MARKHAM, ONT. - Town councillors were poised Thursday night to authorize borrowing $162.5 million to help launch a mega-arena and entertainment centre.
Residents were still addressing council at its second public meeting late in the evening and a vote on the financial investment and council did not taken in time for the first edition of The Toronto Sun.
Concerns about paying back the $162.5 million were expressed by some councillors and public delegates, but most appeared in favour of the project.
Sports entrepreneur W. Graeme Roustan and real estate billionaire Rudy Bratty have pledged to bankroll the remaining $162.5 million for the proposed 20,000-seat, 600,000-square-foot Markham Sports, Entertainment and Cultural Centre - also known as the GTA Centre.
They would then turn over the complex to the town and organize events on an annual lease-back deal.
Roustan told reporters he and his partners hope to start construction near Kennedy Rd. and Hwy. 407 "late this summer or early fall," with the complex’s opening predicted for the fall of 2014.
Town CAO Andy Taylor said even if costs rise and the complex fails to meet expectations for concerts, sports, art shows, an art gallery, plus public events, households would pay only $160 each over five years to cover the loan.
As councillors and about 150 gallery visitors listened to his presentation Thursday evening -- with some residents expressing doubts about elected officials having time to properly digest details -- Taylor predicted "no tax rate increase related to the building of this facility."
He said additional public transit bus routes and parking would be provided and more than 600 jobs would be created for construction of the complex.
Reminding councillors that they had been briefed during in-camera meetings over the past 18 months, Mayor Frank Scarpitti said only the financial partnership was being voted on after the public briefing.
Council can reject subsequent stages they find unacceptable, he said.
"This is far from the end of the process," Scarpitti said. "We're quite a ways from getting a shovel in the ground ... there is a lot of work to be done."
Last week, he predicted “exciting proposal” would attract more business, sports and housing development to the site as part of a major expansion in an area called Markham Town Centre.
Additional residential surcharges levied on new condominiums and apartments would offset a major portion of the town’s 20-year-loan, but a builders' group representative told council her members regard the extra fees as unfair.
One of the big draws for the complex would be a second National Hockey League team for the GTA, but Roustan, CEO of GTA Sports & Entertainment, and Bratty, head of the Remington Group of developers, insisted their plans do not rely on landing a second franchise.
The developers said Live Nation, a partner in the project, will book events that are expected to attract 780,000 annual paying visitors.
"There has been overwhelming support from the community," Roustan told reporters.
At the first public meeting last Friday, he promised to “work non-stop” to bring the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship to Markham, which would stand a good chance if the complex is finished the previous fall.
His assistant on Thursday gave reporters a copy of Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson's letter to Roustan last Oct. 17, which promised to consider his new facility when the 2015 word Junior Championships venue is being considered amd welcomed the project.
Several local sports leaders lauded the project at Thursday's meeting.
Bruce Jackson, president of the 50-year-old Markham Waxers Junior A hockey team, said his group "is excited ... at the prospects of a facility like this," which will enthuse young players.
"This is a fabulous thing," he said.