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?
MONTREAL ALOUETTES Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks in sports is to repeat as champion in any league. In the Als' case, they're looking at taking it one step further and making it a three-peat. But there are a couple of holes they'll need to patch up before it can happen. The biggest name dropped from the roster is Ben Cahoon, who retired after 13 seasons as the CFL's all-time top receiver with 1,017 catches. His sure hands and cool efficiency will surely be missed by quarterback Anthony Calvillo. Still, the ageless Calvillo, who turns 39 in August, has a stable of reliable receivers to whom he can turn, except for 2009 Grey Cup MVP Avon Cobourne, who took his rushing act to Hamilton. (Anthony Calvillo celebrates the team's Grey Cup win. AP Photo)
CALGARY STAMPEDERS The quest for new talent has become urgent for Stampeders' head coach and GM John Hufnagel, who lost a handful of all-stars over the off-season. Defensive backs Brandon Browner bolted to the NFL and brash Dwight Anderson moved to Montreal, while Ben Archibald, the league's most outstanding lineman, opted for the B.C. Lions. Offensively, the Stamps should again be the gun-slinging, turf-chomping club of old, led by 36-year-old Henry Burris. Calgary QBs will have no shortage of horses to throw to, be it a healthy Ken-Yon Rambo, the indefatigable Nik Lewis or the speedy Romby Bryant. When it comes to the running game, the one-two tandem of Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish is second-to-none. (AP Photo)
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS Calgary's perennial rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will badly miss Andy Fantuz, the league's leading receiver, who landed a two-year deal with the Chicago Bears. But new head coach Greg Marshall has other weapons in his offensive arsenal, including Darian Durant, above, a threat as a passer and runner, and receiver Chris Getzlaf, who is eyeing a larger role with the absence of Fantuz. (AP photo)
EDMONTON ESKIMOS The Eskimos, meanwhile, are in rebuild mode after a highly-forgettable season. With GM Eric Tillman busy house cleaning (he replaced head coach Richie Hall with Kavis Reed) Edmontonians sincerely hope for better things. Ricky Ray will need time, protection and some sure hands at the other end to be as effective a quarterback as possible. Fred Stamps will be his key target. (Ricky Ray is tackled by Montreal Alouettes linebacker Chip Cox Sept. 19 2010 in Montreal. AP Photo)
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS The Tiger-Cats made great strides last season, but fans expect them to take a giant leap closer to the Grey Cup this time around, as head coach Marcel Bellefeuille begins his third year at the helm. The addition of Avon Cobourne will be a boon to an offence that fell last in per-game rushing. Cobourne will also take some pressure off veteran QB Kevin Glenn, who did a nice job in 2010 with a one-dimensional offence, throwing for 5,102 yards and 33 touchdowns. On defence, the effervescent Stevie Baggs will bear the brunt of the sack attack, while a dominating linebacking crew will create havoc for any offence. (Avon Cobourne holds up the Grey Cup as he celebrates with fans during a championship parade in Montreal, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. AP Photo)
TORONTO ARGONAUTS The Toronto Argonauts head into the season with some injuries. Quarterback Steven Jyles was acquired from Winnipeg and his health is uncertain, so look for Cleo Lemon to once again handle those duties. Cory Boyd, who as a rookie romped for 1,359 yards on the ground, will be counted on in his sophomore year, while flashy returner Chad Owens should once again be a handful. (Cleo Lemon hands the ball to running back Cory Boyd Nov. 21, 2010 in Montreal. AP Photo)
B.C. LIONS The last team to win a Grey Cup at home was the B.C. Lions in 1994 and how they'd love to do it again this year! B.C. will be a team to contend with depending on the progression of young QB Travis Lulay. Lulay rose from backup to starter in 2010 and head coach Wally Buono has placed the reins firmly in his hands. (Travis Lulay, right, runs the ball past Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end Stevie Baggs, left, on Nov. 6, 2010. AP Photo)
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS On the heels of a lamentable 4-14 season last year, Winnipeg fans are wondering, first and foremost: will QB Buck Pierce stay healthy, just for a change? And the more things change in Winnipeg, the more they stay the same as their Most Outstanding Canadian for the past five straight seasons, defensive tackle Doug Brown, returns to anchor the defence for his 11th season. Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Adarius Bowman bobbles the ball during the first half of a Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, Ontario, Friday, July 16, 2010. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
Follow Ross Macnab on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rossknows