Losing Your Money With A Smile

By February 27, 2013Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. By all accounts Jason Blumenfeld, general manager of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC), is a nice guy. Anybody, who loses as much of his friends’ and neighbours’ money as Jason does, would have to be either a nice guy or a real cold-hearted prick to smile as much as he does.

In its seemingly endless quest to ingratiate itself to everybody in the power structure of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford News did a nice story about the nice guy running the AESC which just happens to still be losing millions of your dollars every year.

Real cheery piece. Almost makes it feel good to lose so much money.

Why The News felt we needed a fluffy piece about the ‘awe shucks’ guy who is trying his hardest to lose less money every year is beyond those of us who knew newspapers when they used to question authority instead of actively promoting it.

The article shares the wonderful news that, “The publication Venues Today named the AESC the top venue of its size in the Pacific Northwest and 13th in the world. Pollstar named the facility 200th in the world for venues of any size.”

It reads like a piece in an advertising brochure or something put out by an organization like , oh, I don’t know … the AESC. If the AESC has all this going for it, why is it losing so much money every year?

Is this happy feature supposed to be good news? Is it supposed to make the taxpayers of Abbotsford feel better about losing so much money? It just ends up reminding most of us how much money we spent building the place without ever doing a market study or a business plan to find out if it would work.

Former banker John Smith and investment whiz Bruce Beck must have been reading their own campaign literature and ended up believing they knew what they were doing. The newspapers thought Plan A was a great idea then and they appear to believe it now even though every dire prediction made by those who warned the City not to make such a gargantuan mistake is turning out to be true.

Having chosen sides with those who, it turns out, didn’t have a clue what they were doing, the newspapers have no idea how to change direction and admit they may have been wrong. So the fluffy, happy, mindless repetition of the good news the City and the power structure wants people to hear continues.

So as not to abandon journalistic integrity completely, the story did touch very briefly on the losses at the AESC after separating the Abbotsford Heat losses out from the numbers and made every effort to point out that Blumenfeld is moving the numbers in the right direction.

After all the love and sharing here’s what taxpayers need to know about the AESC:

After spending nearly $130 Million building the White Elephant taxpayers have lost money on the building every year.

  • You lost $3.4 million in 2010
  • You lost $3.24 million in 2011
  • You lost $2.97 million in 2012

We’ve been paying Jason’s bosses at Global Spectrum in Philadelphia for years … it started even before the building was finished … and we’re still only picking up the leftovers from the Vancouver entertainment scene. We are an add-on to a third level entertainment market but we’re not losing as much money as we were.

Now that wasn’t so hard was it?

Jason’s part in improving those losses should be recognized and we’ll do it right here. Thank you Jason, for doing your job, and doing it well, booking entertainment into the AESC and helping us gradually lose less money.

But rather than focusing on how hard the nice guy with the impossible job is doing, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves :

  1. Why the hell did we build this monstrous tax guzzler in the first place when we didn’t even have a proper business plan or even an anchor tenant?
  2. Now that it has gone south, why does virtually the entire power structure of Abbotsford, including the chain-owned media, seem frozen and unable to act?
  3. When is someone going to have the courage to make some decisions and stop the haemorrhage?

Writing happy news and pretending the City isn’t in deep financial trouble as a result of some very bad decisions by council and staff which were supported and and even promoted by the media will not fix the problem.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pay the Abbotsford Heat to move to Utica (or anywhere else) and stop draining the treasury
  2. Pay off Global Spectrum and ask them to go do a mediocre job on some other city’s dime
  3. Close the arena so that taxpayer is only hit with minimal maintenance costs to maintain it’s value
  4. Put the AESC on the market and if a buyer materializes, make a good deal for the taxpayers of Abbotsford at a high enough price that we can repay some of the hundreds of millions this little adventure has cost us
  5. Put the tax revenue from the now privatized AESC towards the above mentioned costs

Now … you may be able to poke holes in one or more of those suggestions and there may be valid reasons to argue over some of them. But wouldn’t an action plan such as the one above at least be better than standing around nervously smiling at one another and not mentioning the fact that someone screwed up really bad and we’re all going broke?

The newspapers did everything they could this week to help the Flames and the Heat quash the story about the Flames having discussions with a local owners group in Utica, New York as if, somehow, their job is to make sure the corporate line is maintained and the dirty, behind the scenes laundry doesn’t get discussed in public. If you’ve followed the aftermath of the publication and then withdrawl of the original story, all that has happened is that former NHL goalie Rob Esche, the man behind the Utica proposal, has said that no papers have been signed but that he is fully intent on making a deal with Calgary happen by next autumn.

They even appear to have progressed to a point where municipal tax dollars may be in play to make the ten-year deal happen. This is clearly more than a mere rumour and, if the chain-owned media would do a little more real journalism and tell its dwindling readership what they need to know instead of what the powerful want them to hear, maybe things like Plan A, the Abbotsford Heat ten-year revenue guarantee, the Global Spectrum contract, the phony water crisis and so many other bad ideas wouldn’t happen so regularly in this city.

Instead of seeing the possibility of the Heat moving to Utica, leaving room for the Chicago Wolves to move to Abbotsford and buy the AESC thereby ridding us of the White Elephant, as a good thing, the newspapers are desperately trying to keep all of the back stories out of the media narrative and put out fires for the rich guys who would much rather take their cheques from the Abbotsford taxpayers and conduct their business in private.

Why? If the Flames can get another city to pay their bills that would be great for Abbotsford taxpayers. Yes, about 2,500 – 3,000 local hockey fans would be unhappy and local Heat owner Lane Sweeting would lose all of his guaranteed out-of-town AHL hockey player customers who fill the rooms at his Ramada hotel at Abbotsford taxpayer expense. But think of the things we could spend the money on.

… The millions of arrears in our DCC fund … the water and sewer infrastructure we need so developers will come back to Abbotsford … some affordable parks and rec programs which, according to the guy who is supposed to provide them (Mark Taylor) we desperately need (one of the reasons he says we have to give $17.5 million to the YMCA) … a bus route to our international airport … the mind reels with the possibilities.

… Or how about reducing water rates, taxes, fees on services or any of the other hidden costs of the Abbotsford Heat and the AESC which have been sloughed off on taxpayers while our politicians pat each other on the back and ensure we kept safe from shark fins.

Seriously Jason – thank you. But could you smile a little less and look like you working harder. You’re still losing an awful lot of your friends’ and neighbours’ money every year despite all your best efforts.

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