Dec 5, 2019 will mark the 6th anniversary of the defeat of the GTA arena proposal in the City of Markham. In 2013, Markham's City Council wanted to have the GTA arena built using public funds. Mayor Frank Scarpitti and many of his business cronies were behind this project. For a while, fighting against City Hall seemed futile. As it turned out, that was the first “Waterloo” for the Mayor instead.
For myself, the arena fiasco was the starting point of my involvement with politics in Markham. I became a director of an organization that was established by necessity to fight the arena project – Markham Citizens Coalition for Responsive Government (MCCRG). For many other Markham residents, it was the lightning rod that drew them together and galvanize them into a force that would turn against a dictatorial Council who wanted to spend their hard-earned tax dollars and mortgage their future based on a pipe dream.
Those who were not Markham residents at the time would have no idea as to what transpired. They would not see how the city was torn apart and preoccupied with this project. Over $700,000 was contracted to outside consultants to study the feasibility and viability of the proposed arena. Countless hours were spent by city staff on this proposal without proper tracking and accounting to a point that no dollar figures expended can be accountable to this very day.
The city residents were divided into two camps. One group that advocated the building of this arena and entertainment centre, believing that it would bring a National Hockey League team along with prosperity and increased property values to this City. Another group being of concerned citizens who opposed to have the arena built using public funds and waiving of development charges with a potential risk for future tax increases and liabilities on maintenance and financial losses.
The City cherry-picked items from the consultant's reports to show the best prospects of the project and painted a rosy picture of what they wanted the residents to believe. They stonewalled the “Freedom of Information” requests to see these reports at every turn and delayed them using every means at their disposal.
In February of 2016, the consultants reports were made public due to an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. “There was remarkable agreement (among economists) that professional sports facilities do not produce any tangible economic benefits in cities that build new facilities and attract new teams to these facilities,” the consultants wrote in the report in 2012, after looking at 30 or so examples across the continent. This fact along with many others adverse to the viability of the project were never revealed to the residents during the years of debate.
Between Dec 3 and Dec 5, 2016 over 170 people spoke in deputations at the Markham Hilton Hotel and City Council broadcast by Rogers Cable television. The deck was stacked by the City with many outsiders invited to speak ahead of those who were properly registered. Legal actions were threatened by the arena promoter warning some of the Council members and other residents not to quote newspaper stories detailing his “not-too-glamourous” reputations.
2016年12月5日，市议会以11-2票将体育馆项目打入冷宫。只有市长薛家平和议员何胡景两人投赞成票。市议会宣布，如果有人要建体育馆，他们得自己掏腰包。理事会还以13-0投票结果决定退出与体育与娱乐公司GTA Sports and Entertainment的投资协议。该协议要求GTA Sports and Entertainment以3.25亿元建造一个拥有20,000个座位的体育馆，GTA Sports and Entertainment和万锦市各出资1.625亿。
In an 11-2 vote on Dec 5, 2016, with Mayor Frank Scarpitti as one of the only two dissenters (the other one being councillor Alan Ho), council declared all the financing for any planned arena must be done with private investors. Council also voted unanimously, 13-0, to withdraw from a proposed financial framework with Roustan's company GTA Sports and Entertainment. That agreement called for GTA Sports to build a 20,000-seat arena for $325-million, with Roustan's company providing half the construction costs of $162.5-million and the city covering the other $162.5-million.
I will share with you details of this struggle with City Hall and how the battle was won next time.
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