SBD/December 3, 2013/Facilities

Critics Assail Markham Arena Plan As City Shoots For NHL Franchise

Supporters of the Markham arena are eager to strike a financing deal
The Markham, Ont., City Council last night held the first of two meetings in which city taxpayers "got a chance to ask how the latest financing plan for a 20,000-seat arena would not cost them any money," but the "biggest questions about this boondoggle remain unanswered," according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Shoalts asks, "Does the NHL ever plan on putting a second franchise in the GTA so that if this arena is built it will have a major tenant to pay the operating bills?" Since all NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "has ever done is warn Markham politicians not to count on seeing an NHL team, how exactly will the 130 events [arena promoter Graeme] Roustan claims the arena will attract every year keep it in the black?" Despite the "lack of answers, and many questions from the details of the latest financial proposal to Roustan’s long list of failed business deals and unhappy ex-partners," Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti and his supporters on the council are "eager to rush into a deal." As soon as tonight the council is "expected to vote on whether to continue as a financial partner with Roustan, which may or may not mean guaranteeing loans with public money." Scarpitti and Roustan at a press conference on Saturday showed two memorandums of understanding that called for Roustan’s company to come up with about C$200M to "cover half the construction costs plus arena-lease fees, with an unnamed group of property developers agreeing to raise" the rest of the C$325M needed, with about C$70M already pledged. Roustan "lists two private-equity companies, Canaccord Genuity Corp. and Jefferies LLC, as partners with GTA Sports in raising" C$162.5M to "cover half of the construction costs." Roustan yesterday said through a spokesperson that Canaccord and Jefferies now are "funding GTA Sports." But there are "no binding documents promising the construction money will appear, which gives the mayor’s opponents pause" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/3).

TAKING A BIG CHANCE: The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur noted the arena plan is "still full of holes," with at least C$50M "not covered." The council is "risking an enormous amount of money for a project that is somewhere between risky and outright insane." Bettman on Saturday said, "We have never been encouraging of this project. And we have repeatedly said that if this building is built, it should be built with the expectation that they will not get a team." Arthur noted that is something Bettman has "always repeated ... to those who hope to join the list, because the NHL does not want cities to bankrupt themselves in the faint hope that they might jump to the front of a queue." In this case, Markham is "chasing something that isn't there." A source said that the city is "not a priority for the league, and that building an arena will not make it one" (NATIONAL POST, 12/2). But THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote the project is "about the NHL." Campbell: "Always has, always will be." Everyone involved in the project is "tiptoeing around the subject of an NHL team because they all want to play nice," but nobody is "going to take on a project like this one without visions of an NHL team dancing in their heads" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/30).

OTHER OPTIONS: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes under the header, "Idea Of An NHL Team In Markham Is A Bad One." An NHL team in Kitchener, Ont., "makes decent sense," and a club in Hamilton "makes a little more." Those cities "are their own ecosystems." Hamilton has "proven that it will do just about anything to support a faltering local franchise." But the "rotting corpse" of Copps Coliseum provides a reminder "of all the money that will die in this deal." Still, maybe there is "enough hockey spill-off in Toronto to float a robust second team" (TORONTO STAR, 12/3).
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