Downtown Moncton centre 'affordable,' official says

A senior Moncton official outlined the tax implications of a $100-million sports and entertainment complex in the city's downtown at a council meeting on Monday night.

Coun. Daniel Bourgeois says 'elites' back $100M sports and entertainment complex

Moncton's chief financial officer told councillors on Monday the proposed downtown sports and entertainment centre could be affordable over the next 30 years. (Moncton)

Moncton could move forward with a proposed $100-million sports and entertainment complex at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, according to the city’s chief financial officer.

John Martin, Moncton’s chief financial officer, presented a revised 30-year plan for the city, which included his feasibility assessment on a downtown entertainment complex, to council on Monday night.

His report concluded the proposed downtown centre is viable.

"The downtown centre project, as described in the assumptions, outlined in the various studies and reviews completed to this date, should be achievable," he said.

Martin described the potential impact on the property tax rates as "reasonable in the short term and manageable over the long term."

Moncton council must decide by June whether to purchase 4.5 hectares of land, which is the former Highfield Square Mall property, for the downtown project.

The centre is expected to include a 10,000-seat arena and a convention centre, as well as a shopping centre, restaurants, condos and an outdoor space. The final cost is estimated to be between $80 million and $100 million.

The city’s chief financial officer said there could be room to adjust the centre’s price tag in the future.

"I would anticipate that the project is affordable as I indicated with the revenue shift and the fact that it's a fully-loaded plan, we might have to slightly modify some of the reserve requirements or things like that," Martin said.

"But there is flexibility built into the plan to do that."

Councillor questions centre

The cost of the centre has proved to be contentious, especially among some councillors.

Coun. Daniel Bourgeois said in December he expected to see the final price tag come in closer to $165 million, considering the city’s history of bringing in major projects over budget.

Bourgeois said on Monday night there is a division in the city with one group seeing the downtown centre as a "need," the other as a "want."

He said the gap between the two visions has become increasingly clear to him over the past month.

"Many regular folks and city employees contacted me recently and begged me to ask more questions. As one put it, 'I did not vote for you to be a positive lemming blindly following the pack over the cliff,'" he said.

"Another one, ‘Do not make us drink the Kool-Aid until you know there is no poison in it for us.’"

The councillor also took aim at proponents of the centre who are critical of any opposition to the project.

"Elites claim that arguing publicly over the centre will ‘hurt our reputation in the eyes of investors,'" Bourgeois said.

"But regular folks know that development will occur regardless because businesses do not establish here because of our venues and events, but because of our people. Regular folks also know that many elites have a vested financial interest in the centre."

The next step in the process will be to interview companies that responded to a request for proposal process.

EllisDon, known for Toronto's Rogers Centre, Bird Construction, responsible for the Thunderbird Sports Centre, built for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and L'Aréna des Canadiens Inc.'s Evenko, which built the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, say they are interested in developing the downtown centre.

Reports on those findings and a decision on whether to purchase the Highfield Square property will come in June.