Over the past couple of weeks Bruce Todd has been sending all members of Council including the Mayor plus the LVEC project manager Gedge and Whig reporters Balwin, Rasbach and Schliesmann a series of short e-mails concerning inconsistencies he has found in the Business Plan for the LVEC.
I read in the business plan that there will be 5000 seats. 200 of these are described as standing room. Since when is standing room considered as seats?
So actually we are down to 4800 seats now.
Item #2 -
We learned on Thursday, April 7, at the public meeting during the discussions of the business plan that the city will own and operate the 300-seat restaurant located in the LVEC building. This is necessary to raise monies to pay the debt.
How can the city get into the restaurant business in competition with private restaurants?
What happened to the idea of building an LVEC downtown to bring customers to bars and restaurants in the downtown?
Can the city legally get into the restaurant business? Or should it?
The city seems to want to get out of the arts business (Tett Centre) and the historic sites business (Marine Museum). I can understand why now!
Item #3 -
The proposed LVEC business plan will never be complete without full disclosure of all monies (proposed or actual) to be paid out to secure the site, erect and ready the building, prepare the road and sidewalk links associated with the site, and any other sundries.
No one is asking that the city detail exactly how much money will be paid to each of the owners of property on which the LVEC will be built, but the FULL cost of the LVEC must be stated to citizens of this community. Otherwise, councillors have an obligation to reject the LVEC on the basis that costs are secret and undisclosable.
Any councillor who supports an expenditure of a secret amount of money on any city project has no right to remain as a councillor of this city.
Item #4 -
I believe there should be a peer review of Don Gedge's business plan.
This makes a lot of sense given that the costs to the citizens of Kingston are closing in on 50 million dollars.
The city is asking for peer reviews of almost everything these days, including traffic impact studies done for a single apartment building.
I believe Mr Ron Bidulka did a peer review for the city regarding the Kingston 2000 endeavour on Block D. That project would have asked Kingston to pony up 70 million dollars. Mr Bidulka, if my memory serves me correctly, found huge flaws and risks associated with that project.
If this proposed LVEC is so wonderful for this city, then I believe an expenditure of 40 or 50 thousand dollars to "raise questions" is absolutely a necessity to bring this community together and support the building of an LVEC.
I ask that every councillor support this extra step to ensure that they truly represent the interests and concerns of their constituents.
Item #5 -
On page 15 of the Business Plan Draft, Mr Gedge states in the penultimate paragraph regarding the Memorial Centre -
"Notwithstanding the fact that there are no large parking lots nearby, and as a result, most cars are parked on residential streets, over the years there have been relatively few documented traffic and parking complaints."
Mr Gedge should have made a point of attending a hockey game at the M Centre to check out the parking, as I have done. There is a large parking lot at the west end of the building which can hold 150+ cars and is usually never full. There is a larger parking lot at the east end of the building which can hold 200+ cars and is usually never full. And there is parking on the old racetrack surface adjacent to the north side of the building, which can hold hundreds of cars. As well there is parallel and angle parking along the east and south peripheral fencing, and this area can accommodate about 100 cars.
Of the approximately 900 cars that arrive for a 2000-fan hockey game, only about 100 cars park on residential streets off M Centre property, and they do this within one block of the M Centre property. They choose to do this in order to avoid any lineups at all.
Item #7 -
At the public open house for the Business Plan on April 7, 2005, Mr Don Gedge made a point that he preferred dispersed parking to on-site parking, stating one of his reasons that, in his experience, for an on-site parking arrangement, it takes 20 to 30 minutes for cars to get out of the site.
What Mr Gedge didn't give you is any numbers on the average time it takes for motorists to clear on-site parking areas. For instance, the parking authority tells me that the Corel Centre in Ottawa clears events of 9 to 10 thousand people in about 25 minutes. That's more than twice the average number of people expected to attend an event in Kingston. And that is with one exit out of the parking lot.
What Mr Gedge doesn't seem to consider is whether the parking area, no matter where it is, is designed to handle the entry and exit of vehicles efficiently. If you try to force all vehicles through a single exit, then yes, that isn't very efficient.
That is why I have praised the M Centre site. Entrances and exits can be created on all four sides of the property, thereby allowing for the speedy exit of vehicles in less than half the time than for a single exit site. The amount of time it takes to exit a site is only as good as the design of the connecting service roadway(s), no matter where the parking area is created.
