No, we’re not talking about the Markham Centennial Centre or the Markham PanAm Centre in Markham, Ontario, Canada. We’re talking about what was supposed to be a huge venue for the glitziest events, sport and What ever happened to the 20,000 Seat, NHL-ready multi-sport (and entertainment) arena in Downtown Markham? It was supposed to be a huge coup for the citizens of Markham and the province of Ontario. But what happened? It never did.
Markham Arena: A Background
Cities and communities can get worked up over a professional sports stadium in the same way fans can have their lives dominated by their favourite NHL team.
It doesn’t take much for a local politician or sports figure to publicly state a new venue is in need and opposition sides to wage a war over whether to build the arena or not to.
In 2012, Markham was one such city that lived the fast dream of having a brand-new NHL arena. Yet, the dream quickly turned to nightmares after it was revealed that the project would have plunged Markham into decades of debt. That debt would have come on the back of the World Financial Crisis which could have caused further financial issues to the city.
The NHL to Markham
Prior to Councillor Karen Rea taking office in 2014, details of the arena’s deal were release courtesy of the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario act. The report detailed the “$325-million public-private arena plan as one that would have mired the municipality in debt for decades to come”.
The Markham Arena project was cancelled just two years after it was proposed. The details released on the negative impact the arena would have made flew in the face of Mayor Frank Scarpitti’s promises.
Scarpitti claimed the city would have boomed thanks to the arena. His optimism was partly based on the city’s growing reputation as a place to move to. Markham is less than 20 miles from downtown Toronto and it continues to grow as a destination for people from around Ontario.
The True Impact
Despite Scarpitti’s claims of the NHL arena being a boon for Markham, others have not agreed. In fact, many did not agree from the start when financial reports were created to decide if the project was viable.
In January of 2011, the Raymond James report claimed the arena’s costs would be nearly $100 million more than that initially projected. The report also uncovered an exclusion of costs from the original projections.
The most damning part of the Raymond James report was the fact that city leaders and councillors knew the financial risks of the arena. However, they continued to push for it despite the impending financial problems it would have caused.
Held a ransom
Markham had the bright lights of the NHL in its eyes. The city’s infatuation with the hockey league isn’t anything new as cities across North America fall in love with attracting a professional sports team. That infatuation turns into an affair that sees the city held at ransom with the team able to dictate terms.
Look around North America and there are examples of sports teams holding cities ransom for new stadiums and arenas only to leave town if their wishes aren’t met. St. Louis failed to build the Rams a new venue despite their previous venue being just 20 years old. The Rams skipped town for Los Angeles. The Atlanta Braves were built a brand-new ballpark after they deemed their stadium from 1996 the reason fans wouldn’t come to games. The NBA stated the Milwaukee Bucks’ old stadium wasn’t up to par for an NBA team. The Milwaukee built them a new arena.
The only real winners when a new sports arena is built with public funds is the owner of a sports franchise. There is little to no risk, and once the venue is built, the owner becomes far more powerful than those who provided the cash.