Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, August 04, 2006


BEWARE, this BLOG contains subliminal messaging that may help you decide where a new arena should go and who should build it! READ THIS BLOG AT YOUR OWN RISK.

The arena issue will not be decided by a bunch of City Administrators crunching numbers to prove whether an East End arena, the Raceway arena or the status quo is the best choice.

The arena issue will not be decided as to which location makes the most sense from a tourist, financial or community perspective.

The arena issue will not be decided by which proposal will build more ice pads or bring in the better entertainers or will attract more hockey tournaments or will lead to more hotels and office buildings being built.


The arena issue will be decided politically. Why else did the Toldo and Rosati families go public to end-run the Mayor’s tactics. In fact, the politics have started. The Families hosted a lunch yesterday for an overflow crowd of civic leaders at the Caboto Club to whom they introduced their concept. The response was generally positive, especially respecting the financing.

The underlying tone of some of the discussions amongst participants at the session was very interesting for a political junkie like me. In a sense, it was not an arena being discussed but the style of governance in this City over the last 3 years and what would happen in the next 4 years if things did not change. It proved to me at least that Eddie Francis and a number of the Councillors are very beatable! Given the attendees, the incumbents should be running scared.


From what was said, the Raceway arena seems to be the best choice. [I wanted an arena downtown frankly, but that is never going to happen. And refurbishing the Barn is out even though it will be located at the entrance to the new Tunnel Plaza, an ideal location]. And not just because it will be run by private enterprise rather than City functionaries.

They are ready to go within a few short years. They talk about being ready by the 2008/2009 hockey season. Do you really believe that a City project can be done that quickly!


The Families have said that the City’s financial involvement is $15 million, maximum. [In a clever aside, they state "Since 1999, the City of Windsor has received $18.5 Million in non tax revenue from the Windsor Raceway slot program. The City is only required to re-invest $15 Million of those non tax dollars."] The Families will be responsible for any losses or deficits or overruns. Their money will be at stake, about $23 million so they have a lot to lose if it does not work out. With the East end arena, it is just the unlimited taxpayer funds at risk. The City arena cost has started at $55 million plus extra costs that a Councillor has told me would bring it up to the $75-80 million range plus we know that there will be Megaproject overruns.

The Raceway architectural firms are world-class and experienced in arena design.


There are synergies that can turn the arena into a Destination that can complement the Casino and not be viewed as a competitor. After all, Vegas has more than one Casino and Detroit will have three of them. There is no reason why both organizations cannot work together with the Convention Bureau to attract people to the Windsor area to spend at both.

Moreover, as Raceway revenues increase, the share to the City increases as well. As I said above, the City of Windsor has received $18.5 Million from the Windsor Raceway slot program.”

But the big differentiator: THE RACEWAY HAS WAYNE GRETZKY!

Given the number of attendees and the reactions at the Families' session, Council will be hard-pressed to be able to justify what they seem to be hell-bent to do, especially in an election year. I guess what really bothers me is the justification for a City-run arena as quoted by Gord Henderson:
  • “By 2009, when major projects like the Norwich Block fiasco, the city hall welfare tower mistake and the new Huron Lodge at St. Clair College have been paid off, the city will find itself with torrents of money flowing in and no major funding obligations. In 2009 it will have an additional $23.5 million available, in 2010 $36.4 million and in 2011 another $36.4 million.

    Taxpayers like me, long accustomed to thinking of Windsor as being one step removed from the poorhouse, have a hard time getting our heads around the concept of this city keeping a lid on taxes while having cash available for big projects.”

Frankly, those "torrents of money" rising to $36.4 million is my cash, taxpayer money, that is available, yours and mine. I’d like it back into my pocket-book thank you very much as a tax reduction. I do not want it available for spending by monument builders for "big projects" as Gord’s comment seems to suggest. It is not theirs to play with as entrepreneurs to be an arena or border operator but is for municipal purposes or to be given back to us.


I could go on and on, but I will leave you with an editorial that the Star published back in April, 2005.

Arena debate: Protecting tax dollars;
Windsor Star 04-19-2005

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis is boldly predicting the city can leave more than 20 years of frustrating failure behind it and finally ensure long-suffering residents get the new arena they deserve

It's a brave pledge, given this city's embarrassing history of false starts and missed opportunities, but Francis insisted this council could pull it off after emerging from an 8-hour strategic planning session recently. Councillor Alan Halberstadt one-upped him, calling for the shovel to be in the ground within 18 months.

The city has already committed $15 million for the arena project and, before his state of the city address next week, Francis wants council to hammer out a proposed location, projected budget and list of wants and demands for potential developers.

Before council even begins to debate specifics like location, it must provide taxpayers with an ironclad guarantee they will be protected. Council must make it explicitly clear the city will not pay one penny more than the money already set aside. In fact, the city should strive to spend even less.

Arenas can be profitable ventures and there's every reason to believe a new arena in Windsor, if built and managed prudently, would turn a regular profit. The city shouldn't shy away from entering into a private-sector partnership but should do so only cautiously while guaranteeing taxpayers won't be left holding the bag for cost overruns or ongoing operational costs.

Francis is right to be optimistic in pursuit of the long-elusive arena because recent developments allow council to blaze a new path, free from the constraints of the past. Successive councils have long held fast to building an arena on the City Centre West lands adjacent to the Art Gallery, believing it would create a bookend to Casino Windsor to lure shoppers east and west along downtown arteries.

But the $400-million expansion of Casino Windsor means council can now look at more practical locations for a new arena. The expansion will create a sprawling convention centre, a 23-storey hotel and a 5,000 seat auditorium on the eastern edge of downtown, eliminating the need for a multi-use entertainment facility on the core's western edge. An arena on the City Centre West lands wouldn't complement the Casino expansion. It would compete with it and likely lose the battle.

A top-notch arena at Windsor Raceway is starting to look far more attractive given the casino expansion. It would create another critical entertainment mass and tourist draw and would serve as the centrepiece of a rapidly growing residential and commercial area easily accessible to county and city residents alike.

Parking wouldn't be a problem and the site is easily accessible. There is also more room at Windsor Raceway, meaning additional ice pads could be built to complement the large centre pad and help address this region's chronic ice shortage woes.

The casino expansion means the city no longer needs a multi-use entertainment facility in the core. It needs a new home for the Spitfires and their loyal fans and it needs a top-notch facility dedicated to hockey and figure skating. This city doesn't need another Taj Mahelephant. It needs a new arena and it needed it yesterday.

Locating the arena at Windsor Raceway would also free the City Centre West lands for sorely needed development. An eclectic mix of residential and commercial units in the shade of the Art Gallery would generate the east-west foot traffic the city so desires, encouraging a rebirth of the downtown retail sector.”