Regina signs MOU to stick public with most of Roughriders stadium cost

The city of Regina has filled in the missing $138 million in its $278 million Saskatchewan Roughriders stadium plan, signing a memorandum of understanding to build the stadium by 2017. The new funding plan:

  • The previously announced $80 million grant from the province of Saskatchewan.
  • $73 million in cash from Regina, up from the previously announced $60 million.
  • A $100 million provincial loan from the city, to be paid back by a $12 per ticket fee on all events at the new stadium.
  • $25 million from the Roughriders.

That means that the public would be on the hook for more than 50% of the stadium cost, plus taking on the risk on that $100 million if ticket sales fall short of projections. Plus paying $230 million in operating costs on the stadium over the next 30 years. Most of this would be paid off from property tax revenues, though there’s also an $80 million chunk that’s summed up merely as “other revenue.”

The plan still needs to be signed off on by the Regina city council.

Saskatchewan offers $80m toward $278m Roughriders stadium

The province of Saskatchewan has promised to spend $80 million on a new Roughriders stadium, which sounds more momentous until you realize that a new stadium is expected to cost $278 million. (It was going to be $431 million with a roof, but apparently now the plan is to make it “roof-ready” and let somebody else worry about that bit.) The city of Regina has offered to put in $60 million, which leaves the plan about 50% funded, and 50% wishful thinking.

The province did offer to extend loans to the city for the some of the remainder, but that would just make it the city’s problem how to pay back the loans. Given that the Roughriders are owners by a Green Bay Packers-style community partnership, there’s no deep-pocketed owner to make up the difference, but it’s always possible the team could decide it’s worth paying increased rent to cover the public costs, in order to get a new stadium. Given past history, probably not, though.

Vegas arena plans, Anaheim Kings subsidies, and more

A few items that fell through the cracks over the last week:

  • Those plans for a tax-increment-financing-funded arena on the Las Vegas Strip got officially killed last week by the Nevada legislature — which then immediately expressed its intention to put a different arena plan on the ballot in 2012.
  • The Anaheim city council is considering paying for upgrades to the Honda Center if the Sacramento Kings move there. No word on how much the renovations would cost, how they would be paid for, or why the city would have any reason to pay for them in the first place.
  • Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. reiterated his call for a new hotel near the Yankees‘ stadium to help bail out those money-losing parking garages. Diaz presumably is more interested in using the garage fiasco as leverage to get more development for his borough; why city taxpayers should want to throw good money after bad is another question…
  • A Canadian government analysis projects that for the federal government to pay for a Quebec hockey arena and a Saskatchewan Roughriders stadium, it would require ticket taxes of as much as $42 per ticket to pay off construction costs. That sounded crazy to me at first, but given that we’re only talking about a million fans a year (combined NHL and CFL), it actually makes sense: A $42 ticket tax would generate $42 million a year, which is about enough to pay off $600 million in costs spread across two stadiums. It would also be insane, of course, but it’s a good reminder of why teams don’t generally jump to build stadiums with their own money — new sports facilities face a hugely uphill battle to earn back their own construction costs.

Liberal Party: We’d fund Canadian sports arenas

Canada’s Liberal Party is now trying to use the Quebec arena fight to score political points, as party leader Michael Ignatieff has declared that he’d be happy to provide federal funds for the project — or, for that matter, sports stadiums and arenas in other parts of Canada — if only he were, you know, prime minister:

“It’s not a question of giving little gifts here and there,” he said. “I think the project is important because it’s a public space. That’s what counts, a public space to present the culture, to present the economic success of the region.

“And if the same case arises in Regina or Vancouver I’ll say the same thing … If we’re talking about a public space that contributes to the development of that region, then the federal government can contribute.”

“A public space that contributes to the development of that region” — that’s a pretty broad category, considering how far stadium boosters like to stretch the meaning of public benefit. And it’s a way more lenient standard than that used by the federal P3 fund, which in any case explicitly excludes sports facilities for consideration.

The real goal, presumably, is to woo Quebec voters who are steamed that the feds aren’t going to be chipping in to try to bring a new version of the Nordiques back to their city. Whether it plays as well in the rest of Canada — where, let’s not forget, the prospect of federal subsidies to NHL teams previously prompted an all-out citizen revolt — is another story.

