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‘The deal kept changing on them’: NHL’s Bettman on Calgary arena

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that the City of Calgary pushed “too hard, too far,” on the recently capitulated arena deal,

Bettman spoke with journalists Friday evening during a media conference at this year’s NHL All-Star weekend.

On Dec. 31, the Event Centre agreement construction stage gate came and went without conditions being met, meaning the end of the project framework agreement between Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) and the City.

Scope creep, cost escalation, supply chain and other factors played a major role in the deal’s demise. Roughly $19 million separated the sides. Costs related to climate upgrades and road and sidewalks rights-of-way made up the bulk of the costs.  The city was prepared to pay half and help CSEC find funding for another $5 million. Leaving them with about $5 million in additional costs.

“The deal kept changing on them,” Bettman said.

“I know there’s been a change of administration, but each time (CSEC) made an accommodation to try and deal with things that the city was asking for that weren’t part of the basic deal, the deal kept getting more and more expensive and frankly, wasn’t what they had agreed to.”

The City has refuted making changes CSEC didn’t know were coming. Climate-related costs were going to be a part of the deal because of a climate impact assessment done prior to the development permit.

Looking ahead to a Calgary arena

The city said it will pursue an arena project to anchor the Culture and Entertainment District in Victoria Park.

It could be with or without CSEC participation. A third party will be engaged to look at options.

“What we have before us now is the opportunity to work in this environment with partners and actually strike a deal that is respectful of the fact that the economic conditions are completely different globally, including in Calgary, so it’s a new opportunity that unshackled us from the old arrangement,” the mayor said in a Jan. 13 press conference.

Commissioner Bettman agreed this was a chance to start over.

“This gives everybody an opportunity to take a fresh look at how to build the building and where to build the building and Calgary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

Bettman reassured hockey fans that the Calgary Flames organization was committed to Calgary.

“They’re a vital part of the community,” he said.

Bettman said that the Saddledome was going to need some costly work in the near future. The city would have to “pay a bunch of money for” that work, he said.

And he said the longer everyone waits to build a new arena, the more expensive it will be.

“I think the sooner people figure out how to get a new arena, the better it’ll be,” Bettman said.

“The Flames ownership has tried mightily to get a deal done, and to go the extra mile, and I think the city just pushed it too hard, too far.”