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.

Stadium notes from all over

The week is off to a slow start, stadium-shenanigans-wise, but a few items have begun to trickle across the transom:

  • The forever-simmering Houston Dynamo stadium controversy has become a major issue in the city’s mayoral runoff, with Gene Locke charging that his opponent, Annise Parker, would drive the team out of town by refusing to contribute to a new soccer stadium. A Parker spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle: “The city has already done its part by contributing the land to the project. Especially in tough economic times like we are facing now, the city can’t afford expensive, new projects.”
  • The state of New Hampshire has capped the amount of rooms-and-meals taxes that it distributes to cities — which is a problem for Manchester, which is paying off its arena bonds with those taxes. Moody’s has already downgraded the bonds to junk status, and they could be at risk of default — something that Manchester, even though it’s not technically on the hook for bond payments, doubtless wants to avoid. Right now, it looks like the city and the state are going to beat each other up over who should be responsible for the shortfall — sound familiar?
  • A poll of Saskatchewan residents on the future of Mosaic Stadium found that 37.4% say the Roughriders‘ home be replaced by a domed stadium, 11.9% think it should be replaced by a non-domed stadium, 18.1% think it should be renovated, and and 32.6% say it should be left alone. The headline that the Regina Leader-Post (which conducted the poll) used on this was “Most Saskatchewan residents believe Mosaic Stadium should be replaced or improved,” though they could have just as easily said “Most Saskatchewan residents don’t believe Mosaic Stadium should be replaced.” It doesn’t look like the poll went into funding specifics, though it is reported that “eighty per cent say various levels of government should foot at least part of the bill.” (The tip, presumably.)

Saskatchewan mulls new dome

The province of Saskatchewan has launched a $1 million study to consider whether to build a $350 million domed stadium (all figures Canadian) in Regina for the Roughriders CFL team (not to confused with the Rough Riders CFL team). And as they say in Canada, “sceptics” are critiquing the plan just because it will be conducted by Global Spectrum International, a stadium management company.

Lee Harding, Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told the CBC: “We have people writing a report who would have a financial incentive to go back to the people who commissioned it and say: ‘Yes, a dome is a great idea.’ And after you build it could you let us run it? So really it’s a foregone conclusion that this thing is going to recommend a new domed stadium.”

Meanwhile, Regina Leader Post columnist Will Chabun points out some other pitfalls of a stadium plan, including land costs, overruns, and whether it would draw off events from the Brandt Centre, the city’s hockey arena: “Will we end up having two half-empty barns?”

Also an unknown: Would a new stadium still honor “Piffles” Taylor?