I was making a pit stop Friday afternoon at City Hall, making arrangements to pay my municipal taxes on the monthly installment plan, when I spotted a couple of cameramen and Leader-Post reporter Will Chabun coming out of Henry Baker Hall. What up? I asked. “Oh,” said Chabun, “we’re going to get a new stadium.” And then Will rolled his eyes. And so did many of the other journalists and cameramen coming out of the chamber.
Yeah. Sure we are. What was this, the fifth press conference about a proposed new stadium? Sixth? I’m losing track.
It’s too bad that Paul Deschene isn’t much of a football fan, because he could start a fitness regiment just by walking to and from City Hall every time Mayor Fiacco issues a breathless announcement that The Saskatchewan Roughriders Are Going To Get A New Stadium. But, he assures us, the taxpayer is safeguarded because The Private Sector Will Do It All. (CBC Saskatchewan). No conceptual drawings, no financial figures as to how much it will cost or who’s going to pay, no starting date for construction.
Mayor Mullet may as well have predicted a killing frost in Hell.
It seems as though Mayor Mullet sees the only way that a new stadium gets built is the same way the Winnipeg Blue Bombers got the process going to move from Winnipeg (CanadaInns) Stadium to The University of Manitoba Institute for Mosquito Breeding Studies Investors Group Field. (Wikipedia)
The ball got rolling, so to speak, when David Asper, who controlled a real estate as well as the CanWestGlobal Network and the National post newspaper chain, proposed a complicated swap. In effect, he proposed that the City of Winnipeg give – not sell – him the lands on which Winnipeg Stadium resided, and he would take over ownership of the Blue Bombers, in exchange for building a new 30,000+ seat football stadium for $120 million. (Winnipeg Free Press) Oh, he’d put up some of his own money, but the cost over-runs would be paid by the province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg.
Now, anyone in construction with the sense to hold a hammer by the right end knew that you couldn’t build a stadium for that price. (The national soccer stadium in Toronto, with less than 2/3 the seating and less than 2/3 the physical dimensions of the Investors Group Field, came in at around $$75 million five years previously*.) What Asper was doing was apparent to anybody who watched the first half of two-thirds of the Holmes On Homes episodes – the contractor proposes a sweetheart price, only to jack up the price about a third of the way through construction. Which is what happened – just after the first piles were driven into the ground, Asper cut some of the stuff he had promised for the facility, and went back to the city and the province and said, ‘this is going to take a lot more money. Of YOUR money.’ (CBC Winnipeg)
Funny how that works.
Anyway, the city and province did the right thing and told Asper to get the hell out of the project, as the changes he made and proposed violated the original contract. The city and the province ended up building the facility. (cfl.ca) (Though the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are supposed to pay back about $65 million of the stadium’s construction cost, the CFL’s economics make that payback very unlikely).
By keying on the private sector to build this facility, it appears Mayor Mullet thinks the same process is the only way to kick-start the process for a new Rider stadium. There’s no way in hell that the private sector will pay the cost to build such a structure – be it a $200 million open-air field or a $600 million dome. Even with all the tax breaks a city and province can offer, such a facility is a fiscal white elephant, both in its construction costs and in its operating costs. You’re building this facility as a status symbol, which is something that right-of-centre governments say they’re loath to get involved with.
But Mayor Mullet’s plan has two problems – any businessman knows that trying to pull Asper’s stunt in Regina would mean becoming a pariah in the city. So, one can eliminate any of the moneyed Old Regina Families from this. And there doesn’t seem to be anybody else on the horizon willing to try this. If anybody in the private sector thought they could make money in Regina by building a new football stadium, it would have been built by now.
This is why I bet Will Chabun will probably have to leave his retirement party from the Leader-Post, in a few years from now, in order to cover the same non-story of Mayor Fiacco making the same breathless announcements, with the same lack of detail. When it comes to building a new home for the Riders, the process is back at Square One, and Mayor Fiacco’s voice is the sound of this project spinning its wheels.
(UPDATE — Originally, I said the cost of constructing BMO Field was about $100 million. According to Wikipedia I was wrong. However (a) BMO Field is a very bare-bones facility, (b) there are sunshades for the crowds on the new Winnipeg stadium that weren’t built onto BMO Field, and (c) due to the subsoil conditions, buildings don’t need as much of footings on the very stable soils in Toronto that they will need for building similar projects in Winnipeg or Regina.