As robberies go, this one takes the cake

Taking a leap of faith, that’s what our city parents have done. They acknowledged that part of it as they had approved the deal with the Oilers’ owner, warts and all, as if there was a lot of competitors who could beat them to the punch, and as if they had no concern over whose money they’re playing with.

They are playing with money that is NOT theirs. The previous municipal election was NOT about the arena deal, even if some informal and unofficial polls asked individual candidates where they stood on the issue. The results – if published at all – were published so unobtrusively only political junkies could have noticed. So, to say, without blushing, that council has and had a mandate to commit the city to this highway robbery is demagoguery as shameless as Sir Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in our time.”

If the city politicians were willing to pool their own money to finance the project, there would have been no need to waste time debating the issue. As it was, it was a charade, plain and simple.

And here’s why. Mayor Stephen Mandel was quoted, on several occasions, and not that long ago, either, that if the provincial share of $100 million was not forthcoming, he himself would help raise it using private sources. Asked to elaborate, he dodged and said he would announce it only if and when needed.

Well, here’s the question: why did the city not go this same route, instead of committing money that doesn’t belong to it to a private corporation’s project?

It’s a separate issue, to a degree, but claiming that a new arena, even with an entertainment complex attached to it, would in and of itself revitalize our downtown, now, that is perfectly ridiculous. Economic case studies performed on a number of similar projects all over North America have shown that such projects, no matter how they are financed, do nothing to save downtown cores. Period. Learn to live with it. Some economists suggest there might be ways to turn the downtown deterioration around, but they all see it as a longterm goal, and none of their solutions include sports arenas and entertainment complexes.

The deal, as negotiated by the city (or, more precisely, as dictated by the NHL), is definitely NOT a deal. It is a surrender. And it is a surrender to an enemy that doesn’t exist.

We have observed quite a few not-so-subtle hints that if the deal that would be to Mr. Katz’s liking were not forthcoming, then, why, he would move the team elsewhere. Sure, sure, nobody has stated this to be so for the record, but veiled threats are threats, too. To this, our council’s answer should have been: oh yeah? Not a word more, not a word less.

Why? Well, can you imagine the NHL moving the Oilers somewhere else? Where, pray tell? There’s not one spot in Canada that could accommodate an NHL team on the move. And the U.S.? With the Phoenix club still in the ashes (and the league owing, for example, Wayne Gretzky a cool $8 million), with Columbus unable to attract more fans than their players’ immediate families and former schoolmates, with both Florida clubs fighting potential fans’ indifference, with the Dallas Stars fighting valiantly to spend at least enough money to touch the salary cap’s prescribed minimum? If you look at most of the other U.S.-based NHL teams, you would see that there’s not much of a market there, either.

Besides, the overall economy being where it is, in the U.S. in particular, Mr. Katz (and the NHL) would be hard pressed to find a community stupid enough to invest in a hockey team’s arena. Whoever thinks Canadian overall economy is in better shape should give their heads a thorough collective shake.

One anticipates Oilers’ fans in Edmonton will consider this protest an act of treason.

Not that I would try to provoke anger, that wouldn’t be me, as anybody who knows my peaceful demeanour would attest, but here comes. I heard from a guy who questioned the city’s investment in public libraries. The new arena, he said (wrote) for the record, was much more important. These public libraries, he said (wrote) for the record, were places where he has never set foot, and didn’t plan to, either.

That particular reader sounded quite proud of himself.

Another reader, questioning the wisdom of private financing for a sports arena, said (wrote) for the record that all those privately financed arenas built recently in Canada flopped. He was exaggerating a bit. The original owners walked away, that’s what one considers he wanted to say. Of course, these original owners walked away for a number of reasons, such as other commitments, or sudden realization (triggered by their bankers) that they had spread themselves too thin.

Now, so far as this reader is concerned, if the arena flops (or starts bleeding, whatever you wish to call it), why should its private owner suffer? The city is a bottomless pit, isn’t it? To those coming back to tell me the city would own the arena and Mr. Katz will be only renting it, the answer is simple: have you really lost your mind? So, the Oilers rent the place for a token amount, they and their parent corporation stage all kinds of events there, and they get to keep whatever they make there. Whom are you trying to kid here (except yourselves)?

Remember the names of those who voted for this deal. And never return them to council chambers (or any elected position) ever again.

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