Retractable-dome stadium carries $431 million price tag

The Carillon, Vol. 52, Issue 21 | March 18 – 24, 2010
Co-written with Jennifer Squires

With the release of a major feasibility study on March 1, the proposed stadium in downtown Regina has acquired a clear price tag, and the debate continues over whether this is a price worth paying.

The cost of the project is estimated to be $386 million. This is higher than last year’s estimate of $350 million, but it includes costs that were previously left out. Land costs have been added, along with furniture and consultants’ fees.

However, like buying a new car, it’s the options that add up. A retractable roof would add
$45 million, for a total of $431 million. Underground parking would cost $9 million. A
Roughrider practice field and team offices would also add to the bill. But subtract existing and potential private sector commitments, as well as revenue from the sale of naming rights, and the range of costs becomes even wider.

The facility would be built on the CP Rail yard between downtown Regina and the warehouse district. There would be permanent seating for 33,000 and an optional expansion up to 53,000 seats for major events like the Grey Cup and concerts.

Regina mayor Pat Fiacco is enthusiastic about the proposal and its prospects for Regina’s future. “Based on the feasibility study, it looks like it will be a profitable undertaking,” Fiacco said. “Right now we’re looking to see who will be contributing the $428 million. It will have to be a combination of all three levels of government and the private sector.”

He said that it’s a mistake to refer to the project as merely a stadium. “Some people seem to be focusing on a stadium. This is more than a stadium; it’s not just about a new home for the Riders. This is an entertainment facility that’s part of a total urban redevelopment … It’s a multipurpose event centre.”

Fiacco also argued that a stadium would “revitalize North Central … and there’s the potential for a whole new neighbourhood if we decommission Mosaic Stadium.” The latter, he said, could be the site of affordable housing construction.
Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff is also enthusiastic about the facility’s prospects. “I think it would be a tremendous project for our province. It’s something that would add to the ability to host all types of events in the province. It’s … a generational opportunity, it’s something that will serve our province for 50 to 75 years.

“It’s not often that you get 30 acres downtown in a major city in Canada, so we’re quite
excited about that.”

According to the study, the stadium would profit just over a million dollars with 31 events per year; for example, 11 CFL games, various university and high school sporting events, seven concerts, and eight miscellaneous events such as conferences or motor sports. Cheveldayoff said that this certainly seems feasible.

Private-sector interest in the project has been high, although concrete commitments remain scarce. Last year the Regina Hotel Association offered to contribute $10 million. “There are other associations that have indicated that they would want to be doing that as well,” Cheveldayoff said. “Also … there were seven private sector groups that came back with various types of proposals.”

One of these groups, the Independent First Nations of Saskatchewan, has submitted their own proposal. The group wants to build a stadium, casino, and hotel complex worth $1.2 billion, but only if the province will sell its two casinos in Regina and Moose Jaw. The province has demurred, since the casinos are a strong source of provincial revenue.

“The casinos are not for sale,” said Cheveldayoff. “What we are interested in is their ideas around the existing feasibility study. They’ve got some great ideas for a hotel and retail complex that we’d very much want to talk to them about. They’ve indicated a memorandum of understanding signed with the Seminole band in Florida, so we’re interested in finding out more information about that, and how much money the Florida group is willing to bring to Saskatchewan.”

Cheveldayoff scoffed at what he said was inconsistency on the part of stadium opposition in the House of Assembly. “In typical NDP fashion, the Opposition have told the Roughriders and the Mayor of Regina that they’re in favour of the project, [but] by the way they act in the legislature, they appear to be against the project.”

The paucity of private sector commitments has critics of the project worried that costs will balloon out of control. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has long been vocal about its opposition to taxpayers’ funding the project. Colin Craig, Prairie Director for the CTF, is calling for a referendum as a way of holding the provincial government responsible.

“If tax dollars are used for building a dome, there should be a province-wide referendum. That way, the people who will have to pay for the dome – taxpayers – would have a say in the project. Funding a dome would lead to higher tax levels than necessary.”

The CTF has launched a campaign called Stadium Sense that seeks to inform citizens about the dome, the issues surrounding it, and what they can do. “Our Stadium Sense Campaign page is a one stop shop for learning the facts about the dome debate, a petition for a referendum on the issue and details for contacting politicians.”

The Stadium Sense campaign also outlines the other options that often get swept to the side. “Citizens should know that there are multiple choices for proceeding, including a $6 million repair job to Mosaic Stadium that would get another 10 years’ usage out of the facility,” said Craig.

Warren McCall, MLA for Regina Elphinstone-Centre, echoed the desire to see where the money will come from. “It’s a mixed bag; it looks good on paper, but there is no definitive

on who’s going to be paying what. The public has the right to know how much they are on the hook for.”

McCall is also concerned that funding this project could take away funding from other essential services, despite the Sask. Party’s assurance that the stadium will not affect other
funding.

“This is the same government that claimed they had the best budget in years, but turned out a billion-dollar deficit. If the federal government isn’t in on this project, what happens to the cost? It gets pushed to the provincial government. I am concerned about funding for students if this project is to go ahead; what will happen to them? Rent goes up and tuition increases.”

Both sides are arguing in favour of increased grassroots participation, albeit with different goals in mind. Cheveldayoff hopes that residents of Saskatchewan will pass on their ideas about the project. “It’s important to understand that this isn’t a done deal. We’re very much looking for Saskatchewan residents, students included … I’ve had many students come forward with exciting ideas on what the building should look like, or what it should incorporate … We’d like to hear from them.” He said that people can contact his MLA website or the Crown Investments Corporation.

McCall is urging Saskatchewan residents to stand up and ask questions about the stadium because they deserve transparency from their government. “It is a good looking project, but the bottom line is that Saskatchewan people have a right to be asking who is bringing the money to the table.”

All levels of opposition are calling for public forums regarding the issue. University of Regina political science students will be hosting a debate on March 23rd at 11:30am in the Campion auditorium.

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