New stadium raises concerns from citizens


Concerns arise over the new stadium’s ability to revitalize anything at all

Dietrich Neu

“I can’t remember the last time I was approached by so many people regarding one issue,” said Councillor Sharron Bryce while addressing a crowd of spectators during the last city council meeting on July 23.

The hall was unusually packed that night. A building that normally sees a field of empty seats, with a small smattering of regular onlookers scattered throughout, was now filled to the rafters with people from across the city. So much so that many of them were forced to stand for close to three hours while city council debated what might be the most polarizing issue to strike Henry Baker Hall since the demolition of 1755 Hamilton Street – an affordable housing unit with structural issues that was demolished instead of repaired, forcing 46 people to relocate.

The issue at hand: Regina’s joint agreement, called the memorandum of understanding, with the Provincial Government and the Saskatchewan Roughriders to build a new stadium by the year 2017. The topic has generated a tremendous amount of buzz around the city of Regina after it was announced July 16.

The people of Regina have been split on the question: are you for the stadium or against it? However the city hall meeting this night was not filled with a 50/50 split of generally interested citizens. On this night the bulk of the onlookers were representing a steadily growing opposition to the newly planned football stadium, estimated to cost the province around 675 million dollars in total.

The night featured 14 delegates who spoke to city council, all but one spoke out against the new stadium.  The massive collection of people was not by chance, however. The majority of them had been mobilized by a Facebook group that started a few days earlier, calling for anyone concerned about the issue to join them in city hall a show their support.

The Facebook page appeared to do its job. Although well over a hundred people showed up for the meeting, their concerns were generally the same: the city is not getting enough feedback from the citizens, they are not even trying to get it, or that the money should be spent else ware.

“Like you all, I want our city to be the best in the country,” Said John Klein, a U of R IT support analyst who is also running for Ward 1 in the upcoming municipal election. “However, many people do not know your plans for how that vision will become a reality. Now that we know what your plan for professional sports and recreation is in Regina, what is your plan for fixing the affordable housing crisis this year? Where is your plan to address the infrastructure deficit in Ward 1?”

The general consensus amongst the evening’s delegates was that the city was not listening to the needs of the people, rather catering to a mere “want” that many citizens have.

“The recent announcement on Saturday of plowing ahead with the building of a new football stadium shows the priorities of this Council as it relates to fully funding our civic employee’s pensions, a 238 Million dollar deficit, building affordable housing for current and future Regina residents, and repairing the city’s infrastructure,” Said delegate Jim Elliot. “All of the other priorities seen as important by the citizens of this city will be underfunded or left to fend for themselves not to mention all of the other expected costs if the city is allowed to proceed with this Fiacco legacy.”

“Public subsidies for stadiums are a great deal for team owners, league executives, developers, bond attorneys, construction firms, politicians and everyone in the stadium food chain,” he said. “But a really terrible deal for everyone else.” – Frank Rashid

The city insisted that there is no other course of action for them to take. According to many of the city councillors, who spoke to the crowd after the delegations, Mosaic Stadium has “reached the end of its useful life.” They believe that there are two options, renovate the old stadium, or build a new one. They estimate that the cost to fix Regina’s current stadium would be upwards of 150 million dollars.

“We approached the city, with the Roughriders, in regards to renovating Mosaic Stadium,” said Councillor Louis Browne. “They turned down the idea and have never wavered from that position.”

On the surface, a deal with the province to build a new stadium would seem to be the better option. The council reported that with the help of the province, Regina would only be required to contribute 78 million dollars to the construction of a new facility. The people who attended the meeting on that day were told that contributions from the provincial government and the Roughriders would allow the city to reduce their costs, and therefore allocate more money to projects such as affordable housing. Sound like a good deal.

However, over half of the Provincial Government’s contribution to the project comes in the form of a 100 million dollar loan to the City of Regina, bringing our bill to 178 million dollars before interest. The city’s proposed solution: create a “facility fee” incorporated into ticket prices that would pay for the loan over thirty years.

“Since this fee is estimated to return approximately $100 million over thirty years, one wonders whether this sum alone, along with contributions from the Riders, could not have been used to upgrade the current stadium,” Said delegate Paul Gingrich. “This council does not appear to have seriously explored this option.”

City council also noted that the construction of the new stadium is part of a larger project called the Regina Revitalization Initiative. The hope is that with the construction of the new facility a space for land development will open up, and with the buzz of a “state of the art” facility coupled with a surge of development from the private sector, Regina’s north central area could see a massive turnaround.

That turnaround is not set in stone. In order for the old stadium site and surrounding areas to see a rejuvenation, the private sector will need to step in and throw millions of dollars into the project. The city has estimated that 90 per cent of the funding for new developments in that area will have to come from private investors.

When looking south of the border, the examples set by American cities that build new stadiums under the premise of community revitalization are not encouraging.

A study conducted by economist Robert Baade discovered that after he examined 30 cities across the United States who had built new stadiums none of them had “any measureable impact on the economy.”

“It is likely that other factors, such as the tax environment and the existence of a skilled labor force, determine business location to a far greater extent than the presence of professional sports.” Baade writes. “The findings are particularly clear in suggesting that public funding of professional sports stadiums is not a sound civic economic investment. If the opportunity cost is included in cost-benefit considerations, public investment in new stadiums may be less than insignificant; they may be negative.”

Detroit English professor Frank Rashid echoed Baade`s comments in an interview with The Nation.

“Public subsidies for stadiums are a great deal for team owners, league executives, developers, bond attorneys, construction firms, politicians and everyone in the stadium food chain,” he said. “But a really terrible deal for everyone else.”

The city has been openly criticized in the past for rushing through the process of creating the stadium plans, and many candidates in the upcoming election have asked for more community involvement in the decision making process. Unmoved by this, city council voted unanimously in favour of the memorandum of understanding that night.

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