Moncton should be cautious on downtown centre, analyst says

An Ontario civic affairs commentator is warning Moncton taxpayers to move cautiously ahead with the proposal to build a $100-million downtown sports and entertainment centre.

London taxpayers will not get their money back from $40M Budweiser Gardens

A Moncton developer is hoping to benefit by investing in properties near a proposed $107-million downtown sports and entertainment complex. (Moncton)

An Ontario civic affairs commentator is warning Moncton politicians and taxpayers to move cautiously ahead with the proposal to build a $100-million downtown sports and entertainment centre.

Moncton council is in the final stages of deciding whether to purchase the old Highfield Square Mall property and then build a convention centre on the site.

A delegation from Ontario visited Moncton on Wednesday to discuss the success of London's 10,000-seat Budweiser Gardens.

Philip McLeod, a civic affairs commentator in London, said he agrees the centre has improved the downtown, but it cost $40 million.

After 10 years, McLeod said the centre is giving a "nice return" to the people who operate it, but he said taxpayers will never get their money back.

"These days, you know, most communities have something like that or want something like that," he said.

"But you need to realize that they are probably never going to make a lot of money and indeed might require some subsidization by the community to continue in place."

McLeod’s caution was a contrast to Chris Campbell, the director of marketing for the centre, who said the facility has been a wild success.

"It took three city councils and two mayors to make this happen," he said. "It is a tough process but in the end, there is nothing else our city has ever done that will have this kind of impact."

Councillors have raised concerns

Moncton’s city manager has said council should have all the information it needs to make a decision within the next 15 months.

The city has been pushing for a new arena and convention centre for several years.

Two councillors have been urging the city to carefully examine the project.

Coun. Brian Hicks has said if a London delegation wants to pitch Moncton on the need for a centre, then the city should also talk to communities where these centres have not worked.

And Coun. Daniel Bourgeois has warned councillors not to be cheerleaders for the proposal without carefully looking at all the costs. He said the city’s estimate of $100 million is likely going to be missed.

He said the price tag could be $165 million, based on overexpenditures of other city projects.

Moncton’s debt was $137.2 million in 2012, which was only behind Saint John’s debt of $179.6 million.

But the city’s debt-cost ratio was 15 per cent in 2012, which was behind Dieppe and Edmundston.

The provincial government has a policy of not allowing a municipality to have a debt-cost ratio of more than 20 per cent without forwarding a multi-year plan to reduce the debt.