Saturday, April 2, 2011

Will Arena And Stadium Funding Become An Election Issue?

This article was first published in the April 1st edition of Main Street Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Magazine delivered right to your inbox.

(Photo - TVOS)

The world of sports and politics do not often appear in the same column but as we head for the voting booths once again on May 2nd, it will be interesting to see whether using tax dollars to fund new arenas and stadiums gains any traction and becomes an election issue. While it is unlikely to become a national discussion on par with health care, unemployment or economic recovery, it could become a billion dollar expenditure when the dust finally settles on this discussion and the concrete begins to be poured. The keyword here is “discussion” - there should be one before our elected representatives borrow money to finance arenas and stadiums.

In previous columns and in a recent appearance on CBC News Now, I discussed the importance of the Quebec Nordiques returning to the National Hockey League. Replacing a struggling franchise with a healthy and well-supported Quebec City franchise makes sense for the overall health of the league. It will increase the league’s revenues and increase the overall value of the other teams. Having said that, should new arenas receive public funds as is the case in Quebec City where municipal and provincial tax dollars have already been committed to pay for the new Colisee.

If you are a Montreal Canadiens fan in the Laurentians or not even remotely interested in professional sports at all, how do you feel about your tax dollars being spent on a new arena you will most likely never set foot in? Perhaps you are struggling to build your own business during these difficult economic times, it would be fair to ask, “Where is the helping hand I desperately need?”

These venues are no longer single-use facilities; they host concerts, conventions and special events. There is money to be made if it is used to its full capacity. If a business or single-owner can afford an NHL team, they can afford to build their own arena as well - reap the rewards or take the loss, your business savvy will ultimately decide whether it was a successful venture. When using public funds the question that must be asked is, will this project be for the greater good? Is a new arena or stadium more important than making much-needed repairs to the local schools or hiring new doctors for an overworked health care system? It is a valid question, especially at election time.

So, why should this become a Federal election issue? It is not only Quebec City looking for funding, Regina hopes to build a new stadium that would be home to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Edmonton Oilers are looking for a new home to replace the aging Rexall Place. It will not be long before the Calgary Flames are ready to leave the Scotiabank Saddledome or the remaining Canadian NHL and CFL teams need an upgrade on their current venues. If you open the door to fund one project, the door opens to all these other projects. One or two hundred million dollars for a Quebec City arena could easily become a billion dollar investment by the Federal Government when all is said and done. Ask your local candidates for their opinion, start the discussion, it is one worth having.

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