Quebec arena cost to be split by province, city

Premier Jean Charest and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume announced they will split the $400 million cost to construct a new arena in the provincial capital.

Leaders still open to federal and private funding

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, right, and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, centre, celebrate at Thursday's press conference at Colisée Pepsi. ((Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot))

The Quebec government and Quebec City will fund the construction of a new arena in the provincial capital.

The $400-million project, which many Quebec City residents hope will attract an NHL franchise, will begin over the next two years, and is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2015.

Premier Jean Charest said Thursday that the province would contribute $200 million, and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said the city would provide $187 million. The rest will come from the promotion group J'ai Ma Place.

Plans were announced Thursday at a crowded press conference at Colisée Pepsi, the 62-year-old arena the new facility would replace.

Charest said the new amphitheatre will help the provincial capital draw bigger events that the current Colisée can't handle.

"The provincial capital needs a multifunctional amphitheatre," said Charest.

The new arena will be built at the intersection of the Laurentienne Highway and Wilfrid Hamel Boulevard, near the Colisée.

No new taxes

Plans for Quebec City's new arena. Construction is scheduled to be completed by fall 2015. ((CBC))
Labeaume said the city will still have to borrow $125 million over 20 years to finance the project.

He said he would not increase municipal taxes in Quebec City, opting instead to cut 500 city jobs over the next five or six years to help pay for the project, with additional revenue coming from from events at the arena.

Labeaume said the city will sign deals with private partners over naming rights, but he does not foresee private companies investing in the construction.

He said the city's debt would increase during construction, but it would begin decreasing after, when the city would generate revenue from service charges added to ticket prices.

Labeaume also said the financing plan would be a worst-case scenario, if no federal or private funding arrives, and if no NHL franchise comes to Quebec City.

In a statement, the NHL congratulated Quebec City on "this exciting development," but communications vice-president Gary Meagher reiterated the league has no plans to expand or relocate any existing franchises.

No NHL guarantee

"I don't want anybody getting the conversations that I've had with a variety of people, including the Mayor and the Premier, we have said we're not planning on expanding. We're not planning on relocation. So we cannot promise [Quebec] a franchise. If there's a new building, separate and independent from us, for whatever reason and the opportunity presents itself with respect to a franchise, it's no different than what I said about Winnipeg. But we don't want people building a building on our account, expecting that there's going to be a franchise, because we're not in the position to promise one right now."

NHL comissioner Gary Bettman, Jan. 29

But he said an NHL team is clearly the goal.

"A northern city like Quebec needs a modern arena to fully live its national sport," said Labeaume.

However, he said that doesn't mean he will be spending his time courting a team.

"I would be happy to carry the luggage of anyone who wants to go solicit Mr. Bettman or any NHL team owners, but it's not my role."

No money from Ottawa

Charest said the door's always open if the federal government or the private sector want to contribute later.

"They may very well choose to fund some infrastructure projects similar to this one. If that's the case it will be welcome news and we'll be delighted to have them as a partner," said Charest.

But there were some notable absences at Thursday's news conference: nobody was there from Ottawa, or from Quebecor Inc., the media empire that has been talking about bringing the NHL back to Quebec City.

Ottawa turned down requests to help fund the project, although a report Wednesday suggested the Conservative government has considered allowing a portion of gas tax revenues be used for large entertainment centres.

More than 60,000 people rallied on the Plains of Abraham in October in support of a new NHL team for Quebec City. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
The Bloc Québécois called for more Thursday, saying that Ottawa needs to commit to its fair share starting now, because it can't, on the one hand, refuse to take part in the project and on the other, collect taxes on the construction of the multifunctional arena.

Although Quebec Conservative MPs support federal funding for the project, other Tory MPs have expressed concerns that even if taxpayers spend hundreds of millions on a new Quebec City arena, the NHL may not agree to put a franchise there.

If almost all of the funding for the arena ends up coming from within the province, it would leave the Tories out of a project located in an area where they hold six seats.

Polls suggest Conservative support in the Quebec City area could shrink if the government refuses to help fund the arena.

Pierre Karl Péladeau, the president and CEO of Quebecor, is said to be offering tens of millions of dollars to support the project.

The Quebec capital has been without an NHL team since 1995, when the Nordiques left for Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche.

With files from The Canadian Press