian Burke says team will 'just leave' without arena

By Eva Ferguson, Postmedia

Brian Burke addresses the media Monday at the Saddledome. Photo by Stuart Dryden/Calgary Sun

Brian Burke addresses the media Monday at the Saddledome. Photo by Stuart Dryden/Calgary Sun

In what has been the bluntest talk yet about the future of the Calgary Flames, president of operations Brian Burke said the much-loved NHL team will leave the city if they don't get the new arena they've been seeking.

"We're not going to make the threat to leave. We'll just leave," Burke told a business luncheon at the Canadian Club of Calgary Wednesday.

"We still have a building that was built in 1983, the oldest in the league by more than 10 years.

"They figured it out in Edmonton. Where they know that a new building can rejuvenate the downtown. But I guess we're just smarter than that here."

Read more: Flames CEO points to Edmonton as a good reason for Calgary to reach an arena deal

But in the hours after Burke's comments were published online, Flames president and CEO Ken King issued a statement saying Burke is not the club's spokesman on the new arena and that the Flames are still committed to working with the city towards a solution.

Burke's speech aimed to focus on the financial challenges that Canadian NHL teams face, from a low Canadian dollar to more public support for new builds in the U.S.

Read more: Poll commissioned by councillors shows Calgarians back new arena

He also spoke briefly about his ongoing support for the LGBT community, and promoting their participation in the sport by "getting hostility out of the dressing room."

But he spent the bulk of his time lauding the importance of building a new arena for the Calgary Flames.

Last year, city administrators concluded the Flames' CalgaryNEXT pitch slated for creosote-contaminated land in the West Village was not feasible, and could cost as much as $1.8 billion with taxpayers having to pay up to two-thirds of the tab.

The Flames have since introduced a second proposal to build a new arena in Victoria Park, just north of the existing Saddledome on a two-block site south of 12th Avenue S.E. between Olympic Way and 5th Street S.E.

Read more: Council explores 'Plan B' option in Victoria Park

Burke said Wednesday that he wondered when the Flames proposed CalgaryNEXT, why the city didn't just say "thank you."

But King tried to temper Burke's conviction in an official release.

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

But Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said that "99.999997 per cent" of phone calls and emails to his office have said there should be no public money for a new Flames rink.

Scott Hennig, vice-president communications with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the public needs to understand that building arenas with public money is not the norm in Canada, adding that NHL rinks in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver were all privately-funded by team owners.

"This is corporate welfare. It's no different than if we gave money to Bombardier.

"The Calgary Flames are a for-profit business."

Chris MacRae, the only business person attending the luncheon who spoke out against Burke, agreed.

"I'm not sure what the benefit is to taxpayers...Right now, you guys are getting a building for free, you're paying no rent at all," said MacRae, whose family has held seasons tickets for more than three decades.

"But at least if you build a bunch of condos on a site, the city will benefit from a lot of tax revenue."

Burke lashed back, reiterating that if the Flames don't get the support they need to build a new rink, they could easily move the team elsewhere.

"Where are you going to go?" MacRae challenged.

Then Burke replied: "Quebec. Oh yeah they have a brand new building that meets NHL standards."

Burke then ended the exchange by adding: "I think most intelligent people get this."

Burke refused to answer any media questions as he was leaving, but McRae stopped and spoke with some apprehension, worried his family might lose their tickets if he speaks out against the club.

"I don't want us to get in trouble over this," he said. "We are huge fans of this hockey team, and I'm not opposed to some public support.

"But I don't see why we have to fund a team owned by five of the richest men in Canada.

"There has to be a better way than what's being proposed here.

"We are not Edmonton. We already have a vibrant downtown."

eferguson@postmedia.com

 



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