Last week, Regina City Council approved a plan for a new stadium.
This new stadium will cost $278 million to build and a few hundred million more to maintain over the next 30 years. It will be paid for by property tax increases, new taxes, fees on tickets, corporate sponsorships, user fees, manna from heaven. It will accommodate 33,000 people -- comfortably. We've been assured that the seats will be larger than the minimum width of 18 inches, with some suggestion that they will be as wide as 22 inches. I hope that's wide enough.
The new stadium will be "roof-ready," which is to say it will be "roofless." Remember that the Olympic Stadium in Montreal was "roof-ready" for a long time -- which meant that it was "unfinished." What "roof ready" really means in this instance is that this stadium has the potential, someday, to cost us even MORE money.
Regina, despite its great wealth and influence, is actually a pretty small city. There are about 200,000 of us here. Why do we need a 33,000 seat, roof-ready, stadium -- which will sit cold and empty for half of the year and will cost us a half a billion dollars or so? Only one reason. One BIG reason. The Riders.
This will be a football stadium. For the Saskatchewan Roughriders. There will be other users, but only the Riders regularly need 33,000 wide seats. There just aren't many things that happen in Regina that attract the attention of 33,000 of us at the same time. The Riders will use the stadium 10 times per year. Sometimes 11, when things go really well. The Riders will contribute $25 million of the $278 million their new home will cost to build.
Does this make sense? You might as well ask, "does love make sense?"
We love our Riders. Unconditionally, it seems. There's a phenomenon called "Rider Pride" which fuels this stadium project and defies earthly notions of economic wisdom. We are very proud of our football team. It is a pride that is unaffected by win-loss record, which is, after all, a pretty shallow measure of "success" in sports. The Riders have won three championships in 101 years. Rider Pride has sustained us through those other 98 seasons.
Yes, we're proud of our Riders. But, you know what we're even more proud of? We're most proud of how proud we are of the Riders. That's right, we're proud of our pride. If that makes sense, then this stadium project makes sense. In other words, in this cultural atmosphere, the normal rules simply do not apply.
It would be cheaper for the City to buy us all high definition televisions. We could watch the games at home, out of the wind.
Anyone suggesting this new stadium may not be a particularly wise use of mostly public resources is dismissed as "negative." Failure to support the new stadium is a failure to think and to dream BIG; it is to be mired in the mud of pessimism and to betray a lack of faith in the great community that we we can be; it is to be, if not a blasphemer, at the very least an infidel.
City Council member Terry Hincks said "It's important we leave this place a better place for future generations. and the way we do that is to build things to make it better for our children and grandchildren." See? You simply cannot argue with that kind of logic. Don't try. Besides, when has a municipally-funded stadium project ever turned out badly?
In a bit of what can only be called "unfortunate" timing, news leaked out the same week that the City is considering closing a couple of the outdoor swimming pools that serve poorer neighbourhoods. So expensive, those outdoor pools. Wouldn't those kids rather have a stadium? Sure they would. Not for themselves, maybe, but for their children and grandchildren.
You'll be relieved to know that, politically and democratically, this stadium is on firm ground. The Council vote was 10 to one in favour of the stadium plan.
There was a petition launched to have the stadium plan put to a plebiscite. That effort failed to get even half of the 20,000 signatures necessary to force a city-wide vote on the stadium plan.
There was a civic election just a few months ago. Obviously, the stadium was an issue in the mayoralty campaign. Of the nine candidates, only one was in favour of this particular stadium plan: Michael Fougere. He won. Fair and square, you might say. He got 42 per cent of the vote. Voter turnout was 33 per cent, which means that he won the election with 21,685 votes. All of his supporters can fit comfortably in the new stadium, with more than 11,000 seats to spare.
So, there is a sort of democratic legitimacy to this project, in the sense that those fervently in favour outnumber those fervently opposed, while the vast majority who will pay for it apparently don't give a shit. And, really, isn't that what democracy is all about: getting other people to pay for things you want, even though they probably wouldn't want to, if they thought about it even just a little bit?