FACEOFF OVER NEW ARENA A PO­LIT­I­CAL POWER PLAY

Calgary Herald - - CITY - DON BRAID Don Braid’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Her­ald. dbraid@post­media.com Twit­ter: @DonBraid

Is a hockey team try­ing to run Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi out of City Hall in the Oct. 16 elec­tion?

It sure looks that way, af­ter a week in which the Flames backed out of arena talks and blamed the mayor for the break­down.

Cal­gary Sports and En­ter­tain­ment Corp., via CEO Ken King, in­sist it wasn’t po­lit­i­cal. He says own­ers were up­set when the mayor tied his cam­paign to the as­sump­tion of a fu­ture deal in Victoria Park.

That wasn’t right be­cause there was no chance of an agree­ment, King says. But he picked a bru­tal way to dis­agree. If the sports group doesn’t want Nen­shi sound­ing pos­i­tive about the project, it sug­gests lim­ited en­thu­si­asm for help­ing him win. And that’s po­lit­i­cal.

Nen­shi’s cam­paign­ers, livid, be­lieve the goal is to de­feat Nen­shi. The mayor him­self is equiv­o­cal in pub­lic, but doesn’t ex­actly deny it.

His voice drip­ping with sar­casm, Nen­shi said in an in­ter­view Fri­day: “Mr. King very clearly said this has noth­ing to do with the elec­tion, it has noth­ing to do with the Seat­tle deal, just purely a co­in­ci­den­tal thing. I’m a trust­wor­thy guy, I guess I’ll have to take him at his word on that.”

He also said, “It is a bit strange ... I find it very odd.”

“I will tell you that many folks have tried to make po­lit­i­cal hay out of this ...

“You re­ally have to go to the other can­di­dates and say, ‘would you give them what­ever they want? Is that gonna be fair?’ I think the other can­di­dates have an ab­so­lute re­quire­ment to ac­tu­ally tell cit­i­zens dur­ing the elec­tion what they’re go­ing to give.”

Nen­shi says Coun. An­dre Chabot has made it clear he’d put no pub­lic money into the arena. “I’d love to hear what the oth­ers have to say.”

This is an oblique dig at chal­lenger Bill Smith, the for­mer PC party pres­i­dent who seems to be har­vest­ing con­ser­va­tive sup­port.

Asked about King’s role, Nen- shi says, “I don’t know the man very well. I know him to say hello ... I don’t know that it’s just him ... I think the own­ers group has a point of view on how they’re go­ing to get the best pos­si­ble deal. Let’s not for­get that there is a script ... It hap­pened in Edmonton, it’s hap­pened in other places.

“So we’ll see how this plays out. But I re­peat that the city re­mains at the ta­ble. We’ve never walked away.”

King held a news con­fer­ence Fri­day to slam the city’s of­fer as un­work­able and im­pos­si­ble. In the process, he gave a hint of the Flames’ bit­ter­ness to­ward city hall, and es­pe­cially the mayor.

He sug­gested politicians don’t value Cal­gary Sports and En­ter­tain­ment, or its con­tri­bu­tion to the city.

“I have a hunch that our po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily agree about the value. I’m not say­ing they don’t like hockey, and I don’t say they don’t like sports, but I don’t think they nec­es­sar­ily see us as part of the com­mu­nity and part of the cul­ture and hav­ing pub­lic ben­e­fit and pay­back.”

The anger goes back to city treat­ment of the am­bi­tious Cal­gar­yNEXT project for the west end.

Nen­shi, for one, sounded air­ily dis­mis­sive af­ter the sports group put a great deal of ef­fort and money into the pro­posal for a new rink, foot­ball sta­dium and field house. “We brought Cal­gar­yNEXT for­ward as a con­cept,” King said Fri­day, “but it was never en­ter­tained. It was at­tacked and it was ridiculed.

“It was bril­liant and very, very com­pli­cated. It was dis­missed as a $1.8-bil­lion boon­dog­gle. We chal­lenged that suc­cess­fully. But we never had an op­por­tu­nity to find out if it could work.”

City hall wanted the Flames to turn their minds to Victoria Park, which they did, with lim­ited en­thu­si­asm.

On Fri­day, King would not point to one part of the city’s pro­posal he likes. He even ex­pressed doubts about the grand re­vival of the whole Victoria Park area.

Would the Flames wel­come a new mayor ready to turn the fo­cus back to Cal­gar­yNEXT?

Do the Flames wear skates?

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