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Windsor city council has voted to build a new arena and recreation center, rejecting a local racetrack’s P3 proposal in favour of a publicly owned and operated facility. The racetrack’s bid was an unsolicited proposal for a sports and entertainment complex attached to the track.

The new rec complex will have a rink that can accommodate the city’s Ontario Hockey League franchise, as well as three community rinks and a recreation center. The center will replace two aging arenas

Council made the decision in early October, after hearing from city staff and CUPE members about the pitfalls of P3s. A staff report to city council concluded that consolidating facilities in a new public centre would save operating costs – and might even generate revenue.

Council also weighed which proposal best met the community’s needs. The planned arena will be built in Windsor’s east end, where residents have been waiting for expanded recreation space. The racetrack’s proposal wouldn’t have added enough new ice space, and wasn’t as well-located.

Both the Windsor outside workers, members of CUPE 82, and the CUPE Windsor District Council made presentations to council. CUPE reminded councilors of the hidden costs that come with a P3, including administering and overseeing the contract. The P3 deal called for the city to waive $1.8 million a year in property taxes – another significant cost over the 40-year contract.

We were able to point to a very recent example in Kingston of why it works best to stay public,” says CUPE 82 member and district council president John Grima.

In September, the city of Kingston decided to build and operate its own recreation complex instead of a P3 centre. City staff found a publicly owned and operated facility would best meet the needs of local clubs and the community while keeping costs down. Public was also best for coordinating booking with other city facilities, being accountable and involving the city in decision-making.

The staff report rates the publicly owned and operated multiplex as equal to a private complex on ability to generate revenue and meet high maintenance standards. The private alternative rated higher only on marketing.

Safety was also a big issue for us,” adds Grima. “We’re trained professionals who have to go through police screening. There are kids playing in this facility. Will a private company have the same standards?” City arena workers are also trained in first aid, including defibrillator training.

CUPE highlighted other P3 problems, including the possibility the city would get stuck with a bill for deferred maintenance. “We’ve seen with other P3s that after the contract is up, there are huge maintenance bills because facilities have been left to crumble while the operator pockets the profit instead of reinvesting,” says Grima.

The racetrack P3 proposal also left the door open for the company to sell naming rights for the new complex. CUPE was able to point to a recent example from Toronto, where a private company made a tidy profit on a publicly-subsidized arena. The new soccer stadium being built by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is still under construction, but MLSE has already made $27 million by selling naming rights to the Bank of Montreal for the next decade.

The announcement came after MLSE convinced the federal government to pony up $27 million. The province put in another $8 million and the city of Toronto added $10 million and free land. MLSE’s own $18 million contribution to the scheme is covered by selling the naming rights, leaving the corporation $9 million ahead of the game before construction is even finished.

These examples add to evidence that publicly owned and operated recreation facilities work best for communities. Visit http://www.cupe.ca/updir/p3arenas.pdf for more CUPE research on P3 arenas.