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Columnist: Markham arena plan ‘somewhere between risky and outright insane’

Dec 2, 2013, 4:21 PM EDT


If you read just one column bashing the latest plans to build an NHL-ready arena in the Toronto suburb of Markham, make it Bruce Arthur’s in the National Post:

The city has been wrestling for some time with a proposal to build a $325-million arena that would hopefully house an NHL team. Mayor Frank Scarpitti revealed a modified version of the funding structure on Friday with a murky new $70-million extracted from unnamed developers. The plan is still full of holes, with at least $50-million not covered, and council is expected to vote on a previous version of the funding structure Monday or Tuesday. And between now and then, someone should tell them that they are risking an enormous amount of money for a project that is somewhere between risky and outright insane.

Arthur goes on to cite an NHL source that calls the Markham project “delusional,” at least with respect to the league’s plans for the market (translation: there aren’t any, really).

There’s more in the piece, including a quote from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: “We have never been encouraging of this project. And we have repeatedly said that if this building is built, it should be built with the expectation that they will not get a team.”

After you read Arthur’s column, please do read our piece on Quebec City, and why expansion or relocation to that particular market seems inevitable.

Update (5:24 p.m. ET)

Well then…touché.

  1. stcrowe - Dec 2, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    A real leap in the dark by the folks in Markham. Hamilton had more reason to believe that they might get a team back in the 80s when they built Copps Coliseum. It now houses an AHL team and concerts.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Dec 2, 2013 at 5:14 PM

      But Crowe, Markham’s plan is foolproof since they already have a surefire box-office bonanza lined up for their first event: the long-awaited Beatles reunion concert! What? Oh dear, well that could be a problem.

      • esracerx46 - Dec 2, 2013 at 7:00 PM

        This isn’t really Markham’s plan. Its Graeme Roustan’s. All Markham is saying is as long as we don’t have to pay for it, hell yeah you can build a giant arena. Kansas city built an arena, much like Hamilton. This isn’t field of dreams, although Roustan’s dream is of the pipe variety.

  2. esracerx46 - Dec 2, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    Mr. Roustan, I know you’re a savvy businessman but let me give you some advice. In order:
    1. Buy a team
    2. Build an arena
    3. Pay relocation fee
    4. Move team.

    But don’t do it in a Toronto suburb. People of Toronto have their team. Fans will not dump their favorite team because they have a team closer. It will be the same thing as Phoenix and Florida. Hoping the people that come to games are coming to see their team play against them.

    • micasa81 - Dec 3, 2013 at 1:00 AM

      I think you’re underestimating how big a hockey market the GTA is. It would only take a very small fraction of current Leafs fans to make a viable franchise. Totally doable, IMO, once the league allows a team to locate/expand there.

  3. muckleflugga - Dec 2, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    pipe dream, mmmmmm


  4. channelguy - Dec 2, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    Toronto is the third largest metro area in North America, behind only New York and L.A, which have 3 and 2 teams respectively. Of course Toronto can support a second team, that’s obvious. Markham is just one of the many contiguous cities in a huge urban mass.

    There’s a huge difference between Markham and both Hamilton and K.C. K.C. is a marginal hockey market which failed badly in the 1970s with the Kansas City Scouts, which came into the league at the same time as the Capitals and bombed. The area west of Toronto, which includes Hamilton, has enough people and interest to support a team (providing one ISNT put in Markham) but Hamilton was just a bad choice to build a modern arena. It’s a tank town that lost its tank, an old steel town that has been looking for decades to renew itself like Pittsburgh, with little success. Downtown Hamilton, where the area is, is a scary place after dark. And that’s why they never got a team.

    The NHL’s issue is that it does NOT want an existing team to move to Markham, because the region is so attractive that it can generate a large expansion fee, while a move would generate $0 for the league. And the league is not ready for expansion, and won’t be when this arena is done, it if is built. When the league deems it IS ready for expansion, that’s when they would support this project.

    • micasa81 - Dec 3, 2013 at 12:54 AM

      Your point is well made, but Toronto is behind Chicago and Dallas (and, if you’re looking at true metro areas, SF Bay and Baltimore-DC as well) in population. But where it matters in this conversation is hockey watching population, and in that respect, Toronto is probably number one. It would support a second team even if it had only 1/8 the fanbase of the Leafs, and that is something that can probably be attained.

      Overall, though, Hamilton is the right choice for expansion in the Golden Horseshoe. It’s the biggest city South of Toronto, and would be the natural team of choice for the 5 million-odd Southwestern Ontario and Niagara Peninsula residents who are already not fans of being lumped in with Toronto, and for whom Hamilton is significantly closer. I’m not saying all these people would instantly become Hamilton fans, but you look at any vector away from Toronto and Southwest is by far the most promising to build a new fanbase. But like you say, it’s all trivial until the NHL is ready to expand, cuz there’s no way in hell they’d let a team relocate to a guaranteed market like that. .

  5. theicedog - Dec 3, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    The Maple Leafs will never go for a second team within their market as they saw what happened to the Rangers. New York was the established team for the NYC Metro Area which includes Northern NJ and Southern Connecticut. The New Jersey Devils were born and it was an overhand right to the Rangers jaw. Granted, financially New York continues to do well as they maintain the greatest corporate dollar investment but how about success as an organization? The Rangers were fortunate enough to have the Devils’ Slava Fetisov deflect Stefan Matteau’s centering attempt back in ’94 otherwise the chants of “1940” would continue to ring throughout opposing arenas. From that moment on the Devils have overshadowed the Rangers with multiple Stanley Cup championships to go along with several Conference championships and numerous Division titles while New York struggles at times to make it to the postseason. The Maple Leafs have had very little success on the ice themselves, not winning a championship for close to 50 years. Can you imagine if Hamilton or Markham gets a team and they become as successful as the New Jersey Devils while the Maple Leafs continue to struggle like the New York Rangers? It’s never going to happen.

  6. rossboone2013 - Dec 4, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    “If you build it, they will come!”

    MLSE will try to kill it, but realistically the fan base is there easily for 2 arenas. 99% of Leafs fans never see a game anyways. The seats at home games are filled with corporate ticket holders freebie pass alongs, not real fans. There are season ticket holders also, that have held the tickets in their families for years, But, for the most part, no working class Leafs fan can afford to get to see by buying a ticket. It is cheaper to fly to Florida and watch the game there, combining a vacation with a game. CANADA is hockey! Hockey is Canada. They will come if it is available.
    A PIPE DREAM – NO, except to the detractors. Realistic priced ticket seats, dogs you can afford to eat, and beer you can afford to drink will more than likely fill the place to capacity. Bettman wants new markets and we have seen where that has gone. Toronto has the market…….utilize it or lose it!

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