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Flames put Calgary on map but Ottawa staying out of arena fight: sport minister

Kent Hehr speaks in Vancouver, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Hehr, Canada's minister of sport, has fond memories of when the Calgary Flames relocated to the city from Atlanta in 1980. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
September 14, 2017 - 1:57 PM

CALGARY - Canada's minister of sport has fond memories of when the Calgary Flames relocated to the city from Atlanta in 1980.

"I remember doing a project on the Calgary Flames coming to Calgary when I was at Jerry Potts elementary school," Kent Hehr, who grew up in Calgary, said Thursday when he was in the city.

"Me and my buddy Trent, we had a scrapbook. We built a little stadium. That sense of excitement that kids still have today around the Flames exists and it puts us on the map as a community."

But Hehr, Calgary's representative in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet, wasn't willing to go beyond a stroll down memory lane when it comes to the National Hockey League team's quest for a new arena.

Hehr said he doesn't see a role for the federal government, even in a mediation capacity, but understands the importance of the team to the city.

"I understand they add value and they add enjoyment and my constituents feel connected."

Earlier this week, the Flames said they were pulling out of arena talks with the city. Team president Ken King said the team's owners believe they can't make a deal because negotiations have been unproductive. But they are committed to keeping the Flames in Calgary for now, he added.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city remains at the negotiating table for a new arena and is ready to negotiate in good faith.

"I am certain the municipal government has the ability and skills to deal with this at the local level," Hehr said Thursday. "Mr. King and Mr. Nenshi are both very capable, honourable people who are going to continue, hopefully, to work together for a long, long time."

The initial $890-million CalgaryNext project the Flames pitched two years ago included an ice arena, football stadium and field house built on the west side of downtown.

The team's owners offered $200 million of their money and proposed a $250-million loan to be repaid through a ticket surcharge, with the city covering the rest.

Council disagreed with the CalgaryNext price tag, saying the project would cost about $1.8 billion when cleanup of creosote-soaked soil was included.

CalgaryNext moved to the back burner when council showed more enthusiasm for building an arena closer to the existing 34-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome in a planned arts and entertainment district on the downtown east side.

Hehr said he will continue to watch the situation with interest and remains optimistic.

"I'm certain that people are going to continue to work together to try and build a better community and have professional sports being part of the mix here."

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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