Who knew? The price of land for new arena more than double of what was predicted!

As highway robberies go, this one surpasses the original deal our city parents agreed to in an attempt to square the circle and revitalize the downtown area. No, the land our city parents purchased won’t cost anywhere in the neighbourhood of $20 to $30 million, as originally mentioned. And please note: even that $10 million discrepancy is money most of us have never seen before (and wont see anytime soon, either).

Now, we find out, the land will cost in the neighbourhood of $75 million, give or take a few million either way once the dust settles.

Not only that: where the amended deal called for a $30 million commitment by the Oilers’ owner to the area development, it turns out that if he decides to buy some of the land back, that amount would count as part of his commitment.

Robert Moylers, the city’s spokesthingie, suggests the additional land purchase will allow the city to control the development that goes in the area in terms of the time, the type, and the form. Gee, one would have thought that’s what development permits were for: tell me what you’re going to build, and if we like it, you’ll get the permit. If we don’t, you won’t.

And even if the Katz group DOES buy back the land it said it was going to buy back (no guarantees there, either), it would still cost you and me a pretty penny to keep the rest: $41 million, give or take a million or two either way, again.

Is THAT the cup of tea even the most ardent supporters of the publicly-funded downtown arena bargained for?

Either our city council is a bunch of rank amateurs whose basic knowledge of economics ranks them close to the primates, or – as some whispers seem to float – not all is well with the entire scenario. Let’s remain optimistic and hope it’s the former rather than the latter. If it is the former, this would call for an immediate recall of the entire council, extraordinary elections, and those should be linked to a referendum with the questions spelt out clearly.

Do you still want to use taxpayers’ money to build an arena, with the cost to the city, and be ready for this, NOT $100 ($125) million, but that amount PLUS interest, and PLUS the cost of the land PLUS interest (and the amounts of interest should be spelt out, too)?

Lest anybody objects to including the interest, here’s a reminder: it’s an amount the city will have to pay as part of its spending, so, might as well include it. Please note: it’s spending, not an investment. Somebody else, not the city, will be reaping the benefits.

As mentioned so many times earlier, this entire plan reeks to high heaven. And, as mentioned so many times earlier, there’s no proof the arena, if and when built, would do squat to stop the bleeding from downtown, turning the trend around and revitalizing the area in the process. What does happen here is that the taxpayers are supposed to carry most of the risks while the Oilers’ owner, even if the downtown revitalization plan flops, will be laughing all the way to the bank: his will be the revenues from everything that takes place under his roof.

On top of all that, we are now the landlords for the Baccarat Casino, an outfit owned by the Burnaby-based company, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment. If that is so, where are the numbers we all have the right to know? Can we see the lease deal so we know exactly how much we are going to pay if we demolish the money-making eyesore and replace it with another money-making machine?

This is irresponsibility at its best.

There are some who maintain that even if the arena deal does NOT go through, it’s fine and dandy for the city to own the land: there will be other developments, and the city will be holding all of the real estate cards.

Perfect rubbish, of course. Civic administration is not, and shouldn’t be, a real estate developer.

Generally speaking, any government’s priorities differ from the priorities dear to entrepreneurs’ hearts. This is not to say which of the two sets of priorities is better. This is to say they are different. Governments have no business making such entrepreneurial decisions as imposing a ticket tax on Northlands patrons just to make the deal fair for another private entrepreneur in whose pockets they are sitting right now. To put it as simply as possible, so that even our city parents understand it: fairness in government has nothing to do with fairness in business. Why not? Simply because business is all about competition. Government isn’t.

Also: Mayor Stephen Mandel intimated not so long ago that if no money for the downtown arena project is forthcoming from the provincial government, he’s got a plan B, presumably to line up private investors. (Let’s hope it’s not to raise our taxes to pay for the shortfall.)

Guess what: if he were to show this unfinished piece of what is supposed to be a business plan to any shrewd entrepreneurs, they would do their due diligence, and once they’re done, they would chase him down their corridors with a whip cracking.

This is not to suggest we should apply such corporal punishment to the guy. This is to suggest we should demand, as mentioned, an immediate recall of the entire council, a new election, and a binding referendum.

If the majority of voters still say they want to proceed, highway robbery notwithstanding, let’s rename this place a City of Masochists.

And remember: this is NOT about shining visions. This is all about a perfect crime. Why fleece us one by one when you can fleece the entire city in one fell swoop?

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