Not any more

Revised four-pad stacked arena would cost $88-million

In Canada on August 12, 2010 at 21:17

Ever since a group of distinguished Toronto architects threatened to abandon the waterfront over an ugly hockey rink, their supporters have suggested you can’t put a price on great design near the lake.

As it turns out the city can, and in the case of the world’s first stacked four-pad arena, the price is $88-million – $17-million more than a standard complex and $54-million more than the city has available for the new Port Lands Sports Complex.

The estimated cost of an eight-storey ice palace was shrouded in secrecy until Thursday, when the figures were quietly released in a report that will land at the mayor’s executive committee Monday.

Adopting the project could be a last hurrah for David Miller and his left-leaning council, especially if a council led by Rob Ford succeeds them.

The penny-pinching Etobicoke councillor is the only mayoral candidate who balked at the stacked option; the others said they would pay the higher price for iconic design.

“If it’s going to cost the taxpayers $88-million,” Mr. Ford said, “I don’t think we’re in any fiscal shape to build that arena.”

Disagreements over the arena’s design erupted publicly in the spring when Ken Greenberg, a prominent urban designer, quit the team overseeing the project. The entire Waterfront Design Review Panel threatened to follow suit.

The uproar forced the city to ask Toronto’s Rounthwaite Dick and Hadley Architects Inc. to return with a new proposal that built up, not out, on the eight-acre city-owned site at Commissioners Street and the Don Roadway.

The revised design, unveiled last month, features four NHL-sized ice pads stacked in a tower, a Zamboni for each level, three high-speed elevators with high ceilings to accommodate hockey sticks, an indoor running track, pro shop, community rooms and small restaurant.

“I’m really, really pleased and gratified that the [city] staff has come around on this,” Mr. Greenberg said Thursday. “I think that they’re finally looking at the big picture.”

Plans for the sports complex have been in the works since 2004, when Ottawa gave the city $34-million for the project, provided it was built on waterfront lands.

The report makes the case for spending $87.8-million on the stacked option instead of $71.5-million on the so-called snowflake design, the sprawling ground-level option that first raised the design community’s hackles.

The extra costs for the stacked model include: $12.1-million more for construction; $2.1-million more for underground parking; $1-million for soft costs such as engineering and design; and $1.1-million more in PST/HST.

However, with a footprint about one-third of the snowflake design, the stacked option would free up land that could be developed and the money plowed back into sprucing up the waterfront.

As well, a glass-walled structure with fantastic views would generate $10-million more in tourism-related GDP than a traditional design, the report estimates.

“I think that’s low myself,” Paula Fletcher, the local councillor, said.

As for funding, the report recommends using the arena’s future net operating revenues to debt-finance between $21-million and $25-million of the cost above the $34-million federal nest egg. That leaves the final $29-million to $33-million unaccounted for.

“Mediocrity is not acceptable,” said Joe Pantalone, the deputy mayor who is running to replace his boss. “So therefore, of course, we have to accept the excellent design and find a way of making it work.”

He suggested the city seek private donations or ask senior levels of government to pitch in more.

Stefan Baranski, a spokesman for George Smitherman, pointed to the value of the freed-up land as another good reason to embrace the superior design.

“I think that’s going to be a phenomenal piece of real-estate in Toronto and it’s going to be an incredible new community and George is quite excited about that,” he said.

Both Sarah Thomson and Rocco Rossi expressed support for the stacked design, couched with some concern about where the extra money will come from.

But the key, Mr. Rossi said, is to “put a premium on excellence.”

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