As noted yesterday, the Markham city council met last night to debate whether to rescind approval of a funding plan for a $325 million arena in that Toronto suburb — and it turned into a marathon, with developers and local residents debating the merits of the plan until 3 am. And while those testifying were by all Twitter accounts overwhelmingly opposed to the deal — tweet of the night: “A Grade 11 kid is talking to Markham council now and showing a much better grasp of economics than the mayor” — the final vote was 7-6 to confirm the council’s support of the arena financing plan, after councilor Logan Konapathi unexpectedly switched his vote to nix the nixing of the deal.
If this sounds like the council had its mind made up before the eight hours of testimony, you could certainly make a case there. Though most of the press coverage focused on the impact of the testimony of the very first speaker: former NHL players’ union chief Paul Kelly, who was brought in by Graeme Roustan (Kelly got to go first, it was explained, because he “had a plane to catch”) and who all but promised Markham an NHL expansion team if it builds a new arena:
Kelly revealed that while he ran the union, the NHL not only wanted to expand the league to 32 teams, but had directly discussed doing so with him…
“I’ve discussed it with many owners, the commissioner and many players,” Kelly said in a conversation after his presentation. “That’s given me a strong sense that at some point there will be a second team [in the greater Toronto area].
Kelly added he believes expansion will take place in the next two or three years, “most likely” to Quebec City and Toronto.
All that was missing was Kelly intoning, “If you build it, they will come.” Oh wait:
— Adam Desloges (@AdamOnHockey) January 30, 2013
Whether this is what swayed the council from its prior opposition or not, the Markham arena plan lives to fight another day. There’s still a lot to figure out — whether the special development fees that the city plans to use to fund its half of the arena project are possibly unenforceable, for one — but if the council can resist being schooled on arena economics by smart high school students till all hours of the night, that’s a sign that the lure of even a vaguely rumored NHL franchise is strong indeed.