The prospect of a 20,000-seat rink, and the chance of any NHL team that might come with it, could be dead by the end of September if the deputy mayor of Markham has his way.
Jack Heath, originally a supporter of the GTA Centre in the Toronto suburb of Markham, has put forward a motion to effectively kill the financial framework for the arena. Heath will put his motion to Markham council Sept. 17, with a vote coming a week later.
Heath said what he sees as dwindling chances to get an NHL franchise in the world's most underserviced hockey market is the driving force behind his decision. He pointed to new ownership and stability for the Phoenix Coyotes and sentiment that the league will expand to Seattle and Quebec City – despite the fact the NHL has not said anything on the matter – as evidence that the Toronto area is far back of the queue in the NHL's eyes.
“When you add it all up, a second franchise for the GTA is not a priority,” Heath said. “I have no interest in duplicating Copps Coliseum.”
The financial framework calls for the town of Markham to borrow $325 million for the project. Half that amount – $162.5 million – would be paid back by a group headed by former Bauer chairman Graeme Roustan, who would receive a 99-year lease on the rink and operate the facility. The other half would be repaid with controversial volunteer levy on developers.
Heath's motion may very well have enough support to pass, which would kill the project. But should Roustan come to council with a more favorable deal, it could be saved. One councillor recently said Roustan needs a “game changer” to save the deal.
And that might be the case. Roustan has made a commitment to present a Memorandum of Understanding to council. It's believed that could contain a new framework where Roustan would pay his half if the cost up front, saving the city from having to borrow $162.5 million for the project.
But that will not appease Heath, who said it will have been eight weeks since he informed council of his motion by the time it is presented.
“We've been at this for three years,” said Heath, whose father, Len, was an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1960s and later with the Vancouver Canucks. “I don't think a couple more months will make a difference.”
(Editor's note: Two corrections were made shortly after this piece was published – the lease was changed to 99 years and the borrowed amount was amended to $325 million.)
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.