People in Edmonton Don’t Want (To Pay For) A New Arena

Jonathan Willis
August 23 2009 06:00PM

rexall

An interesting study on support for a new taxpayer-funded arena for the Edmonton Oilers came out yesterday (g/t Battle of Alberta). The headline is that 76% of Edmontonians don’t like the idea of the city using tax dollars to help build a new arena.

Ipsos-Reid provides a detailed breakdown for support/non-support for using taxpayer dollars to build the arena:

  • 18 – 34: 30% support, 70% against
  • 35 – 54: 20% support, 80% against
  • 55+: 22% support, 78% against
  • Men: 24% support, 77% against
  • Women: 24% support, 76% against

It’s hard not to see the rationale for opposing spending tax dollars on an arena; particularly since the last four NHL arenas built in Canada (Vancouver, 1995; Ottawa, 1996; Montreal, 1996; Toronto, 1999) were built with private money.

This should mean that there’s very little chance of the Oilers playing out of a new building in the near future; on the other hand, big public works projects like this often go through despite contrary public opinion.

The most interesting thing about these numbers is how dramatically they’ve changed in less than two years. Towards the end of 2007/start of 2008, a public opinion study conducted by the University of Alberta found that only 50% were opposed with 48% supportive of using public dollars to build the arena.

Patrick Laforge was “overjoyed” at the time:

The divided public opinion doesn't discourage Oilers president Patrick LaForge, given that nobody has even seen a sketch or a model of the proposed arena. In fact, LaForge says he's thrilled so many Edmontonians already favour the project. "I'm overjoyed, shocked, I can't believe it. "Most humans respond visually ... so they would see something and say, 'I love it, that's a great idea.' But not even one sketch has been produced and the location hasn't even been discussed." Once sketches and plans are annnounced, the approval rating will grow "monstrously," predicts LaForge, who is also chairman of Edmonton's Chamber of Commerce. "People will see the real thing and go, 'Wow, do I ever love it.' "

With so many already strongly opposed to spending tax dollars on a new arena, I can’t see LaForge being right on this.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 mooseoil
August 23 2009, 06:13PM
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I can't help but think that the economy as a whole is playing a large part in Edmontonian's concern for funding a new palace for the Oilers. Many of us are feeling the pinch and it's difficult in times like this to justify a inevitable tax increase when it's all we can do to make our mortgage payments. Things will have to improve financially for us before most of us will be able to justify the need for a luxury arena for what many consider "spoiled rich kids" playing games. This isn't my thoughts but I think we all know that most feel this way.

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#2 Racki
August 23 2009, 06:19PM
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There's always something better that tax money could be spent on.. so it's hard to justify putting money into a sports facility. But I'd support it.

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#3 blindreff
August 23 2009, 06:35PM
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I don't think it's that bad considering 80% of all Edmonton tax payers object to spending tax money period.

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#4 cpetruk
August 23 2009, 06:56PM
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Remind me again why is Katz isn't putting up the money? He's in the top 500 richest people in the world... and, if I'm not mistaken, stands to profit the most from a new arena.

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#5 J.L.
August 23 2009, 06:59PM
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I think Katz will put up the money.

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#6 I Am The Law
August 23 2009, 07:06PM
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This is almost not surprising given the overwhelming evidence that new arena construction does not help out the economy of the city, or even of the local area in most cases. I can't think of a single sports economist who would say this is economically beneficial (yes, there might be one, but evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary).

However, this also makes me think of Maple Leaf Gardens back in the early 1930s. It was built during the height of the depression (I don't know if public money was involved or not), and it is now hailed as a great public work. Although most arena construction simply shifts construction jobs from one project to another, creating no net jobs, if Edmonton needs construction jobs (which I don't know), building a new arena could create jobs that otherwise might not exist.

In any event, in the best of times, it is a difficult sell, and these days it is nigh-impossible. However it continues to baffle me that Balsillie, claiming he has an NHL-ready arena in Hamilton, is asking for the Ontario and Canadian governments to pony up money to renovate Copps Coliseum. And, even more unbelievable, is that they've agreed to do so.

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#7 MattL
August 23 2009, 07:12PM
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blindreff wrote:

I don’t think it’s that bad considering 80% of all Edmonton tax payers object to spending tax money period.

