Quebec Premier Jean Charest, right, comments a study on the building of a new sports arena as Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, centre, and Claude Rousseau look on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
QUEBEC - The federal government is being asked to pay 45 per cent of the price tag for a new arena—about $180 million—that could bring the National Hockey League back to Quebec City.
The pressure intensified on Ottawa after the provincial government announced its own pledge Tuesday to fund 45 per cent of the project.
With the municipality promising to fund the rest, Tuesday's development places the federal government in a position to make or break the plan to build a new multi-purpose arena.
Premier Jean Charest's pledge came after the release of a report that says a new arena could be economically viable—even if the city doesn't get the Olympics or a hockey team.
"It's not normal that (Quebec City) wouldn't have a multi-purpose amphitheatre, regardless of the (NHL) scenario," Charest told a news conference.
"That's our opinion."
Both Charest and Mayor Regis Labeaume said the next priority is getting the feds on board.
"We understand that there will be questions at the federal level, but we don't think we can ignore this. It's a great project for the 'capitale nationale' region," Charest said.
But one economist says the arena project is a risky venture, particularly if the arena doesn't have a full-time, major-league tenant.
Michel Poitevin, an economist at Universite de Montreal, says he's skeptical the project will work if the NHL doesn't return to Quebec City.
According to a study conducted by Ernst&Young, a new arena would bring in $8.4 million a year with an NHL tenant at $7.8 million without a professional club.
But Claude Rousseau, president of Equipe Quebec, which is behind the city's Olympic bid, says the cost of financing and maintaining an arena would be between $36 million and $41 million annually, rendering it unprofitable for a private business.
Over the longer term, Rousseau said, the project would generate $500-$600 million over 40 years and governments would reap the benefits.
Last month, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to commit personally to helping Quebec City build a new hockey arena.
The NHL says it would only consider the return of a team to Quebec City—the Nordiques left for Colorado in 1995—if the city gets a modern arena.
The mayor said he intended to phone NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss Tuesday's news.
"The moment I can tell him we're half-way there, that could perhaps trigger discussions with the appropriate people," Labeaume said.
"(Bettman) understands Quebec and Canadian politics quite well. He's quite surprising."
Labeaume added that his next call would be to Montreal, where Quebecor owner Pierre-Karl Peladeau has expressed interest in bringing a team to the provincial capital.