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Taxpayers on hook, critics charge

<p>Advocates for a new downtown arena are billing the location as a catalyst for revitalization, but their supporting evidence for the mammoth proposal amounts to a "shell game," say critics of the $450-million project.</p>

Council not given enough detail on arena: Caterina



metro edmonton file photo


Committee chairman Lyle Best says six location are on a short list for a new arena.



Advocates for a new downtown arena are billing the location as a catalyst for revitalization, but their supporting evidence for the mammoth proposal amounts to a "shell game," say critics of the $450-million project.



Even city councillors are expressing their frustration with the lack of detail they were provided with yesterday after a long-awaited report recommended the new home of the Oilers be located downtown.



"There’s all kinds of question marks here that haven’t been (answered) in this particular report," said Coun. Tony Caterina, adding that city hall has been feeling pressure to accept the reality of a downtown arena.



During a closed-door meeting with the city’s arena feasibility committee yesterday, city councillors weren’t shown specific details on transportation issues or cost comparisons between renovating or expanding the existing Rexall Place site and building a new arena, he said.



Instead, they were given a stripped down, 38-page version of the committee’s report that urges downtown as a financially feasible location -- but only if businesses help to pay for it through a new levy.



"Given this report today, my feelings haven’t changed," Caterina said. "Northlands, exactly where Rexall is right now, is still the best place to have it."



Committee chairman Lyle Best said they excluded many of the finer details from their public report to avoid land speculation, but noted that six locations are on their short list.



The private sector will spend around $135 million on the project, he said, leaving $315 million to be covered by a new Community Revitalization Levy. The levy would tax future businesses near the arena as a debt-financing model for the project.



Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said dozens of new arenas have been financed without the use of tax dollars. Arena projects have little economic benefit, he said, since they simply shift new development from elsewhere into specific zones with higher taxes to pay for the facility.



"Essentially, you’re just moving that money you’d otherwise be getting from elsewhere into the arena district," he said. "It’s a shell game to try to put tax dollars into this thing."




steve.lillubuen@metronews.ca



 
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