Yeah, exactly, if you ever want to bet money on a poll, the "Do you support using taxpayer money for ______" comes out with the same result every god damn time.

It's like people here want everything for free, and don't see why that's such an unreasonable demand.

I wonder if the mood change in the poll has anything to do with the deepening recession...

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#8 Cam
August 23 2009, 07:13PM
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It all depends on how the question was worded when they asked it, and also on the situation. If someone asked me which I would prefer... I would say private dollars would be my preference since then the city can concentrate on LRT and putting a berm up for the Henday and things like that.

That is a amjor assumption that a private solution is available. If the choice was publicly funded arena or NO arena the answer might change

Now if they word it "if the only way to get a new arena (and keep the team in Edmonton) is for public dollars to go in", then I bet there would be a much different result.

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#9 Robin Brownlee
August 23 2009, 07:21PM
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blindreff wrote:

I don’t think it’s that bad considering 80% of all Edmonton tax payers object to spending tax money period.

That's about as straightforward as it gets. No big mystery. Great idea, as long as I don't have to pay for it. I'm guessing the fluctuation in opinion from the time LaForge was quoted is the tanking of the economy. Ask the question 6-12 months from now when things bounce back and the percentages will rise to the 50-50 range.

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#10 Andrew W
August 23 2009, 07:35PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

blindreff wrote: "I don’t think it’s that bad considering 80% of all Edmonton tax payers object to spending tax money period." That’s about as straightforward as it gets. No big mystery. Great idea, as long as I don’t have to pay for it. I’m guessing the fluctuation in opinion from the time LaForge was quoted is the tanking of the economy. Ask the question 6-12 months from now when things bounce back and the percentages will rise to the 50-50 range.

The irony to this is that it's better for governments to spend money when the economy is slow. This is when contractors and labourers are in need of the work, which contributes to circulating money and stimulating local economies. This type of infrastructure investment is more expensive when things are booming, too. (Debating the value of this particular type of investment verses others, such as pumping more resources into education or cutting down taxes, is another matter.)

Feel free to disregard this diatribe as it's purely my opinion; I'm part of the slim minority of left-leaning Oiler fans.

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#11 The Menace
August 23 2009, 07:36PM
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The really interesting part of this study is not that people are against spending tax dollars on a new arena. That's a given. The interesting part is that it went from 50% against to 70-80% against.

People will always be against spending tax dollars for projects like this. When the question is asked, this is how people frame it in their mind: "should we spend tax dollars on this, or should we see if that billionaire owner will pay for it first?"

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#12 Andrew W
August 23 2009, 07:37PM
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Wait - I'm not going to be blocked from the Nation and labeled a pinky, am I?

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#13 ronaldo
August 23 2009, 07:52PM
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Just place tolls coming into Edmonton from St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, and Leduc and let those freeloaders pay for the new arena. Problem solved- I'll take take club seats as payment for services renderred, thanks.

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#14 Mike from Hardware
August 23 2009, 07:57PM
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It's just unfortunate that a lot of people that answer these polls just think of a new arena as a new arena for the Oilers, without a thought to all the concerts, trade shows etc etc that go into these places, and bring money into the city.

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#15 cableguy
August 23 2009, 07:57PM
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ronaldo wrote:

Just place tolls coming into Edmonton from St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, and Leduc and let those freeloaders pay for the new arena. Problem solved- I’ll take take club seats as payment for services renderred, thanks.

ahhh, the sweet stench of uneducated personal opinion.

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#16 Blair
August 23 2009, 08:02PM
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@ Andrew W: Sounds to me like a sound economic argument. Even as a huge Oilers fan, I'm not sure I want government pitching in for new rinks in Edm & Cgy (because the provincial govt would have to give money to both). I think we should be doing projects when its 'cheaper' rather than the middle of the boom...I'd just rather see C-train/LRT improvements instead. If the Oilers & Flames are higher revenue teams (contributing to revenue sharing), why do we need new rinks - we are already spending to the cap...

Are luxury boxes going to make more UFA's sign here? Nope...Unless you can make a case that we are unable to spend to the cap without a new rink, we've got higher priorities...