Does the supposedly objective Mr Gedge argue in a biased manner?
Item #8 -
Some of the Business Plan assumptions are, in my view, tremendously ambitious, even bordering on a miracle.
Take for instance the "required" average attendance figures at an OHL game, as expressed on page 39 of the Business Plan Draft. I say "required" because if these figures are not realized, then the revenues are not achieved, the bills are not paid, and the taxpayer is asked to make up the difference.
The business plan attendance requirements for 34 regular games average 4000. The present average attendance is about 2000. What happens if attendance figures, even through strong marketing strategies (which costs somebody money), are increased by only 50 percent to an average of 3000? I think everyone would applaud such a vast increase, but what is the bottom line? How much revenue loss does this translate into? And keep in mind that revenue loss could very well require taxpayer replenishing, or greater success in other areas.
Why haven't we been given any typical scenarios of what would happen if the predictions in the business plan fail? While we are all contemplating this question, I would suggest that an interesting piece of read is at -
Item #9 -
You may remember in the Task Force Report (TFR) that Recommendation #3 on page 9 called for 6000 to 6500 fixed seats with an extra 1000 seats on the floor, or a total of 7000 to 7500 seats for concerts and such.
Don Gedge's Business Plan (BP) calls for 5000 fixed seats and 6800 total seats for concerts.
You may say we don't need as much parking under Gedge's plan. Not so quick!
The TFR used 2.4 persons per vehicle, whereas the BP uses 1.8 persons per vehicle.
So, 6000 seats divided by 2.4 = 2500 cars to park for the TFR, whereas 5000 seats divided by 1.8 = 2778 cars to park for the BP.
Looking at the upper limits, 6500 seats plus 1000 seats divided by 2.4 = 3125 cars to park for the TFR, and 6800 seats divided by 1.8 = 3778 cars to park for the BP.
You say a percentage of people will walk or come by transit. True, but whatever percentage you assign applies to both the TFR and the BP, and so the BP requirements remain higher.
Item #10 -
At the public meeting for the Business Plan on April 8th, someone asked the question if the owners of the Kingston Frontenacs had been asked to put some money into the facility. Mr Gedge's answer was that the Frontenacs are already losing money every year and therefore the owners would not be asked to contribute.
Regarding the building of the Sarnia arena which opened in 1998, I find this statement on the Internet -
Sarnia entered into a partnership with the owners of the Sarnia Sting. The city's share was $6.9 million and the hockey club put $1.5 million into the facility.
Sarnia's arena was $15 million. If Sarnia could do it, why can't Kingston?
The LVEC could not possibly go ahead without the guarantee of an OHL franchise solidly attached to it for years. I am afraid the owners of the local OHL hockey club are in too good a position to literally hold this city ransom for a ridiculously great sweetheart deal.
The only way to somewhat alleviate this tenuous position is to have a good chunk of the owners' money tied up in the venue. Without that, the city is hanging by a thread on this project.
Item #11 -
On page 16 of the Business Plan we read -
"With the exception of a few BIA sponsored events in the summer, virtually all of the LVEC events will be during the fall and winter months. During these months, the downtown traffic is approximately one-third of the traffic in the summer months".
I woud like to make two points from these remarks.
First, note when "virtually all of the LVEC events" will be held - when the majority of the tourists aren't here! So much for the Gedge determination that tourists will make up ten percent of the attendance figures at the LVEC.
Second, I challenge Mr Gedge to produce any data which shows that traffic in the downtown in the fall and winter months is only one third that of summer months. The Kingston Engineering Department tells me today they have no figures - no figures - on seasonal traffic variations anywhere in the city, let alone the downtown. My observations of traffic counts in Kingston over the last few years suggest that major routes experience equal or higher traffic volumes in November and December than in July and August. Of the 35 traffic patterns studied in Ontario over the past many years, only the High Tourist pattern, found mainly in the far north of the province, would come even close to such a differential in traffic volumes.
Item #12 -
Mr Don Gedge states on page 23 of the Business Plan report -
"As an example, the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre, which opened in September of 1998, sold out for every Sarnia Sting game after it opened. This was an increase from about 2,000 per game in the old Sarnia Memorial Centre to about 4,200 per game".
That statement is true for its first year of operation, but attendance has been dropping off significantly.
