Stadium pursuits could face taxing times

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:43 PM ET

As expected, Ottawa's stadium issue has become a bonafide political football.

Whether it be Eugene Melnyk's vision of a 30,000-seat soccer stadium in Kanata or the Jeff Hunt group's concept of a revitalized downtown football facility, our various levels of government are going to be tapped to get involved.

The spending of taxpayers' dollars for stadia which are used by millionaire owners and players is always a touchy subject when stacked up against emergency room wait times, subsidized housing for those who need a helping hand or the quality of equipment available to the men and women of our armed forces.

In the proposal launched by Melnyk Tuesday, he's looking for the city to donate the 38-acre parcel of land upon which the Senators owner would like to build his $100-million stadium, located just up the street from Scotiabank Place. He'd also like the provincial and federal governments to chip whatever they could to help the cause and why wouldn't he?

Melnyk has an ally in Justin MacKinnon, who's running for the federal Liberals in the Carleton-Mississippi Mills riding (which includes Scotiabank Place and the proposed new soccer stadium). MacKinnon said he's seen the benefits in the riding from the presence of the Senators and Scotiabank Place. He said, if elected, he would work to get whatever federal money would be available to help the soccer stadium project.

"I'm 100% behind it and the government should be behind it," he said. "I look at it as an investment that is going to pay us back tenfold. Look at the jobs that have been created, the homes that have gone up. Scotiabank Place has been great for the economy. I think in these uncertain times, I'm for anything that promotes investment. I think the return on this investment will be phenomenal."

Exactly what has the presence of Scotiabank Place meant to development in Kanata? Much of the evidence is anecdotal. There are big box stores and car dealerships and malls brimming with restaurants and merchants. How much of that development would have happened anyway, without the presence of the Senators and the building, just through the natural expansion of our city?

At the other end of the city, have you taken a drive up Trim Rd., or Tenth Line lately? Those roads on the eastern periphery of the city are now lined with big box stores and new malls brimming with restaurants and stores. There's no 20,000-seat rink in those neighbourhoods.

HUNT PLAN COMING

It will be interesting to see what the business model will be for the Hunt proposal for redeveloping Lansdowne Park and Frank Clair Stadium. It's expected the Hunt group, which already has been awarded a conditional CFL franchise, will reveal its plans perhaps as early as next week. Will it be possible after the redevelopment that taxpayers might possibly wind up saving money? Landsdowne is a sink hole for the city and estimates from some city insiders are it would take $50 million to turn it into the type of facility our city deserves. A deal that gives the city a new stadium and significantly reduces the strain Lansdowne puts on city coffers is a winner for taxpayers.

How and how much should our governments be involved? What's the value?

I'm always skeptical when it comes to those economic impact statements we hear about when a big sporting event is coming to town. I don't know what the presence of Scotiabank Place has meant to the economy of Kanata or Ottawa, but I'd guess it's helped. I do know that in the almost 30 years I've lived here, I've never seen this city come alive the way it did when the Senators went to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. That's worth something, isn't it?

I do know the responsibility of our governments is to help improve the quality of life of their constituents and to make sure our tax dollars are invested wisely in our communities. The infrastructure for vibrant communities includes a gathering place for sports and cultural events just as it does museums and libraries. Partnerships with the private sector which make it happen are winners. These days, there's often no other way to get it done.

There's a big difference between giving our tax dollars away and investing them.


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