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#17 Blair
August 23 2009, 08:04PM
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@ Blair: We'd just be making more money for Katz. I'm sure he's a solid guy, but I don't think he needs a handout at the moment

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#18 ronaldo
August 23 2009, 08:16PM
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@ cableguy

More like the sweet stench of tongue-in-cheek Sunday night banter. I was hoping for a bit more riled up response from the burbs, but thanks anyways. :)

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#19 Jonathan Willis
August 23 2009, 08:18PM
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@ Andrew W:

We welcome you and all the rest of your fifth-column brethern.

Seriously though, you're right; a down-turn is the best time to spend money on big public works projects.

On the flip side, I'd need to see a really compelling argument as to why Edmonton needs public assistance to build an arena when the Canucks and especially the Senators didn't.

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#20 Nik
August 23 2009, 08:28PM
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If Katz buys out some bad contracts and allows Tambo to lock down a HUGE player (Ilya - poke poke) then I'd be happy to rally for a new arena

The downtown core could definately use this (thinking beside the Casino). Would also force the city to clean up a bit.

Win for Oil, Win for Edmonton and yes...more concerts as we would have 2 venues

Remember adding Winspeare did not kill the Jub. Infact it helped that part of the industry grow. Bigger acts, more of them

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#21 patty
August 23 2009, 08:28PM
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Anyone think the Expo 2017 bid has anything to do with a new arena? This ridiculous event will cost between $2-3 billion to put on, and they're being open about the fact that it won't come remotely close to breaking even. The only good part about the event will be all the infrastructure left behind afterwards. A pretty entertainment complex/arena would presumably (if this theory isn't totally crazy) be part of that legacy. If we win the rights to the expo, that will mean there will be a ton of gov't grant money involved, decreasing the (direct) tax burden on Edmontonians.

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#22 Librarian Mike
August 23 2009, 08:33PM
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I'm not sure I can look at myself in the mirror if I say it's okay for using tax dollars to build a sports arena, when Alberta Hospital is dumping hundreds of mentally ill and disabled people onto the street. I love my hockey team, but it's not life and death.

As was said above, if Mr. Katz wants a new building so much, let him pay for it.

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#23 Pouzar
August 23 2009, 08:57PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Agreed, as mentioned the last four NHL arenas in Canada were built with private money, and I would not mind at all if that trend continued. There would still be employment opportunities, just through private entities. If it meant that Katz ponies up his own money and by defacto Oiler fans get to pay more for tickets, merchandise, or PPV games then so be it - that's a two-way street I don't mind going down. Fair is fair.

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#24 Pouzar
August 23 2009, 09:03PM
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patty wrote:

Anyone think the Expo 2017 bid has anything to do with a new arena? This ridiculous event will cost between $2-3 billion to put on, and they’re being open about the fact that it won’t come remotely close to breaking even. The only good part about the event will be all the infrastructure left behind afterwards. A pretty entertainment complex/arena would presumably (if this theory isn’t totally crazy) be part of that legacy. If we win the rights to the expo, that will mean there will be a ton of gov’t grant money involved, decreasing the (direct) tax burden on Edmontonians.

Pardon my ignorance, but isn't an Expo one of those events that people don't really care that much about anyways? Does anyone here (without using google) even know where or what year the last one was? Seems like an epic investment for a second class event imho.

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#25 ronaldo
August 23 2009, 09:16PM
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Expo's are a profoundly important event. Where would we be without that round thing in Montreal and......ummmm......numerous other important and memorable legacies?

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#26 Death Metal Nightmare
August 23 2009, 09:17PM
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make the Oil companies pay for it

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#27 jdrevenge
August 23 2009, 09:25PM
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You can't really blame Katz for asking.... You don't get richer by......

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#28 Deke Rivers
August 23 2009, 11:40PM
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How does Northlands (an Agricultural Society) fit into the new arena scheme? They've managed to build numerous buildings and operate them under government grants and contributions which has perhaps shielded us to some degree on the true cost of these types of facilities. Rexall Place today is one of the top concert venues in North America, due in large part to Northlands operations. What happens when a new arena is built and they aren't a partner? The Old Coliseum becomes what? we get a new arena with an operator with little experience? we get a group that has contributed significantly to the City, left in the cold?

