Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More voices oppose stadium

Johnstone and Conway have company. Columnists Murray Mandryk of the Regina Leader-Post and Les McPherson of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix have also issued cautionary statements about the proposed domed stadium in Regina.

Mandryk writes,

But before we take a plunge, let's insist that any feasibility study answers the following questions: What is the true bottom-line cost? That $350-million pricetag sounds low and surely doesn't include land costs. Let's get the real bottom-line figure that covers everything -- including the inevitable cost overruns.

What are the operational costs? And because it would likely be unaffordable for university and high school sports, do we also need new facilities to accommodate them? Who pays for it and how much do we pay? Who are the mysterious partners and how much will they kick in? How much will provincial taxpayers be stuck with? How about Regina taxpayers, who should pay more considering they will garner the greatest benefit? If the partners are Crown corporations and casinos, will that hurt their profits or their dividends paid to the province's general revenue fund for schools, roads and hospitals? How will it affect the government's plans to build an infrastructure for a potentially far more beneficial and lasting "knowledge-based economy? What is the true value-added impact? If Regina and Saskatchewan are to become a true destination place for big events, we need more hotel space. What Century West Development Ltd. (which is perhaps planning a hotel development on the old Superstore lot) and other hotel chains have in mind may be the dealbreaker here.

Are we big enough for a 35,000-seat indoor complex? Even if we get to 1.1 million people in 10 or 15 years, is that a big enough population base to sustain several big events to cover costs? Considering the direct airline flight issues we have now, can a province with two cities of 200,000 and 250,000 attract a critical mass for events when the next-biggest population centres of 500,000-plus are a six- or seven-hour drive away? How many convention-events meritorious of a 35,000-seat facility can Regina possibly host in a year? Can we get past our own petty internal rivalries? This is sadly flowing south from an incredibly small -- and I do stress small -- dog-in-the-manger crowd in The Bridge City that is now thinking we should shut down the University of Regina in order to compensate.

But pettiness notwithstanding, a 35,000-seat Regina facility would take business away from Saskatoon's Credit Union Centre.

This is a big deal that needs to be addressed. Might a $200-million new outdoor stadium plus added seating at Regina's Brandt Centre be a better option for attracting joint Regina-Saskatoon events (i.e. world junior hockey championships) or multiple concert dates? It's OK to dream big, but it's also OK to say that our dream home is the one that we can afford -- and that truly suits our needs.
MacPherson says the game was meant to be played outdoors, and that Montreal serves as an example of why a tiny outdoor stadium is superior to a dome any day. That makes Mosaic stadium
...a historic gem of a ballpark that cries out for preservation, not replacement. No venue in the country has more character.

It's not as if people are staying away from the venerable old ballpark. On the contrary, Saskatchewan Roughriders home games routinely are sold out, even after the addition this year of 2,100 new seats, bringing capacity up to 31,000. A domed stadium might hold a few thousand more. Is that worth $350 million?

Whether there is sustainable demand for thousands more tickets is another question, especially if admission prices go up, as they certainly would, and if the team should struggle, as teams from time to time always do. Entertaining and competitive as they have been, the Riders right now are at the peak of their popularity. There's a lot more room on the downside than the upside.
G.E. Donnelly, a Star-Phoenix reader, agreed with McPherson, and wrote,
The proposed domed stadium is the pet project for a relatively small and select group of fatcats and sports types who will be the major benefactors of this boondoggle. The cost, which shall balloon to the very exclusive neighbourhood of $600 million before they are through, will be borne by the usual suspects: the taxpayers of Saskatchewan and Canada, who, I suspect, will be priced out of the park when the new prices are announced (inevitable). Think plush box apartments high above the riffraff. Think new plush boxes for the other beneficiaries.
Regina citizens and political science profs at the University of Regina have also expressed their doubts.

Although the pro-dome PR campaign is well underway, and disclosure of information is not, it's still going to take a lot of convincing for thinking people to accept that a new domed stadium is what this province needs.

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