Check out these links for attendance figures -
I talked to officials of the Sarnia Sting today. They tell me that the 2004-2005 attendance figures averaged about 3,600. The building has 4,300 seats, not the 4,000 you see being reported.
It bothers me when someone tells you only the rosiest side of a story.
Another thing that Sarnia has proven is that a city doesn't need a $40-$50 million facility to play OHL hockey in, or strengthen the attendance figures. Sarnia finished their facility in 1998 for $15 million.
It is nice to have a tenant waiting in the wings to use a new LVEC. But. if our LVEC is built - anywhere - with the absolute dependence on a successful OHL franchise, the project is built on sand.
Item #13 -
Let's look at the subject of naming rights and the infusion of related cash necessary for the LVEC.
Here is a link to a story about Guelph's arena which was finished in the year 2000 -
and here is an excerpt from that story, dated April 1, 2004, about 4 years later -
The first negative headlines came in mid-2001, when it became clear Guelph Centre Partners could not make payments on a $9-million construction loan.
The company blamed disappointing sales of box seats, hockey tickets and food, as well as failure to sell the sports centre's naming rights (which still hasn't happened).
The point I am trying to make is that I see no safety cushion built into Mr Gedge's Business Plan. Everything must work perfectly, or the taxpayer has to start making up the difference.
If the LVEC can't make it without selling naming rights or having an OHL franchise, well then, maybe the LVEC is being built on quicksand.
Item #14 -
I refer to page 32 of the Business Plan which talks about capital construction costs for the LVEC.
It says "detailed costs were obtained from the London and Oshawa projects". The Oshawa facility has yet to be built. The citizens of Kingston know little or nothing about the Oshawa project, or how much it might compare in scope and detail to our proposed LVEC. For instance the Oshawa project has 1980 parking spaces in lots and garages within a five minute walk of the proposed site, which represents the entire number of public parking spaces (1995) in lots and garages in downtown Kingston. Oshawa has a further 2311 parking spaces in lots and garages within a further five minute walk. There are four large parking lots within two blocks of Oshawa's proposed site. On parking alone, you cannot compare Oshawa's endeavour to Kingston's.
The Oshawa project has not gone through the rigours of building yet. So our LVEC proposal is based on another city's proposal, not proved in reality in any way.
Furthermore, on page 32, it goes on to say "cost information was supplemented by specific Inner Harbour site studies ...". None of these site studies or Geotechnical testing studies have been revealed to the public. Theses studies have not gone through any public scrutiny or understanding.
How can the public accept a business plan based on a non understood untested outside proposal and a series of secret unrevealed studies?
Item #15 -
I thank all of you for taking the time to look at the points that have concerned me. Given that the Traffic and Parking Study preliminary results are out, I must now direct my attention to that study.
I would like to end this series with the following thought.
Of the 97 events proposed for Kingston each year, did you notice that only 10 of these events would attract over 4000 patrons? And did you notice that 42 of the remaining events "suggest" a possible attaction of more than 3000 patrons (which happens to be the present capacity of the Memorial Centre)?
The 2003-2004 average attendance figures reported in the just-now released Traffic and Parking Study for the Fronrtenacs is just over 1500 patrons.
Does it bother you about the claims that we can nearly triple the attendance at a new venue? In terms of a sustained audience, don't you feel that is a bit of a stretch? I would dearly love these predictions to come about, but ...
The reality is, this town has never had a championship team in the last 55 years. The reality is, I can't imagine this town drawing more than 3000 to 3300 attendants to an event for most things we can bring to the town. Do we want to spend $40-$50 million in a facility that can give us ten events per year we don't already have? Can we afford all the risks associated with such a venture?
My intentions have never been to quash a possibly good venture. But we need to have questions answered. We need to go into this with eyes wide open. We need to understand our risks. We need to get the blessing of a majority of our citizens that our councillors have heard all sides of the arguments in a clear and quantitative fashion, and that they have done everything to ensure our venture is reasonable.
But above all, our representation, our councillors, have a personal obligation to ensure that the facts put before them are true and accurate to the best of anyone's ability.
I now turn my attention to the Traffic and Parking Study. You will all get a full report of my Monday night presentation in your emails and inboxes at City Hall. Simply because your work involves intense reading and analyzing, I will help you dig out the stuff that you weren't told.
In the words of Peter Newman, thanks for listening.
Last updated 05.05.2005