Markham council votes to build NHL-style arena in epic public meeting

An artist's rendition of the proposed GTA Centre in Markham, Ont.You would think a plan to build an NHL-ready arena in a Canadian city would have full backing from the public, but that does not seem to be the case in Markham, Ont., where a long list of residents wanting to discuss the matter stretched a meeting well past midnight.

Markham, which sits just north of Toronto, is in the final stages of a plan that would build a 20,000-seat stadium that could, someday perhaps, house a premier hockey franchise.

But questions over how that project will be paid for have divided city council and threw the arena’s fate into question.

CBC News reports that Markham councillors voted early Wednesday morning to continue with the plan to build that arena using, in part, money collected through a controversial levy. The National Post’s Sean Fitz-Gerald wrote that council faced “several hours of often strenuous opposition from residents.”

[ Related: Markham approves funding deal for NHL-size arena ]

Here's the breakdown on this, admittedly beautiful, building.

Markham’s GTA Centre entertainment complex will cost $325 million to build, half of which will be covered by a group led by a local developer.

Under the current deal, approved by council last April, the other half would be collected through a levy charged for new home construction. It is entirely likely that those levies, about $5,000 per home and $2,000 per condo, will be passed on to city residents through an increase in home prices.

Yes, the Markham arena plan could cost city residents some $162 million, in a roundabout way. No, they do not have a key tenant lined up to fill it.

Hence the moment of sudden sober second thought.

When this process began, there were rumblings that an NHL team may be destined for the Toronto-area town. Those rumblings have faded, and they now fit the definition of a pipe dream.

[ Related: Markham NHL-class arena project raises a lot of questions ]

The argument has been that an NHL-ready arena would be an economic boon to the area, with or without an NHL team.

But as the National Post's Scott Stinson pointed out on Tuesday, claims that publicly-funded sports arenas lead to a guaranteed financial windfall are highly questioned at the moment.

Stinson pointed to a report on building a new arena in Edmonton, which found there would be no tangible economic benefits to the city.

The 7-6 vote to proceed with the financial framework came down at about 3 a.m., after scores of people spoke on the matter. Here is a taste, for and against:

Paul Kelly, the former executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, via the Post: “This is your opportunity, citizens of Markham. If you don’t act now and keep this project moving forward, you will likely never again have the opportunity to secure an NHL team.”

Coun. Don Hamilton, via CBC: "Members of the community that I've spoken to, they do not all support the city being financially involved [in the project],”

And so, Markham will proceed with the development project, seemingly still hoping that someday, some way, an NHL team will find its way to the Toronto suburb.