The synergies between the Coliseum and other Northlands faciltiies were obvious, when it moves then what. CFR goes downtown? Taxpayer investment in Northlands facilities suffer because of these synergy changes?

The Reality is that any big City needs a major arena complex, who pays for it is always an issue and 50:50 is the best you can hope for in this City when it comes to spending tax dollars on anything.

Hockey benefits someone 50+/- nights a year. The other 200 dates are benefiting someone else. Taxpayers are quick to assume that a rich team owner or millionaire hockey players solely benefit, which isnt entirely true.

The seat I currently have is wobbly, the food sucks, and we need shorter beer lines, as an Oiler fan and season tickey holder, I just wish they'd get started building the new one.

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#29 chuck
August 24 2009, 12:16AM
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i was never asked, hows about you?

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#30 Phil
August 24 2009, 12:47AM
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Andrew W wrote:

Robin Brownlee wrote: blindreff wrote: “I don’t think it’s that bad considering 80% of all Edmonton tax payers object to spending tax money period.” That’s about as straightforward as it gets. No big mystery. Great idea, as long as I don’t have to pay for it. I’m guessing the fluctuation in opinion from the time LaForge was quoted is the tanking of the economy. Ask the question 6-12 months from now when things bounce back and the percentages will rise to the 50-50 range. The irony to this is that it’s better for governments to spend money when the economy is slow. This is when contractors and labourers are in need of the work, which contributes to circulating money and stimulating local economies. This type of infrastructure investment is more expensive when things are booming, too. (Debating the value of this particular type of investment verses others, such as pumping more resources into education or cutting down taxes, is another matter.) Feel free to disregard this diatribe as it’s purely my opinion; I’m part of the slim minority of left-leaning Oiler fans.

HERE HERE! Some words that make sense and I'm with you in that minority.

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#31 Rebuttal
August 24 2009, 01:12AM
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As a left-leaning individual who recently graduated, has no job, and is going off to volunteer in Africa (read: I won't pay AB income tax for a LONG while...) , I'm certainly not opposed to having the rich finance a new arena for my favorite team. Unbridled self-interest, I know, but hey we never get to mention it on the left...

My question is, why does everyone see the use of public money as purely subsidy to Mr. Katz (and concert promoters, or whoever else will profit from the building?. If the province pays for, say, a third of the arena, I can't imagine that comes with no strings attached at all. Certainly Ed (or whoever replaces him) would want SOME money back from that investment. So while it obviously benefits Mr. Katz more than Mr. Joe Schmoe, it's not like we're writing a personal cheque for $100 million.

Or am I wrong?

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#32 humantorch
August 24 2009, 03:01AM
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ronaldo wrote:

Just place tolls coming into Edmonton from St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, and Leduc and let those freeloaders pay for the new arena. Problem solved- I’ll take take club seats as payment for services renderred, thanks.

Let me be the first to welcome former Edmonton mayor Smilin' Bill Smith to the Nation.

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#33 DizzyD
August 24 2009, 06:32AM
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Polls eh?.... Why not take the St.Albert approach and build it without majority support and make everyone in the city pay for it in their taxes weather they want to use it or not...then raise taxes even more when running the building puts them further in debt ($2.2 mill) each year...obviously a new arena in Etown would generate more cash than a rec center in St.Albert.

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#34 Joey Moss
August 24 2009, 06:59AM
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There are so many things wrong with this city, throwing a half billion at an arena so Mr. Katz can add another 4 inches to his dick seems kind of stupid. How about we spend that money on:

- roads & bridges - lrt expansion - marketing/branding - etc etc

Seeing how Katz wants to run the team the same crappy way as before, its kind of hard to justify asking people for money. If he gave them what the wanted (KLowes head on a platter and winning team) then maybe he could fool us into bank-rolling his new playhouse.

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#35 SlowFreshOil
August 24 2009, 08:10AM
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440 respondents when there's over a million people in the Capital Region.

Nice sample size ipsos... get back to me when they actually know how to run a survey.

