Don’t like Regina’s stadium socialism? It’s a lot better than Glendale’s insane NHL deal

by Paul Dechene


“Parker! Get in here!”

Sometimes, after Prairie Dog editor Whitworth has gotten into his bottom drawer — the one containing his Special Brand of Inspiration — he thinks he’s J. Jonah Jameson.

“It’s Dechene. We’ve been over this.”

“Phoenix Coyotes! The city of Glendale, Arizona! They just cut a deal to pay a big sports conglomerate millions to keep professional hockey in their city for five more years. Libraries, transit, firefighters — they’re all getting cut! The city hall building’s being tossed around as collateral!” This is J. Jonah Whitworth talking. He’s on a roll.

“It’s a cautionary tale! It’s an object lesson on the perils of selective socialism! It’s our stadium in 20 years! It’s Regina’s future!

“But Arizona’s long way away. It’s a dysfunctional state in a dysfunctional country.”

“A thousand words, Parker. Due Monday.”

Sigh… Where to start? How about with the same words I use to kick off most council stories: At their July 2 meeting, the city council of Glendale, Arizona, voted four to three in favour of paying Renaissance Sports and Entertainment $15 million a year to manage the city’s Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes. RSE will also buy the hockey team from the NHL and keep it in Glendale for at least five years.

Glendale, meanwhile, will get to share in any profits from the arena and those could run as high as $8 to $11 million a year.

Still, not enough to cover their losses.

And even though this looks to be the best and last chance to save hockey in Glendale, the mayor, Jerry Weiers, voted against it because, believe it or not, an annual $15 million bill for services isn’t the only thing his city has to worry about.

Far from it.

Glendale, it turns out, is in hock to the NHL. The League charged the city $50 million to run the Arena through the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and even though Glendale raided their landfill, sanitation and water and sewer reserve funds to cover the tab, there’s still $25 million outstanding.

On top of that, the city is still paying off the $180 million it cost to build the arena and will be for many years to come.

I phoned up Glendale city councillor, Norma Alvarez, who also voted against the RSE deal. She says the city’s situation is even more dire than it sounds.

“We’re broke. We’ve cut services to our taxpayers,” she says. “We have no services for recreation, the libraries are on very limited hours, community centres are closed, we have one pool that serves three districts. I’m just going by that. If you don’t have the money to provide services that the taxpayers have paid for, how can you go and make a deal for $15 million a year?”

And Alvarez says that it turns out that it wasn’t exactly proper to pay off the NHL with money transferred out of reserve funds. As a consequence, the city has to find a way to raise money to replenish them.

That’s where the city hall complex comes in. There was a motion on the July 2 agenda to sell the city hall building for $30 million then lease it back.

That item, she says, was tabled but it could still go through at a later council meeting.

“The people of Glendale feel ripped off,” says Alvarez. “But not only that, we’re humiliated because everyone in the state laughs at us. And they have every right to do so. I’m not blaming anyone from the outside. It’s us. If we can be that stupid, what can I say? All I could do is vote against it.”

Considering what they’re facing now, you have to wonder what kind of assurances were made to the citizens of Glendale back in 2001 when the city put plans in motion to bring an NHL team to town from Phoenix’s America West Arena. Was Glendale promised an arena that’d be built on time and on budget, that would revitalize a neighbourhood and fill the city’s coffers with delicious tax revenue?

“They never notified the Glendale residents, that’s been the problem. To this day they haven’t. We had a workshop, a public workshop to discuss [the RSE] deal and that’s the first that it’s ever happened,” says Alvarez. “They always discussed this in executive session. Everything has been behind closed door.”

By contrast, Regina’s plan to build a $278 million stadium seems a veritable paragon of open book government and sound fiscal planning.

At our council’s July 9 meeting, council sent city staff off to get detailed proposals from the three shortlisted firms who’re hoping to win a contract to design and build our new stadium. Those three plans should come forward early in the new year and a decision on which the city will go with will be made shortly thereafter. We’ll get to watch as all that happens.

Council also agreed to a 30-year agreement with Sask. Sport. That organization will be leasing space in the new stadium at a total cost of $75 million and that revenue will be used to help cover maintenance and debt on the facility.

And finally, council set up a stadium reserve that will keep separate from the city’s general coffers all the money associated with the stadium — both the money earmarked to build and maintain it as well as the revenue earned from it.

When asked about what these decisions have to say about the openness of the stadium project, Mayor Michael Fougere responded, “We are trying to be as open and transparent as possible. The money that is raised and used by the facility will stay there and we’re not using money from other sources to cover off any shortfalls.

“We’ve won awards for several years for our openness and transparency,” he continued. “This is just another example.”

The residents of Glendale could have only dreamed of getting that kind of commitment from their city council back when the Coyotes came to town.

Oh sure, we still have Ward 9’s Terry Hincks on council, taunting the people who’d like to see the millions the city will be spending on the stadium directed instead towards pothole repairs and affordable housing supports — the lunatics. When commenting on the Sask. Sport lease deal and the fact that the stadium will also be used for high school football, Hincks said, “I hope the media reports on this. You know the anti-everything people out there will be saying this [stadium] is only for the Riders.

“This is a whole community project. Everyone will have skin in the game.”

By “skin” I wonder if council’s presiding jockocrat was referring to the promised annual property tax increases? Probably not.

Regardless, whether you support Regina’s plan for a stadium or not, you have to admit that it’s better than what you’ll see in Glendale, Arizona.