Friday, March 4, 2011

Did HRM Shoot Itself In The Foot On The Stadium Committee?

HRM Council announced its stadium committee earlier this week. The idea of a stadium seems to have become a big deal of late in Nova Scotia and in HRM in particular. Over here in Dartmouth people wonder whether this is finally the start of doing something meaningful with the Shannon Park lands. Even federal minister Peter MacKay is on board much to the chagrin of the Mayor of Quebec City.

HRM has quite rightly taken the approach of conducting a feasibility study to determine what a stadium will cost (the mayor has been quoted as saying up to $60 million but most independent sources say think upwards of $100 million).

However the promise that the committee would include people of different backgrounds and opinions apparently fell by the wayside this week as council appointed a committee that appears to be largely made up of sporting representatives and stadium boosters.

Glaringly absent were representatives of the cultural industries. HRM's own Cultural Plan approved by council says culture should become a consideration of everything the municipality does. And the stadium proposal is supposed to include its use for concerts and other entertainment events. But there is no representative of Music Nova Scotia. No representative of some of the big entertainment bookers and promoters. No representatives of other cultural federations that might make use or have valuable input into such a facility. No economists specializing in entertainment (are there any economists on the committee at all?).

The most obvious individual omission is probably Waye Mason. (Yes I am biased: Waye is a long time friend of mine going back to junior high school) I am sure there are others who applied for the committee who would be equally qualified, but I use Waye as at least one example of someone who understands the needs of the entertainment industry. He's also done more research on stadium costs, successes, and failures than any member of council. He's also open minded on the issue of whether a stadium should be built. Its odd that council would not include Waye or someone like him on the committee. Its a glaring omission that council would not appoint a committee that clearly includes representatives of the different industries already being talked about as part of the business case (concerts, trade shows, community recreation, etc)

In the end that omission may result in the credibility of any report by this committee being viewed as suspect by those who have yet to be convinced about the need for and financial viability of a stadium.

Let me be frank. I'm on the fence on the whole stadium idea. Would it be valuable infrastructure? Yes. Needed infrastructure? Maybe. Similar arguments have been made for the need for other facilities such as a 2,000 to 3,000 seat arts centre. Personally I'm waiting to see the business case for a stadium and what its realistic potential uses would be. I want to know not only how construction will be paid for (capital money for construction is often the easy part) but how the operating costs will be covered annually, including eventual recapitalization. I wanted the same information for the convention centre project, and while some may disagree with my support for it, ultimately I got enough information to satisfy me - and substantially more information over many years than is currently available about a stadium.

But it won't matter how good the feasibility study or the business case is for a stadium if taxpayers feel the committee was stacked to ensure that the business case would support the facility. And building a stadium that misses critical infrastructure for non-sporting events such as sufficient power supply, backstage support, green rooms, truck access, concert sight lines and so forth will just make a new stadium just a stadium, and not what it should be - a multi-purpose facility.