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#36 SlowFreshOil
August 24 2009, 08:12AM
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Joey Moss wrote:

There are so many things wrong with this city, throwing a half billion at an arena so Mr. Katz can add another 4 inches to his dick seems kind of stupid. How about we spend that money on: - roads & bridges - lrt expansion - marketing/branding - etc etc Seeing how Katz wants to run the team the same crappy way as before, its kind of hard to justify asking people for money. If he gave them what the wanted (KLowes head on a platter and winning team) then maybe he could fool us into bank-rolling his new playhouse.

Yeah... because they don't already throw money at those problems... OK. The problem is in Edmonton, they do it too late and there's NO VISION for the city whatsoever. No planning, just patchwork to shut the sheep up.

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#37 patty
August 24 2009, 08:24AM
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@ Pouzar: I totally agree that the expo is a waste of time and money. The last one I can recall is expo 86 in vancouver. That's why it makes no sense to piss away billions of dollars on, unless it's a going to get the city easy money to build new things.

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#38 Gerald R. Ford
August 24 2009, 08:36AM
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patty wrote:

Anyone think the Expo 2017 bid has anything to do with a new arena? This ridiculous event will cost between $2-3 billion to put on, and they’re being open about the fact that it won’t come remotely close to breaking even. The only good part about the event will be all the infrastructure left behind afterwards. A pretty entertainment complex/arena would presumably (if this theory isn’t totally crazy) be part of that legacy. If we win the rights to the expo, that will mean there will be a ton of gov’t grant money involved, decreasing the (direct) tax burden on Edmontonians.

I honestly hope there's SOME method behind the absolute MADNESS of pursuing that guaranteed money pit of an idea. I can't believe Mandel can keep a straight face when he says what a great idea this is. I voted for him because I thought he was above this sort of Bill Smith lunacy. I guess not. Doesn't the dude ever watch The Simpsons? Especially when he looks like Millhouse's dad. You'd figure the episode where Bart, Millhouse, and Nelson visit that creepy abandoned site for the 1982 Nashville World's Fair would have sent any reasonable person into a quivering panic at the thought of shelling out good money on something that stupid. But then, reason and politics...

The main problem with Edmonton regarding taxes is, the city is HUUUUUUUUUUGE. Far, far too big physically for the relatively small taxpayer base. We just can't afford everything we need, because there aren't enough people to pay for it. When the cops have to go to city council every freaking year, trembling and pleading, in their best Oliver Twist voice: "Please, sir... may we have some more?", then it's hard to sell the public on something like Stately Rexall Manor. With that said, I do feel all three levels of government should contribute "something" to a new arena, as it WOULD be a huge piece of the "infrastructure" of the city. Not every last cent, but SOMETHING. There are other options besides direct taxation to fund it. Bonds, lottery funds, "voluntary" taxes, etc. And, like Robin said, NOW is the BEST time to do this. It won't ever be as affordable as it is today. Just get 'er done. I don't want Jim "The Vulture" Balsillie sniffing around here anytime soon...

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#39 Sirthinks
August 24 2009, 09:10AM
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Don't forget, we live in Edmonton, Alberta. It doesn't matter what we think. The powers that be will do whatever the hell they want anyway.

I see an arena in the future. The politicians want it.

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#40 offside
August 24 2009, 09:23AM
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What is the cost of the new arena and what amount would taxpayers be on the hook for? Didn't Katz say he'd throw in $100 mil of his own money? I'm sure starting the project now (or getting bids for it now) would come in cheaper than it would have when the first survey was done. I think a new arena would be a win-win for everyone. The City of Edmonton said a while ago that bids for construction projects are coming in a lot cheaper now as compared to even a year ago (I think it was 30% or so, it was quite significant).

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#41 Jonathan Willis
August 24 2009, 09:30AM
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SlowFreshOil wrote:

440 respondents when there’s over a million people in the Capital Region. Nice sample size ipsos… get back to me when they actually know how to run a survey.

I'm no expert... but polling agnecies frequently run relatively accurate national polls in the United States with between 1000 - 2000 respondents.

And there's over 300,000,000 people there. I'd guess that the math works out.

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#42 Fiveandagame
August 24 2009, 10:06AM
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The team makes the playoffs and put on a good show and you'll see those numbers change dramatically.

I don't think it's surprising to see low support when the team managed to alienate even some die hard fans last year with the product on the ice.

