Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Fate of Markham arena may be just weeks away
The “it” is the controversial 20,000-seat, $325-million sports arena proposed for Markham, whose fate may now be just a few weeks away.
Graeme Roustan, chairman of GTA Sports and Entertainment, is the man behind the controversial project. The former Bauer Performance Sports chief maintains that if the GTA Centre is not built, Markham is certain to be bypassed for a host of events a multi-purpose facility would draw.
Roustan told the Toronto Sun feels he has made his case publicly and now he seeks a council vote on the matter, sooner rather than later.
“It may happen within weeks,” Roustan said, “and I would encourage that. Let’s put it to the 13 councillors in a public forum and see who is for it and who is against it.
“That is how democracy works. So bring it on. At the same time let’s be clear about the potential benefits for Markham and the region.
“The GTA Centre is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city, its residents and businesses. It’s not just about the hockey possibilities, it’s about a range of entertainment options.”
Supporters claim the centre can be financially viable without a professional hockey league tenant — although that is the preferred option — given the potential for a large number of other events each year.
The closest council has come to finalizing its decision on the complex, destined for a home near Hwy. 407 and Kennedy Rd., came in January when it voted 7-6 in favour of a financial framework whereby the city and the private sector would share the cost of construction.
GTA Sports would oversee arena construction and operation while the city would own it.
If the vote does come next month, it will mark the end of two years of sometimes-bitter pubic debate.
It will also head off a move to kill the arena altogether.
Jack Heath, deputy mayor of Markham and originally a supporter, has now gone cold on the plan.
With speculation that the NHL will expand to Quebec City before any other Canadian option, Heath has said the need for a franchise in the GTA is far from a top priority for the league.
“When you add it all up, a second franchise for the GTA is not a priority. I have no interest in duplicating Copps Coliseum,” he was quoted Saturday in the Hockey News.
Heath’s withdrawal of support will be taken as comfort by local residents’ organizations that have spoken against the arena.
Hockey coach and enthusiast Kevin V. Huhn alluded to them when he sent a letter to all Markham councillors last month and urged approval.
Huhn lamented the “development phobic and rude residents” trying to kill the plan and their increasingly personal attacks on Graeme Roustan.
In a copy of that letter seen by the Toronto Sun, Huhn took aim at those who wilfully ignored the merits of the proposal.
“If you don’t build the facility, not only will Markham lose out on ever getting an NHL team, but you will tarnish yourselves as political leaders for years beyond your terms as being remembered as the ones who killed any chance of getting an NHL franchise for Markham.
“Rest assured, people will run against you on this failure. I am not sure you want to leave that as your legacy.”
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, an early and outspoken backer of the original arena plan, was approached but declined the opportunity to comment on this story.
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