Markham residents spend 8 hours hating on arena deal, council okays it anyway

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:

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.

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15 comments on “Markham residents spend 8 hours hating on arena deal, council okays it anyway

  1. Whenever I see stories like this I think of the 90’s Australian documentary “Rats in the Ranks”. I have no idea of how to see it (the trailer is on the Youtubes) but it really was the most fascinating view of the inner machinations of a local council (they fillmmakers were anthropologists who shot 1000s of hours of film around a local city council without a story in mind and of course they created one).

  2. Floormaster,

    I’m interested in “Rats in the Ranks”. Not on Netflix though. Maybe someone will have a suggestion?

  3. Expansion. In the NHL. How about contracting about 6 teams & moving some teams where there’s never any ice on the ground instead?

  4. “Rats in the Ranks” is available on DVD for $19 Australian dollars. The DVD would be encoded for Australia/NZ. I have not seen it in years but it is great. It is not about sports or facilities but it is about choosing the Mayor (does not matter though as it is a universal look at power and people not prepared for it).

  5. The CBC radio show Q has a weekly segment on Mondays regarding Canadian sports, and the one last Monday was especially illuminating. I did not know this, but apparently, this entire issue of public funding for arenas is relatively new in Canada. They’re way behind the curve on this one. Another way to look at this: Oh, no, this American disease is spreading, may God have mercy on Canada’s collective soul.

  6. Sorry to go off topic again but I just realized that “Rats in the Ranks” is available for $A5 at Beamafilm. This is an online Australian archive. I have never used it but I may try to watch “Rats in the Ranks” soon.

  7. Damn, the taxpayers indeed. There’s a personality type who gets elected to city council nowdays that just want to suck up to rich people.

    Meanwhile in Santa Clara two or three council members were wearing 49ers jerseys in chambers yesterday. Insanity abounds when it comes to sports and small time politicians.

  8. I think the American disease spread to Canada a long time ago. There’s nothing in Canada that I can’t do in the States. I personally wish that all of the teams were in Canada. Regina and Saskatoon would be wonderful markets. Quebec City can have the Avalanche back. I live in Denver, nobody cares. If I want to watch soccer player size athletes, I’ll watch the Rapids. Nobody cares about that either. Going to 32 is absurd. Putting a team in Hamilton and Markham and Mississauga via moving horrible franchises like the Coyotes would be better. The Toronto Hockey League, or as it is more lovingly known, the THL.

  9. The great thing about all this is that one of the case studies they’ve used to show how “good” an arena project is is the arena in KC… which has no major tenant.

    “It makes money”, they shout.
    So too, it does. But for AEG, not for the city itself.

    Last time I checked deposed PA heads are not granted the power to issue expansion franchises. While I dislike Bettman a great deal, I will say this for him: he has been honest about this from the very beginning… “DO NOT build arenas with the expectation that we will expand or move a franchise to your location”.

    In my view, it’s hard to misunderstand the intent of that statement… but clearly Markham has.

    George Gillett visited earlier this week and advised them to build the surrounding development (which they are now calling “Markham Live!”, because, you know, the only difference between Markham and LA is that Markham doesn’t have a live entertainment district… well, it does, but not one it calls “LIVE!”…) but not the arena.

    In short, his reasoning was that arena “needs” change so quickly these days that it is foolhardy to build a state of the art arena, then wait 8 years for a team only to find that your arena is no longer considered “new” enough. While I think that basic concept (a building being outdated in less than a decade) is ludicrous, the fact is he is actually right…

    Add to this the fact that Markham is within the 50 mile exclusion zone and you have a city that will apparently build a $450m arena, then have to wait for someone else to decide to give them a franchise, then pay $750m to the Maple Leafs to be allowed into “their” territory.

    All in all, a great days work by the council in Markham.


  10. Trust me, ladies & gentlemen, there is no “American Disease” coming north. Ever since British North America became Canada, there have been untold thousands of “public private” partnerships under various names at every level of government and society that have helped and hindered the project of this country.

    Really, the only reason the Canadiens and Leafs didn’t get any major subsidies in the 1990s were that hospitals were closing in the respective provinces. Other than those, the picture is very similar to the USA.

  11. Oh, and I echo everything John Bladen says, while also repeating the fact that the main highway to access said arena would mean that those outside Toronto would face either at least 45 minutes in traffic delays at gametime or, if you take the 407, $20 each trip.

  12. Hospitals, who needs ’em? Didn’t Cinncinati sells theirs off to help raise funds for stadium debt?

  13. Actually, sports subsidies have been significantly lower in Canada than in the US, as Judith Grant Long notes in her book. (And brags just a bit about, being a Canadian herself.) That’s even accounting for dramatic exceptions like Skydome and Olympic Stadium.

  14. ^ I don’t doubt it, but government subsidy is pretty common in a lot of industry here, I was speaking more in a broad sense.

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