It is safe to say there are very few left on the bandwagon from '06. If you were to have taken this poll every years since then I am positive you would have seen the numbers dip substantially every year.

my 2 cents anyway, which I'd be happy to put into a new building.

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#43 Alon
August 24 2009, 10:57AM
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@ Andrew W:

I don't know where the fact that your on the left side of the political spectrum has anything to do with the advocation of spending money in a time of recession. Any smart economist, whether NDP, CPC, Liberal, Green, or BQ should argue that exact point. The difference between these parties, from a financial POV, are more how they spend money during booms, and what they do regarding taxes (whether they cut them, raise them, do nothing etc).

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#44 Ducey
August 24 2009, 11:12AM
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It looks like Ipsos asked one question.

You are at home, your phone rings, you answer it on the off chance its Meagan Fox and you get asked a question about whether tax dollars should be use for a new arena.

I surprised that more people didn't say no.

Now if people had some more context like: a)Katz is going to put in 100 million b)the province and the Feds are going to put in 100 million each which if they don't spend here they will spend elsewhere anyway c)Rexall has some expensive maintenance issues that will cost a bunch to fix and will only add x years to the building d)it will be downtown, be part of a bigger development, look cool and help with revitalization e)the Oilers need it to compete f)the city will have to put in $25 million to the building and $25 million for street work, LRT connection g)someday we will need a new arena

I have made most of those up and you may not agree with any of them. But the point is that doing in survey in the midst of a debate is likely to result in a more accurate response than this one question coming out of the blue.

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#45 Curious
August 24 2009, 11:24AM
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@ Deke Rivers:

Deke brings up the most important point in this whole scenario.

The province will not kick in any dollars unless it involves a non - profit organization (like Northlands) who will run it. Northlands qualifies for grants to operate the facility now and allows them to bring big events to town.

Katz could probably afford to build his own arena. But what he cannot afford - or does not want to do is assemble a team of people to organize the events, perform the maintenance on the building and all the other things Northlands currently does. That and compete with an experienced group who has brought alot of things to this city in the past who have some pretty kick a$$ facilities currently being built right now.

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#46 Jonathan Willis
August 24 2009, 12:01PM
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Ducey wrote:

e)the Oilers need it to compete

But do they?

I think they need it to maximize revenue, which is something else entirely.

From a purely selfish perspective, I don't pay taxes in Edmonton or even Alberta, so I'd love to see the government channel money into the team like nobody's business.

But if I lived in Edmonton it would be a different matter - basically, Daryl Katz doesn't need my tax dollars to make more money on his hockey team.

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#47 J-Bird
August 24 2009, 01:41PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Daryl Katz doesn’t need my tax dollars to make more money on his hockey team.

That's exactly right, 100000000000%.

A new arena is for the Oilers to make more money, and that's it.

Sure it would be great to have to wait a little less for a pee or a beer or a hotdog as a fan.

As an owner it's (a new arena) all about luxery suites and other revenue streams.

Not one cent of tax dollars should go into it, period. Or, the tax participants can be shareholders in the revenue side for years to come, which Katz would never sign off of. Which again answers why they want a new arena.

What about the major facility at the U of A? I thought that was being done? Or needed to be done? Daryl? You gonna follow through or what?

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#48 stevem
August 24 2009, 02:09PM
Trash it!
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Cheers
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cheers

How could anyone from Edmonton not want this arena? The city/province would make all investments back through taxes. The area where they would put it would thrive and maybe when people/players come to Edmonton they would remember a nice downtown arena instead of the dumpy side of town it's in today. Please get really. Edmonton is at a turning point as a city. Either we go forward or backwards. Close the airport, bring on the arena and expand the LRT.

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#49 stevem
August 24 2009, 02:13PM
Trash it!
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trashes
Cheers
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cheers

BTW the city is in debt to the Oilers. You can't buy the attention the Oilers give our city.

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#50 Colin
August 24 2009, 02:36PM
Trash it!
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trashes
Cheers
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cheers

stevem wrote:

BTW the city is in debt to the Oilers. You can’t buy the attention the Oilers give our city.

Sure you can it just takes a 212 million dollar bid.

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