Markham council set to vote on NHL-ready arena plan

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
The town just north of Toronto may be one step closer to building an NHL-ready arena after city councillors approved a plan to finance a new sports complex.

Those Ontario hockey fans praying for another Toronto-area NHL team take note: The fate of an NHL-ready arena project in Markham goes into sudden death Tuesday night.

Markham, which sits just north of Toronto, was 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 has city council divided, and the arena’s fate in question.

CBC News reports that Markham councillors will vote tonight on whether to continue with the plan to build that arena using, in part, money collected through a controversial levy.

[ Related: Markham councillors to vote on proposal for NHL-style 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 would 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 sudden sober second thought.

When this process began, there were rumblings that an NHL team may be destined for the Toronto-area city. 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.

Add to that this interesting note from Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:

[U]nless and until this council and city can get its act together and decide what it actually wants and how it’s going to go about getting it, the NHL will stay away. Far, far away.

What all of this means is, well, still undecided. But tonight, Markham council with either give the proposal a final stick tap or send the debate into overtime.