Hotels offer cash for stadiums: $10 million for proposed dome facility would be a start

The Carillon, Vol. 52, Issue 13 | Dec. 4, 2009 – Jan. 13, 2010

The Regina Hotels Association (RHA) has offered to pay $10 million over 15 years towards the construction of a proposed dome stadium in Regina. While this represents less than three per cent of the project’s estimated $350 million price tag, proponents say that this is a solid step in the right direction.

“A larger facility, with increased capacity, would competitively position our city as a more desirable destination to those who host a range of national sporting, arts and culture, convention and entertainment events – all year round,” Tracy Fahlman, CEO of the RHA, claimed in a recent press release.

The RHA, a private-sector 17-member association of Regina hotels, added a “destination marketing fee” to their room rates in 2006, which has raised $3.5 million since then. According to the press release, “the sole intent of this fee is to build a fund that is used to encourage out-of-town visitation growth, promote Regina as a conference, leisure and special event destination, and ultimately, generate a return on investment for member hotels.” The fund is then budgeted and distributed to support marketing Regina as a tourist destination, with the ultimate goal of encouraging overnight hotel stays. The RHA’s offer to commit a portion of this fund over a 15-year period will amount to committing roughly 60 per cent of the fund’s revenues during that time.

Mosaic Stadium, the current home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and venue for various sports events, is crumbling. Fully refurbishing Mosaic would cost $109 million, while building another open-air stadium would cost $190 million. A multi-use facility, with a retractable dome roof, would cost at least $350 million. The dome stadium debate has largely centred on the question of the economic benefits of all-weather use. Advocates, such as Mayor Pat Fiacco and Roughriders chairman Rob Pletch, have argued that a multi-use facility would boost tourism year-round. Opponents, such as Lee Harding of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, have accused the project of being a white elephant, which would put the province in debt and fail to boost the economy.

Perhaps nothing can be certain in the dome stadium debate until the construction feasibility study is completed in January 2010. However, the timing of Fahlman’s announcement seems likely to frame the debate as to whether or not the stadium would be affordable, and may act as an incentive for other areas of the private sector to step forward with similar offers. Mayor Fiacco seemed to express this sentiment when he spoke at the news conference after Fahlman’s announcement: “For this project to be a success, it must be supported by the private sector and not just by the three levels of government.”

Michael Huber, the executive director of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), agrees with this approach. Huber and the Downtown BID have followed the stadium issue with cautious optimism since its proposal, and Huber spoke with the Carillon about this latest development. “On any of these projects,” he said, “you want the private sector to step up as much as possible or else the burden gets left to the taxpayers … You want to have some private stake in there, but the thing is that we really want to wait until the feasibility study.

“$10 million is a small percentage of $350 million, but what it does do is it sets a bit of a precedent and it shows that there is some involvement,” he said, arguing that the hotels association is “trying to create a snowball effect” by encouraging other businesses to come forward with financial support.

How funding should be distributed between the public and private sectors will likely remain a bone of contention. As Lee Harding told the Leader-Post earlier this month, “If there’s one contribution of $10 million, that’s great. We only need another 34.” There also remain questions of whether a dome stadium would be good for all Reginans, or just particular private interests. Unfortunately, the hotel association did not respond to requests for an interview.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with constructing a $350 million multi-use facility in Regina, it seems that the project is closer to being financially possible.

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