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Quebec City, Regina take different paths on funding sports facilities

A Quebec Nordiques fan shows his support for their return to the NHL at a game between the Calgary Flames and the Senators at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2011.

Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

As Ottawa hesitates over whether to finance professional sports facilities, provinces bidding for federal cash are losing hope, and at least two are reconsidering their options.

Quebec City has chosen to move ahead with the construction by 2015 of a $400-million arena in a bid to attract an NHL franchise. On Tuesday, it announced a multimillion-dollar deal with Quebecor Inc. to manage the facility and help pay for the city's $187-million share of the building cost with or without an NHL franchise.

Meanwhile, the City of Regina is considering the opposite course, pulling the plug on its plan to build a $430-million domed football stadium if Ottawa fails to deliver. Without federal cash, the project is certain to die, forcing the city and the Saskatchewan Roughriders football club to examine the alternatives.

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"We've said all along that a project of this magnitude requires funding from each of the three levels of government as well as the private sector," said Ken Cheveldayoff, the Saskatchewan minister responsible for the project.

The federal government may be sensitive to the optics of building facilities for professional sports, but Quebec is telling Ottawa that if it wants to drag its feet on the construction of a multipurpose arena then it can sit on the sidelines while the project moves forward.

"The train has pretty much left the station with respect to the arena," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said. "If the federal government has chosen not to get involved in this project, maybe they can participate in other projects in the city."

The Quebec government has committed $200-million to the arena and believes the federal government may be trying to find ways to justify getting involved. But whatever Ottawa offers one city, it will need to offer others or face a political backlash.

More than a half dozen federal seats in the Quebec City region may be at stake for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives if they fail to deliver any money for the arena. The federal government has demanded a business plan and private sector involvement in the project. Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume said on Tuesday he has delivered on his end of the bargain. He expects Ottawa to do the same.

Josée Verner, the federal minister responsible for Quebec City, said her government is willing to pay for roads and sewers around a new arena, but wants more from the private sector than what Quebecor has offered before putting federal cash toward the building itself. "Based on precedents, there isn't enough private sector involvement in the project," Ms. Verner said.

Under the terms of the 25-year deal unveiled on Tuesday by the city, Quebecor Inc. will pay $33-million in cash for naming rights to the facility. That figure will jump to $63-million if an NHL team ends up playing there.

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The agreement specifies that the city will receive an average annual rent of $3.15-million if there is no hockey team, and about $5-million with one.

Quebecor, which estimates its total financial commitment over the lifetime of the deal to be as much as $190-million, will also pay between 10 and 15 per cent of its profits from concerts, sporting events and other venues back to the city, depending on whether there's a hockey tenant.

"There are no guarantees at this moment of getting an NHL franchise but I will be doing everything I can to get one," said Quebecor president Pierre Karl Péladeau, whose media empire will soon include an all-sports television network that would generate substantial profits with the broadcasting of NHL games.

Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner and executive vice-president, said in an e-mail that "we don't have any comment" on the latest developments concerning the rink or on Mr. Péladeau's prospects of becoming an owner.

The official league line is that no teams are up for relocation, but that's a situation that could change.

With a report from Canadian Press

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About the Authors
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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