There’s been talk about Markham’s GTA Centre, the new 20,000 seat arena being built by W. Graeme Roustan and Rudy Bratty in the 250,000 person Toronto suburb. Today, Markham council voted to borrow half the cost of the arena, $162.5-million over 20-years.
It all sounds so familiar.
In Arizona the City of Glendale, a 250,000 person suburb of Phoenix, built a hockey rink for the Phoenix Coyotes. As Stephen Brunt notes in a recent article for Sportsnet Magazine:
A city with a population of approximately a quarter of a million people is carrying a debt in excess of a billion dollars, not including a projected $30-million budget shortfall this year, and is currently contemplating which services its citizenry will be forced to do without in order to pay the bills.
That sad state of affairs relates directly to the magical thinking that directed massive public investment into the team, into the arena, into the shopping centre that was constructed around it…
Glendale’s civic guardians…were buying into the big lie about how professional sports can be an economic engine; about how they create jobs, create wealth, put your town on the map, bring life to moribund neighbourhoods, etc., etc.
There are volumes of academic literature that definitively disprove all of that. Professional sports teams are in fact relatively small businesses that, if anything, leech discretionary spending from other sectors of the economy. They create a modest number of seasonal, low paying jobs, and a very small number of extraordinarily high paying ones — for the athletes, who inevitably leave town the minute the last game is over.
The people who run Markham, The City Council, bought into that big lie by an 11-2 vote. They bought the lie that an arena, a “20,000-seat, 600,000-square-foot Markham Sports, Entertainment and Cultural Centre,” will be profitable for the City of Markham. In Glendale they’re talking about making cuts. Not close a library here or a pool there. Not the minimal cuts that caused so much turbulence in the City of Toronto this past year, but real cuts to the fire department and police department, real cuts to infrastructure and safety because they are underwater. They can’t begin to pay their debt, and their debt is all about a hockey rink and an NHL team thats about to decamp to Quebec City.
In Markham they voted today to unlearn the lessons that Glendale Arizona has to teach City’s that want to get into the pro sports business. They voted to ignore the evidence while the evidence is still fresh. They rolled the dice that their play for an NHL team, their foray into arena building will not come back to bite them.
As Stephen Brunt notes in his article, “But don’t lie awake fretting about the good citizens of Glendale. They’ll be just fine. Because now, they’re planning on opening a casino.”
Might as well apply to the province for that casino license now.