Markham deputy mayor, most of council now oppose arena plan

Don’t look now, but the proposed arena in the Toronto suburb of Markham may be going from about to break ground to nobody wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole in record time:

[Deputy Mayor Jack] Heath, who has backed the project since its inception more than two years ago, stunned the city on Thursday by announcing council should cancel the arena’s current “financial framework” and not provide any public funding.

“The proposed financial framework has become extremely controversial in our community,” Heath said in a statement. “I believe that discussions on it should be discontinued.” …

It now appears a majority of the 13-member council opposes the 20,000-seat arena in the city’s new downtown, in the Highway 407-Kennedy Rd. area, without significant change in the funding formula. That is in stark contrast to last April when council voted 11-2 for the financial framework.

Since then, opposition has slowly increased. More than 200 residents attended a public meeting recently where every speaker criticized the city’s financial involvement.

It’s way too early to call the Markham arena plan dead — these things almost never fully die so long as there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds up for grabs — but it certainly looks like all the talk of illegal taxes and money-losing on-spec arenas is starting to take its toll. If nothing else, the arena developers are likely to need to attempt some fancy footwork to come up with a revised financing plan that sounds better to elected officials and the public, without, you know, actually requiring elected officials and the public to put in any less money. I recommend shouting, “Hey, look over there!” and then quickly erasing all the minus signs on the economic projections.

15 comments on “Markham deputy mayor, most of council now oppose arena plan

  1. It’s nice to see a government body pull itself away from the brink like that. I’m sure this is unpopular with a lot of folks in Toronto, but that Council had the nerve to actually do the right thing. Good for them.

  2. Wow.

    I’m not often stunned by the actions of politicos, but this about face is a surprise to me. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea, mind you, for Council to change it’s mind… but like MP34 above, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    How do you go from being as “on board” as it’s possible to be to this in just a couple of months?

  3. John,

    My guess would be the fact that the housing market in the GTA is starting to turn. Not catastrophically, but you have a city that’s gone from 200,000 to 300,000 in 10 years. If property values start to go down to reasonable levels, the tax base can implode fairly quickly.

  4. Certainly possible, Ty. I suppose it could be that once the ‘second cut’ of cost and economic projections came in, suddenly the idea of an arena wasn’t so shiny and bright (though this historically hasn’t discouraged elected officials from spending someone else’s money).

    Time will tell, I guess.

  5. @ John Bladden

    As an answer to your question I’ll get the rumor started – Deputy Mayor Jack Heath is a FoS’s fan and frequent commenter and has since had a change of heart.

  6. Lol. Well, in Seattle the guy wanting to buy a team quoted Neil’s FoS article so who knows.

  7. How sweet is this? We have a mayor in Minneapolis who is addicted to building stadiums for private billionaire owners, while the stats on Minneapolis’ quality of life plummet. Mayor RT Rybak did not show his face at the May Day Parade this year because he knew he was not welcome among the “people”. I honor Mayor Heath and hope he gives some inspiration to his southern neighbors. His action in changing his mind is an unusual phenomenon and it reveals a thoughtful, moral, and strong stance. How revolutionary, to listen to the voice of the people!

  8. Janet, I can’t be that optimistic. I still think some strong-armed back-room lobbyist dealings went on that we don’t know about. I think the Maple Leafs will fight and “donate” to remain the only NHL team in the region. It’s why I don’t think there is a 3rd New York or a New Jersey MLB team. Even with everything going perfectly for the SF Giants, they’re not budging one inch with the A’s.

  9. @ mp34

    There is a lot of merit in the theory you are suggesting – the Leafs are lobbying hard to keep the market to themselves – and I’m not quick to disagree with that theory.

    But I’m going to ask – with Leaf TV couldn’t there be some incentive for the Leafs if they got some local competition if that competition was required to sign a 5 or 10 year TV agreement with Leaf TV? Couldn’t that offset the potential loss of revenues?

  10. Andrew/MP34:

    I’ve no doubt that if this arena were built, MLSe would be adopting a very hard line on NHL expansion/relocation to Markham… and we know they can pretty much get whatever they want from the BoG of their league.

    However, since MLSe does no business with Markham to the best of my knowledge, I’m not sure how they would exercise leverage with that community?

    I’ve long said that the asking price for a split of the Toronto market would be more than the cost to buy the Leafs… and I’m sure when the time comes that will be the case. But I don’t see how MLSe intervenes to stop Markham building an arena – not least because an arena out in Markham is more or less irrelevant to MLSe’s core businesses.

    If Roustan & co were aiming to build a 20-22k arena in Toronto itself, I could see MLSe leaning on whomever they can. But how does a Markham arena (that cannot have an NHL team absent the Leafs consent) worry MLSe?

  11. “But I’m going to ask – with Leaf TV couldn’t there be some incentive for the Leafs if they got some local competition if that competition was required to sign a 5 or 10 year TV agreement with Leaf TV? Couldn’t that offset the potential loss of revenues?”

    aka The Angelos Appeasement Method. That’s what MLB did to satisfy the Orioles’ concerns about the Nationals moving into their market.

  12. Matt, you are so right. I know that Toronto is more southerly than Minneapolis. Guess I was speaking in a more general way about the whole United States and its “stadium fever”. Anyhow, the folks saying that the other shoe is going to drop are probably correct. In that case I hope that thousands show up at City Hall.