Monday, May 16, 2005

London: Making crappy investments with your money for 150 years

Wonderland Gardens is back in the news and taxpayers across the country might soon be paying even more to subsidize London's already over-saturated entertainment market.

Some background, from an article from last year:

A lease dispute prompted former operator Chuck Jones to give up a business his family had created and built up for almost 70 years.

The city, which always owned the property, this year gained ownership of the buildings.

Jones was at first hoping to extend his family's contract, but said city waffling and demands made it impossible to continue operating.

Councillors were under the impression he retired without any problems and approved the deal without talking to Jones.

Instead of getting about $60,000 a year in taxes and rent from Jones, the city now has to spend money to fix the place.
That's how they do business here in London.
All options for the city owned site, formerly a privately owned entertainment centre, remain on the table, said Tom Johnson, city director of management support, audit and risk.

The 70-year-old site has been vacant since 2003, when the private operation closed.

Johnson said an earlier city staff report that recommended demolishing the Wonderland Gardens ballroom to restore an open-air bandshell has been suspended. "We're reconsidering all our options."

A call last year for expressions of interest in the property drew minimal response. Two proposals that were made public included:

- One by Rana Entertainment, to renovate the ballroom and outdoor pavilion for a wide range of events.

- Another by Dale Henderson, president of D.G. Henderson and Associates Ltd., to tap into the natural sulphur springs below Springbank Park.

Henderson said last week his proposal has changed since last year when he called on the city to invest the nearly $1 million it had earmarked for partial demolition of the site into restoring the ballroom and restaurant and adding a mineral springs spa and health clinic.

The new proposal, he said, will require no city funds.

"We're suggesting the city will not have to spend anything," he said, adding he's optimistic his proposal will include a hotel that would make Wonderland Gardens a tourism destination.

[. . ] Henderson said he has applied for government grants to help secure the project.
Hockey fans need not feel left out either. The city is gearing up for the Memorial Cup bash:
"The community is just in a frenzy about it. It's fantastic," Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said yesterday.

"I expect the community will come out in droves all through the tournament,"

London is gearing up like it never has for a rip-roaring, bash to celebrate Canada's national game with the championship tournament for Canadian junior hockey.

[. .] Finishing touches are being laid, including a 17-tent city, chock full of entertainment, springing up near the John Labatt Centre.

The party will close down Talbot Street starting Wednesday and a portion of King Street will close on game days.

[. .] Artists yesterday were working on murals, part of Mainstreet London's project to beautify the city's core.

Downtown storefronts are sprouting Knights boosterism.
I suspect we won't be seeing many of the usual downtrodden citizens who make up a large portion of the downtown landscape on an average day.

I was also outraged to read there is talk of bidding for the world junior hockey championship, yet again. The city designates money for essentials like roads and sewers from funding not yet secured, but Anne-Marie and the gang don't miss a step on the way to your wallet. You may be buying a seat, even if you don't care to attend.
London may be dusting off it's proposal to host the world junior hockey championship, but London mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said the taxpayers can't be expected to be on the hook for the multi-million dollar profit guarantee.

The International Ice Hockey Federation said on the weekend Canada has been awarded the 2009 and 2012 tournaments.

London failed to land the 2006 championship, which went to Vancouver, Kelowna and Kamloops. Canada's games, all at the 20,000-seat GM Place in Vancouver, are already sold out.

[. . ] "Twenty thousand is a lot of seats and our discussion has to be around how high the financial guarantee will be," DeCicco said yesterday.

The John Labatt Centre can hold 9,090 for hockey.

"If you have a smaller facility the guarantee has to come from a different source."

"At a certain point, you can't just count on the taxpayer to put that guarantee in place," DeCicco said.
A likely source would be the provincial and federal goverments no doubt. Big cities have an unfair advantage you know, as they have access to a bigger pot of money and so are able to build bigger JLCs. Clearly that's just not fair. All communities, no matter how small, should have the same-sized arena so they can compete.
DeCicco learned of Canada's opportunity to host the two world juniors at the Knights-Ottawa 67's playoff game Saturday night.

"(OHL commissioner) David Branch handed me his Blackberry in the middle of the game to show me the announcement. I said to him, 'Does that mean we should be dusting off our proposal?'

"I think it's a little premature in terms of knowing if we would be part of it. It's good for Canada that it's coming back, but Vancouver is setting a very high standard in terms of attendance and I don't know if the financial part will make it difficult for communities without a larger arena to compete in the future."

[. . ] "I'm sure we will look at the bid guidelines to see if we will go forward," DeCicco said.
Which means, we'll be paying for Anne-Marie to fly all over the country to wine and dine with high ranking jocks and we'll be on the hook for a profit guarantee besides if she wears the right red dress. If Gordie MacKenzie, chairperson of London's 2006 world junior hockey championship bid committee, is successful in his bid to become mayor, we can look forward to more bread and circuses.

Bid bon voyage to your income, as it travels from coast to coast but somehow never returns to your wallet.