With new arena needed, Flames trying to mend relationship with city

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Politically speaking, the Calgary Flames have endured some challenges in their pursuit of a new arena.

Not only did city administration call the team’s CalgaryNEXT project “not feasible in its present form or location,” the mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has publicly jousted with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, delivering sarcastic jabs like, “I know that Calgarians require very wealthy people from New York to come and tell us what we need to do in our community because they understand vibrancy better than we do.”

And so the Flames are hoping to mend those very important political relationships. Because they still do need a new arena to replace Scotiabank Saddledome, which will become the NHL’s most outdated rink when the Red Wings move into their new downtown Detroit digs next season.

“They’ve been understanding and listening,” Flames CEO Ken King said of city officials, per the Calgary Herald. “They understand if we’re not sustainable, we’re not here. It’s not about taxpayers money for hockey players. I think they now understand this is critical infrastructure for this city, with us or without us. … Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to structure a deal, and I feel pretty confident that we will be able to come up with something that will work for everybody.”

How it gets done remains to be seen. Nenshi has called it “extremely difficult to justify spending very scarce public money on a professional sports arena.”

But Nenshi’s tone seems to have softened of late.

“On CalgaryNEXT, you know, conversations continue,” Nenshi told Calgary Metro earlier this month. “I still believe that the well over $1 billion cost to the public purse of the West Village doesn’t make any sense. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options we might want to look at – and that conversation will continue.”

The only two rinks older than the Saddledome (opened in 1983) are Joe Louis Arena and Madison Square Garden, which is outdated no more following a $1 billion renovation.

Flames president Brian Burke has called the Saddledome “embarrassing.”