Saskatchewan abandons Roughriders dome plan (for now)

As promised, the province of Saskatchewan stuck a fork in plans to build a new Roughriders stadium today:

“This project can go no further at this time,” said Ken Cheveldayoff, the minister responsible for the project, said Tuesday.

The province had been seeking a $100 million contribution from Ottawa and had applied for the money last June.

But eight months later, there’s been no response from the federal government. Partners in the project will have to look at their options, Cheveldayoff said.

Okay, not totally stuck a fork in, since they’re still looking at other options. Still, one option is a modest renovation of the Roughriders’ existing Mosaic Stadium, which might at least cost less than the $431 million that a new domed stadium was going to.

For more, read this report from Discover Moose Jaw. (And yes, I only linked to that so I could write “Discover Moose Jaw.)

Saskatchewan: If feds won’t fund our stadium, we won’t build one

The Saskatchewan provincial government now says it will abandon plans for a new Roughriders stadium if federal funding isn’t forthcoming by next week:

In a letter to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, provincial cabinet minister Ken Cheveldayoff writes that the province is at a “critical point in the decision process and associated timeline for the project.”

The province has been looking to Ottawa to pick up about 25 per cent of the cost of the proposed $431-million multi-purpose entertainment facility. Saskatchewan has made an application to PPP Canada, a federal Crown which supports public-private partnerships, for the funds.

Not that Saskatchewan knows who’d pay for the rest of it, but that’s a mere detail. As is the fact that the Canadian federal government has said that it wants nothing to do with stadium funding.

Presumably the goal here is to make one last desperation play for P3 funding, then blame the feds for torpedoing the stadium if they don’t come through. Assuming anyone in Regina will care much — the team is community-owned, so it’s not like fans need to worry about it moving to Saskatoon.

Canadian “P3″ sports-subsidy plan won’t die

The issue of Canadian federal subsidies for sports facilities just won’t die, no matter how many times PM Stephen Harper tries to stick a stake in it. The latest gambit involves P3, the government development fund for public-private projects that was previously floated as a funding source for a Saskatchewan Roughriders stadium, notwithstanding the fact that it’s explicitly forbidden from being used for private sports facilities.

Still, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said last week that P3 “will see if there‚Äôs a financing model that could be used for stadiums or other arenas.” This immediately led to headlines like “Government plans to spend $1-billion on Canadian arenas, stadiums,” which led to further headlines like Arena funding trial balloon whacked like a pinata.” As Andrew Mayeda writes at Postmedia News, using P3 for pro sports wouldn’t be just a minor policy change:

According to a previously “secret” memo prepared by the Department of Finance, federal funding would be an “extremely rare” exception to the government’s sports-funding practice, which has tended to focus on amateur, rather than professional, sports facilities. When that pattern has been broken, it has generally been to fund facilities associated with a big amateur event, such as the Commonwealth Games.

In the story I wrote about the memo, I didn’t get a chance to mention a group of tables put together by Finance officials for the minister. They lay out the construction costs and funding arrangements, if any, for the arenas that host the NHL’s six Canadian teams: the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. Of those teams, only Ottawa received any federal money to build an arena, and even then, it was a relatively small amount. The Senators received $6 million to build the Palladium (now the Scotiabank Place). Ironically, money for a Quebec City arena would come as Canadian teams benefit from a strong Canadian dollar.

Finance officials are also keenly aware of the potential domino effects of federal support for Quebec City. The Finance memo also includes a chart listing the stadiums that host Canadian Football League teams, as well as how much federal funding they received. The chart notes that Regina has asked for slightly more than $100 million from PPP Canada, a $1.2-billion fund created by the Conservatives to bankroll public-private partnerships. The fund is one possible option the Conservatives could use to finance the Quebec City rink.

Mayeda further notes that the last time Canada floated the idea of federal subsidies for sports teams, it didn’t go over so well. If Flaherty was attempting to fly under radar with this one, it looks like he missed badly.

Canadian sports subsidies less likely after Harper kills Edmonton Expo

The prospect of Canadian federal subsidies for stadium and arena projects got murkier again this week. Though Prime Minister Stephen Harper still officially remains mum on the possibility, professional tea leaf readers agreed that Harper’s decision to reject federal funding of Edmonton’s plans for a 2017 Expo sends a signal that he won’t, as previously tea-leaf-read, come up with some kind of subsidy plan to placate Quebec hockey advocates, and then more money to placate those in other Canadian cities who’d be jealous if Quebec got money and they didn’t.

