NATIONAL POST:  January 29, 2015

The lights are about go in on in Quebec City’s shiny new hockey arena, but no one’s home. As Graeme Hamilton reported in Wednesday’s National Post, the $400 million Quebecor Arena is scheduled to open its doors in September. And few will have any reason to show up.

Built using $200 million from the provincial government and $187 million from the city, the venue was supposed to bring NHL hockey back to the city — some 20 years after the Nordiques decamped to Denver. But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was lukewarm about the idea when the arena was proposed, and he seems to have no more interest in La Vieille Capitale now that the barn is built.

‘Listen, we’ll have public skating’: Quebec City about to debut its NHL-ready arena. Just one little problem

MONTREAL – Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume cracked them up during his appearance last week on the Télé-Québec talk show Bazzo TV.

This is the year the new 18,500-seat hockey arena opens in Quebec City, and there is no sign of the promised NHL team on the horizon.

“What are you going to put inside?” host Marie-France Bazzo asked the man who was the project’s biggest booster.

“Listen, we’ll have public skating,” Mr. Labeaume joked. “My cousin Réjean wants to play there too,” he added, struggling to contain his own laughter.

“To the extent our board makes a decision that expansion is something they’ll consider or pursue … we have to look West first, due to the geographic alignment of our teams,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly last weekend. Any talk about a new team these days seems to centre around Seattle and Las Vegas. “Las Vegas is getting ready to launch the season ticket campaign,” said Mr. Bettman. “And we continue to get interest from others including Seattle. Their mayor visited and we had a nice chat.”

Indeed, with the value of an NHL franchise doubling from $240 million to $490 million since 2011 and the Canadian dollar falling faster than a Leafs sweater tossed from the stands at the Air Canada Centre, there are serious doubts that an NHL team would be profitable in the long term in a city of 750,000 people. The original Nordiques certainly were not.

Even if Quebec City had been assured of the NHL’s return, the arena would have been a losing proposition: A wealth of studies have shown that publicly financed stadiums provide no net economic benefit for municipalities. All they do is give taxpayer-funded subsidies to the teams’ billionaire owners and millionaire players. Assuming that “if you build it, he will come,” is no basis on which to make public expenditures, as anyone from Kansas City could tell you: 10 years ago the city pitched in $222 million for a shiny new arena, in hopes the NBA and NHL would come calling. It’s still waiting.

And so, as many commentators predicted, it looks as though Quebec City will be left with a gold-plated 18,000-seat arena that will be used to house the QMJHL’s Remparts, who draw less than half that at the Pepsi Coliseum, and children looking to kill time on a Sunday afternoon. When Mayor Régis Labeaume was asked by a talk show host what they are “going to put inside,” he responded that “we’ll have public skating.”

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. Your city just build a $400 million family skating rink, and a monument to government waste — one that taxpayers will be on the hook for operating and maintaining, while the provincial government tries to find $1 billion in cuts to balance its budget and residents continue to suffer with poor municipal services.

Although it’s too late for Quebec City to reverse this costly decision, Quebecor Arena should serve as a reminder to other governments thinking about wasting public money on similar projects: Just say no.


……….”the city is cutting garbage collection and offering an “archaic” public transit system.  And the provincial government is desperately looking for $1 billion in cuts to balance its budget this spring.  “With $400 million, something better could have been done, no?”

No offence to pleasure skating, but you can do that without building this arena.”