The NBA owners’ vote to reject the relocation of the Sacramento Kings wasn’t the only big arena-related decision yesterday: The Edmonton city council also voted to approve a new funding plan for the long-in-the-works Oilers arena. The council voted 10-3 to commit a series of different public funding sources to a now-$604-million arena, with Mayor Stephen Mandel declaring triumphantly, “This is actually 100 per cent.”
Of course, Mandel has said that before, but this time he apparently means it. So, how did the city finally fill that pesky $100 million arena funding hole? Let’s refresh ourselves on where the arena plan stood back in January:
- $219 million in arena cash, plus $74.9 million to buy land, from the city, which would pay for it out of an annual $2.5 million subsidy that it currently pays to the Oilers, new parking revenues, and a tax-increment financing district (known as a Community Revitalization Levy in Canada, but based on the same principle of “any new tax money gets kicked back to pay for the project”).
- $125 million from a tax on tickets at the new arena.
- $143 million from Oilers owner Daryl Katz, with most of it payable in $6.5 million a year increments toward the arena itself, and the rest in $28 million toward a new pedestrian bridge to get fans there.
- $114 million from “other levels of government.”
That’s $676 million, but the old arena cost estimate was $601 million, not counting the $75 million in land costs, so it all adds up. Except for the part where $114 million was unaccounted for.
And the new plan:
- $279 million from the CRL, parking fees, and the like.
- $125 million from the ticket surcharge.
- $184.4 million from Katz, including an extra $15 million that the owner agreed to kick in yesterday.
- $25 million from the provincial Regional Collaboration Program.
- $7 million from the province of Alberta.
- $7 million from the federal government.
That adds up to … $627.4 million. So it’s actually still $50 million short of where things were in January. Maybe the city is no longer counting its land costs as part of the deal? It’s hard to tell from the documents released by the city, and press coverage that includes offenses to math like “$23.69 million in third party funding ($25 million from the provincial Regional Collaboration Program, and $7 million each from the province and the federal government)” isn’t likely to help much either.
Basically what appears to have happened yesterday: Katz agreed to kick in some extra cash; the city gave up on raiding its Municipality Sustainability Initiative fund and is instead just assuming the CRL will raise more money; and the remaining gaps were filled in by flat-out assuming the cash will come from the provincial and federal governments.
That’s a whole lot of assumptions, and pretty much still amounts to “we’ll borrow the money and figure out how to pay for it later” — in particular, just flat-out upping the projected revenues from the CRL increases the odds that new revenues will fall short, and end up eating the lunch of the general fund, as Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First memorably put it. Plus the RCP money still isn’t approved, and lord knows where those $7 million contributions from the province and feds are supposed to come from.
Still, Mandel and the council say it’s a done deal, so it looks pretty likely that this is a done deal, and any shortfalls will be worked out later. (Because that always works out.) Which means that Edmonton taxpayers are now going to be on the hook for more than half of the cost of a new arena for the 7th-most-profitable team in the NHL, owned by Canada’s 11th richest man. It’s still not the worst arena deal in history, but that doesn’t make it a good one.