Markham approves funding deal for NHL-size arena

Markham city councillors have voted in support of a funding plan to build an NHL-style arena with the help of public funding.

The vote followed a debate that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

A motion rejecting the financial framework around the so-called GTA Centre was defeated 7-6.

The proposed 20,000-seat arena is estimated to cost some $325 million.

Markham is a city of about 300,000 people just north of Toronto.

Councillors were expected to vote on the plan sometime late Tuesday night — but with at least 60 people or groups registered to speak on the motion, the final vote was pushed back to just before 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The big draw for many in Markham is the suggestion that the new rink could be a potential home for a new NHL franchise.

Dr. Ken Ng of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce called it a "once in a lifetime chance to leave a legacy."

Former NHLPA executive Paul Kelly said if the city doesn't act now it may miss the boat forever. "If you don't act now you'll likely never have another chance to get an NHL team," he said.

Under the proposal, half of the money would be put up by the Remington Group.

"It's unprecedented what Remington [Group] is doing, making this type of contribution towards an amazing facility for our city," said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti on Monday.

Although half the money would come from private sources, the other half would come from a levy on newly built homes, townhouses and condominiums.

"Based on the formula, getting half the money from Remington, based on the growth that's coming to the city of Markham over the next 20 years — that we know is coming — this is about as good as it gets anywhere in the country," Scarpitti told CBC News.

But the arena has many detractors.

Many who spoke at the meeting said they don't want the arena paid for with public money. Coun. Don Hamilton said raising property taxes to pay for the project raises alarm bells.

"Members of the community that I've spoken to, they do not all support the city being financially involved [in the project]," Hamilton said.

Opponents also point to a lack of proven revenue sources for the arena if an NHL franchise doesn't materialize.

Marilyn Ginsburg of Grandview Residents Association put the vote in an historical context.

"The captain of the Titanic was waiting for info on conditions," said Ginsburg.

She warned councillors not to "wait too long or you'll go down with a sinking ship."

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