The Markham city council concluded its third straight night of hearing residents savage the idea of putting public money into a new NHL-ready arena last night, then topped it off by voting unanimously to withdraw from their agreement with developer Graeme Roustan. The council of the Toronto suburb also voted 11-2 that any future arena project would have to be paid for entirely with private money.
The writing has been on the wall that this could happen for a while now, since the council almost killed the plan back in August before giving Roustan one last chance to come up with a deal that made sense. Still, given that it was less than a year ago that the Markham council approved the Roustan plan despite plenty of public opposition, it’s a pretty remarkable turnaround. Apparently learning that a new arena wouldn’t actually guarantee an NHL team and that the proposed arena manager doesn’t think arenas can survive without pro sports dimmed their ardor.
And their ardor, at this point, is decidedly dimmed:
“What we’ve heard over and over again is residents do want an arena,” said councillor Carolina Moretti. “But they don’t want to pay for it.”…
“What is the rush?” [councillor Jim] Jones said. “We’re not going to get an NHL franchise any time soon, so let’s take our time and get it right.”…
“Publicly funded arenas have an abysmal financial record,” Councillor Valerie Burke said. “Nothing in this proposal or the amendment convinces me otherwise.”
There’s still a glimmer of hope for Roustan: The council approved sending his arena financial plans to city staff for further study, and voted to give the developer six months to come up with a new plan that involves no public money. But, seriously, for a deal that was awfully speculative to begin with, this puts it back at square one, if not square zero — Roustan hadn’t even managed public commitments for his half of the original arena deal, so it’s just about inconceivable that someone will throw the full $325 million at him now.
It’s bound to be a disappointment for Greater Toronto residents who were looking forward to … having an alternative place to see Avril Lavigne concerts, maybe? Anyway, the swift crash and burn of the Markham arena should be a lesson to everyone everywhere that a sports venue plan has been declared a “done deal”: Until the money has all been committed, it’s never too late to call things off. You got that, Cobb County?