By Mike Archer. I imagine when the Abbotsford Heat leave town to be replaced by a Vancouver Canucks farm team of some description, Mayor Bruce Banman, City Council and the chain-owned media will, likely cry out, as if with a single voice, ‘I told you so,’ as if to argue that pouring millions of dollars of their friends’ and neighbours’ money into the pockets of the Calgary Flames and the local owners over the last three years was a brilliant plan which could only lead to this.
‘Had we not wasted all that money on that doomed-to-fail venture, we might not have attracted the attention of the Canucks who are now, finally in a position to come to Abbotsford,’ they will likely say.
Along with the millions paid to Global Spectrum and all of the money spent keeping the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) operating – though mostly empty – the money spent on subsidies provided to the Calgary Flames and the local owners needn’t have been wasted at all. If we had insisted that any deal had to be for the benefit of the Abbotsford taxpayer we would still have all that money in Abbotsford’s bank account instead of having it used to protect the bank accounts of the owners of the Heat.
We would also still have a shiny 7,000 seat arena waiting for someone to make us an offer that made sense for the Abbotsford taxpayer.
What kind of offer would be best for the Abbotsford taxpayer will be debatable but, imagine the possibilities.
Even the chief proponent of Plan A architect, former councillor Bruce Beck, (who retired to the Chamber of Commerce) said that an AHL team was ‘Not an option’ because the travel subsidies would make the team unsustainable. Even his warnings weren’t heeded as Abbotsford taxpayers forked over the money required to fly teams from the other side of the continent to Abbotsford and stay in hotels like Heat owner Lane Sweeting’s Ramada.
Vince Dimanno, President of the Abbotsford Ratepayers Association and co-owner of Abbotsford Today told Abbotsford Council when the AESC was completed – late and over budget – to turn the lights off, tell Global Spectrum to cool its heals or find another customer, and begin the process of finding an anchor tenant for the building that would provide the taxpayers of Abbotsford with a good deal.
‘Proceed as though it were your own money’ – Dimanno seemed to be arguing.
Then-Mayor George Peary described Dimanno and the others in the community who were warning against the enormous costs of such an enormous blunder as people who were, “Hard to take seriously.”
The Abbotsford News wrote derisively and triumphantly that the advent of the Abbotsford Heat ought to silence the “naysayers” in the community even as the financial black hole they had helped to dig was just beginning to grow.
Think about the shape Abbotsford would be in today if any of the advice repeatedly and publicly provided to City Council and senior staff had ever been listened to.
The total expenditure on the AESC would have been in the tens of thousands of dollars instead of in tens of the millions. The City of Abbotsford could strike a good deal for taxpayers with a team that wants to come to Abbotsford and stands a chance of actually making a go of it financially.
The City of Abbotsford could have spent all the money it has paid to the Abbotsford Heat owners and all of the money it has spent having a Philadelphia entertainment company run its empty building on things like the infrastructure needed to bring developers and home builders back to Abbotsford.
The City of Abbotsford could have avoided the phony water crisis altogether; admitted we have enough water to last until 2030 – facts which were at their disposal; and never bothered doubling water rates to the ludicrous levels we enjoy today, even though they have nothing to do with any shortage of water and there has been no increase in service, quality or cost of supplying it.
If, instead of gambling hundreds of millions dollars of their friends’ and neighbours’ money on Plan A and a bad hockey deal, our politicians and senior staff had invested their friends’ and neighbours’ money in parks, recreation water, sewer or road infrastructure (still desperately needed if developers are ever to return to Abbotsford), we would neither be the most indebted city in BC (after Vancouver) nor would we have the highest tax rates, water rates and some of the highest fees for services in the Fraser Valley.
Despite making sure that they scramble to get the official denial from the Abbotsford Heat ownership and the Calgary Flames each time a new story leaks out about the behind-the-scenes negotiations going on between the Flames, the Canucks and the various business groups in other communities, when the deal finally goes down, the old media might even tell residents their politicians were wise to pour millions of dollars into the pockets of the Heat owners in preparation for the inevitable arrival of the Canucks’ farm team three or four years later.
Within weeks of the Abbotsford Heat leaving town the newspapers might already be telling the story about how a group of visionaries from the Chamber of Commerce and City Hall saw a great opportunity off in the future and, in order to make it happen, they made a multi-million dollar deal with their friends’ and neighbours’ money to subsidize a money-losing venture, with no business plan, in anticipation of the real deal.
And nobody will mention that the number of Abbotsford bums in the seats at the AESC will still only number in the range of 2,500 to 3,500. All of this pain and aggravation in order to provide a few thousand Vancouver residents with the opportunity to see their farm team play.
And we’re still missing a decent parks and recreation department or the necessary water, sewer and road infrastructure to allow for economic growth. But we do have a giant hockey rink for Vancouver residents to visit.
Take ten years out of the growth of a city and give it to the hockey fans of another city – brilliant. Abbotsford taxpayers will still be paying for this economic growth strategy for at least another generation.
Hooray for boosterism and ignoring advice!
(And Mayor Banman’s campaign slogan for 2014 will be – ‘See. It worked out in spite of me.’)