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New Markham arena up for debate tonight

Proposed New Markham Arena

It should be a town meeting filled with fireworks and rhetoric, as Markham officials and citizens are set to debate whether to move forward with public funding of a new NHL-quality arena in the Toronto suburb.

A new Markham arena would be built with a combination of public money and private investment. As far as public subsidies go, what’s being proposed here is pretty much middle of the road: Markham would borrow the entire $325-million construction cost, with developer Remington directly repaying $162.5 million and the rest covered by development fees on builders and ticket surcharges. If the fees and ticket surcharges came in below estimates, local taxpayers would be on the hook for the rest.

The issue for many: whether the city should move ahead with the construction of the arena or wait for the NHL to commit to a tenant franchise. This is not an abstract point: why pay for an NHL-level arena if no team is on the move? Given the recent labor woes experienced by the league, the idea of franchise shifts hasn’t been high on anyone’s priority list, and we’re guessing the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be too happy about having an NHL team in the suburbs, either.

Technically, what’s being debated tonight is a proposal to yank all public spending from the project. It’s received preliminary approval, but some councillors want to see more of a commitment from the NHL before proceeding. From The Star:

The ratepayers’ association and other residents say the city shouldn’t be spending taxpayer dollars for the benefit of private business people. Opponents also argue that if the arena doesn’t attract a major tenant such as an NHL franchise, the project will expose the city to steady losses and tax increases.

Colin Campbell, who initiated the motion to rescind the funding formula, said he thinks the city is approaching the project “backwards” without a guarantee of an NHL franchise to generate critical operating revenues and protect taxpayers.

“If the NHL indicated it would be coming here and the private sector expressed an interest in building an arena, then it might be worth looking at,” Campbell said. “Right now, we need to put this to bed.”

Should be a fascinating public meeting.

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