Markham NHL-sized arena fuels major league concerns

Jan 31, 2013 | News, Sports

By Russell Piffer

Questions continue to swirl about the benefits of an NHL-sized arena in Markham as city council forges onward with the $325 million project.

Marilyn Ginsburg, from the Grandview Area Residents Association told Humber News that city council should have consulted with the public before pursuing an arena.

“Markham has a lot of other problems that people would rather see the mayor and council focus on,” Ginsburg said. “Like all other municipalities we have aging infrastructure and we’re being told Markham can’t fix it because they don’t have the money.”

Ginsberg said Markham would need to secure an NHL franchise for the arena to be profitable and there is little indication a team is on the way.

“There has been no assurance form the NHL that Markham will ever get a hockey team,” Ginsburg said. “There are other cites that are in a queue to get a team and they’ve been there long before Markham.”

In the 1980s, Hamilton built 19,000-seat Copps Coliseum for about $42 million – a fraction of the Markham arena’s price tag – and never received an NHL team.

Hamilton spends $2.8 million a year in taxpayers’ money to keep the coliseum operating, the National Post reported Wednesday.

By Nhl4hamilton at en.wikipedia (Original text : Rick Cordeiro) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By Nhl4hamilton at en.wikipedia (Original text : Rick Cordeiro) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

“We lose money on that arena every year,” Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina said in the Post report.

“The goal is to increase the economic activity you would get, by having an arena,” said Neil deMause, coauthor of the book Field of Schemes about public sport facility funding.

“The problem is, how much you spend to get that. That’s the concern here,” deMause said. “It’s rather a large sum of money that’s being spent on a building that has no main tenant and you don’t know how it’s going to compete with the arena in Toronto.”

According to a Conference Board of Canada report published in 2011, publicly funded sports facilities, even with a major tenant, do not neccessarily see a net economic benefit for the surrounding community

Sports facilities create jobs and increase money spent in the local economy, but that is often offset by interest on public loans and the fact that public money dedicated to these projects is “often diverted from other uses in the local economy,” the report said.

An increasing amount of North American sports facilities, however, are being built with public funds.

Even if sports facilities don’t have a direct economic benefit, they can increase a city’s perceived quality of life, as happened in Winnipeg with the return of the Jets, the report said.

Markham city council voted 7-6 to continue pursuing a 20,000-seat arena at about 3 a.m. Wednesday morning after a meeting that stretched on for over seven hours as supporters and detractors of the arena addressed council.

“If you don’t act now you’ll likely never have another chance to get an NHL team,” former NHLPA executive Paul Kelly, said at the meeting.

The proposed $325 million arena would be built at Kennedy Road and Highway 407 in Markham’s burgeoning down town, with costs split between taxpayers and the Remington development group.

“We’re in the midst of building a downtown,” Thornhill Coun. Howard Shore told Humber News. “An arena of this nature, a sports and entertainment and cultural centre would have the potential to be the cornerstone of that downtown.”

Shore said the arena would give Markham residents the chance to attend major concerts and events without journeying into Toronto.

LISTEN: Interview with Markham Councillor Howard Shore

Shore said the Wednesday vote finalized nothing.

“All we did last night was agree to continue talking,” Shore said. “At the end of the day, whether we have an agreement in place, depends on what’s actually in the agreement.”

“It has to be financially viable and it has to be a good deal for the city of Markham to actually sign a deal at the end of the day,” Shore said.