Presentation to Council Regarding Stadium II

Dear Mr. Deputy Mayor, and City Councillors,

I’m going to refer to the proposed stadium as Lancaster Park, since it should be named after a great Roughrider quarterback. In my view, it also evokes thoughts of a Hail Mary pass in the waning minutes of Council’s mandate. The capital cost of Lancaster Park is significant. It’s the most significant, planned, single expense that will need to be funded by taxpayers, aside from the stadium-sized unfunded liability in the City employees’ pension plan. Less expensive, but critical infrastructure projects like water treatment, delivery, and removal are a fraction of Lancaster Park’s expense.

In 3 months I may find myself elected to where you sit today, so it’s with deep consideration that I present the following perspective on our city’s financial outlook, and the freshly proposed stadium plan revealed only two weeks ago. Like you all, I want our city to be the best in the country. However, many people do not know your plans for how that vision will become a reality.

Now that we know what your plan for professional sports and recreation is in Regina, what is your plan for fixing the affordable housing crisis this year? Where is your plan to address the infrastructure deficit in Ward 1, where residents routinely remark upon the pot holes and uneven pavement in their neighbourhood? Why are you closing schools; losing public spaces that communities need to survive? What is your plan to fix the huge unfunded liability in the City employee’s pension plan before it becomes unable to support anyone’s retirement? Regina’s baby boomer population is still increasingly entering retirement, so this pension problem is a growing concern, but where is your plan, and where is the action? If Lancaster Park, which will cost less to build than the pension plan to properly fund, needs a 5% property tax increase, so too may the pension plan. What’s the plan for water treatment and safe delivery, and sewage removal? Is that another 5% increase in taxes? We’re up to a 15% increase potentially. Is that the plan, and when will it happen?

I should mention that a Saskatchewan municipality recently raised taxes by over 50% in the last two years because the current politicians in charge claim that the previous politicians had not raised taxes over the previous 15 years to meet growing demand in services provided. The roughly 5% planned increase in property taxes for Regina citizens, to pay only for the stadium project, seems overly optimistic.

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The Mayor has stated that the $12 facility fee charged on tickets for Rider games “actually pays for that facility. It pays the debt back. It also pays for the operating.” I (would challenge the Mayor if he were here) challenge the Mayor to explain this statement, since it does not appear to work quite that well at meeting his claim.

Doing a little basic number crunching, ignoring the exact compounding figures and interest, we’ll only make about $120,000,000 from the $12/game facility fee, for 33,000 sold out seats, 10 games, over 30 years. We have to repay a $100,000,000 loan. CBC has stated that the estimated operating costs including capital costs is $675,000,000 over 30 years. It seems less than 18% of the expected costs are funded by the ticket fee, even after the $4 hike.

CBC infographic

Info graphic by CBC

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A popular provincial politician recently announced with the Mayor that Lancaster Park would be the best stadium in the country. He also claimed, erroneously in this case, that the private sector was contributing the most to its construction. The plan’s only listed private contributor, The Riders, are indirectly contributing less than 9% to the capital costs through the sale of the structure’s name and various other corporate sponsorship. ( Speaking of which, why isn’t City Hall seizing the opportunity to sell the name to this public building? — City Hall) While I hope that whenever our city builds Lancaster Park it is the best we can reasonably afford, I think Council needs to itemize what qualities will make a stadium “the best”, and agreeable to most citizens.

Every reasonable person recognizes the human need for socialization, and public space in which to gather freely. A stadium can help meet that need. Regina has a stadium presently, albeit one that could use $110,000,000 worth of renovations, according to the Roughriders organization in 2007. Since then, millions of dollars have already been invested into it by our city, some as recently as this year. For that money, its usable life could be extended by up to 15 years, while our city focuses on critical issues related to human needs not being met. One obvious example I mentioned earlier is affordable housing for everyone, no matter their income level. Can we have the “best” city in Canada if we have the best stadium, but have a larger percentage of homelessness than municipalities with 0% rates?

Also, let’s consider our changing climate and energy prices when planning mega-projects for Regina. We know electricity rates are poised to double within a decade, based on what SaskPower has been telling us for years. Will Lancaster Park be a Net-Zero energy building? Will it produce as much energy as it consumes, using renewable electricity generation, and energy efficient designs? That’s not a small consideration, given the large operating costs for a large, energy hungry facility. Will there be an enclosed concourse area, suitable in all weather for expanding transit options and year-round social functions to generate additional revenue and social opportunities for the people of our city?

In summary, we have a not-very detailed plan now to build a new stadium, that does not match the vision given by Council at even the start of this year, never mind prior to the last civic election. There is no real mandate to build this stadium, and a future Council may choose to enact this new plan. The problem isn’t that you have a plan now to build a stadium without a roof and not where you earlier said you would, but that you don’t seem to have a plan for critical issues facing people tonight. There are homeless people who cannot wait until 2017 and beyond for this council to form a plan to help them. There are streets that will not wait 5 years for repair. There are people who will not wait. Where are your plans?

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About John Klein

My full time blog is at AbandonedStuff.com My personal site devoted to my Regina politics work is at JohnKlein.ca