As a result, all the Canadian sports teams with their hands out are scrambling to come up with new funding strategies, or at least new attempts at spin:

  • Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume immediately declared that he’s “always said I have a plan B” and “will implement that plan if necessary.” He didn’t say what the plan B was, though, and said he still hoped for federal funding for a new hockey arena.
  • Saskatchewan provincial cabinet minister Ken Cheveldayoff insisted that “I don’t think there’s any parallels that can be drawn” between the Edmonton Expo plans and his province’s plans for a new Roughriders stadium in Regina, and that he still hopes for about $100 million in federal funding. Saskatchewan is asking for money from the federal P3 Canada Fund, which subsidies public-private partnerships — but which also specifically excludes “facilities used primarily by professional athletes.” To get around this, the province is arguing that it would be building a $431 million domed stadium primarily as a “community recreation and entertainment facility,” and that the Roughriders playing there wouldn’t be its primary use.

Now word yet that I can find on how the Harper move is likely to affect the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Blue Bombers funding battles, but I’m sure that’s coming soon.

Canada PM Harper: If we buy Quebec an arena, everyone will want one

Even as Quebec elected officials were donning Quebec Nordiques jerseys to push for government funding of an arena that could lead to the return of an NHL team to that city, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper edged away from committing to provide federal money for an arena, as local officials have requested. The problem, he says, is that it would risk opening the floodgates:

“You know, in terms of financing any of these things going forward, we’re going to have to respect the precedents we had in the past and be sure any treatment we’re prepared to give to one major city we’re prepared to give to all,” he said. “Obviously we’ll be looking at our options in that context.”

Beyond funding the Quebec City arena, Harper is facing questions about whether he will provide money to build a new stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“Whatever we do in these two cities, we have to be prepared to do everywhere,” Harper said. “Ultimately, professional sports teams themselves have to be sound business propositions.”

That’s all pretty vague and noncommittal, obviously, but the simplest way of reading the tea leaves is that Harper wants to find a way to keep his Quebec MPs happy, but is wary of busting the budget to do so. Some observers have suggested that he could allow provinces to take federal infrastructure money that they’re already set to receive and use it for sports facilities; that would leave the provinces short of money for actual infrastructure, but at least it’d make it their problem, not his.

In any case, if Harper does move ahead with some sort of subsidy plan, it would make for a huge shift in Canadian sports stadium financing, which has traditionally relied mostly on private money. This is one that bears watching closely, on both sides of the border.

Roughriders stadium study endorses Roughriders stadium

Last July, the Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation predicted that it was “a foregone conclusion” that the province’s then-announced Saskatachewan Roughriders stadium study was “going to recommend a new domed stadium,” given that it was being conducted by a stadium management company. That study was released on Monday, and surprise, surprise:

The study says the domed stadium would be the only 30,000-plus all-weather venue for all of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Montana and North Dakota and could draw 500,000 people each year. The facility could have an operating profit of $1.1 million annually if it was host to 31 events a year, including 11 CFL games, according to the study.

“The project is clearly economically feasible and will generate related and recurrent benefits throughout the province of Saskatchewan. The benefits are overwhelmingly positive,” the study says.

I can’t tell from the news coverage whether that’s a $1.1 million annual profit after paying off construction bonds, or assuming somebody else foots the bill for building the thing. Not that it matters much, as the construction cost is a bit of a moving target anyway, according to the report: $386 million for a 33,000-seat fixed-roof stadium, another $45 million to make the roof retractable. And no one knows yet how it would actually be paid for, with Saskatchewan Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff saying:

“The feasibility report says it is feasible to go forward. Now we will look at the capital accumulation phase,” said Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff, whose Saskatchewan Party government indicated a decision about whether or not to proceed will be made by late spring.

“We’ll talk to the federal government, the provincial government, the city and the Roughriders to put a plan in place,” Cheveldayoff said.

“I can say right now that each partner would have to come to the table and contribute for this report to go forward.”

Whether this would be a good deal for Saskatchewan, needless to say, depends on who comes to the table with what. But no doubt the Roughriders are happy that the headlines were written before any of the costs were figured in.