Laval to build Place Bell amphitheatre by 2014
Just when some people think they have him cornered, Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt pulls the proverbial rabbit from his magic hat and once again extends his political longevity.
It was only a few weeks ago that the two unofficial opposition parties that go to Laval City Hall the first Monday each month thought they smelled blood – and not for the first time.
Tories back out
That situation came about after it was revealed that the Conservative government in Ottawa was no longer as enthusiastic as it had previously been for the $96 million ($120 million now) sports and cultural events complex Laval announced three years ago. For largely bureaucratic reasons, Ottawa attached additional red tape to at least $15.9 million it had previously agreed to provide for the project.
In 2009, Vaillancourt had announced plans for the facility, slated for a large vacant lot on the south side of Saint-Martin Blvd., near the provincial courthouse, and across from the Centropolis. Although the City of Laval said at the time that construction was supposed to have been completed by this year, almost nothing further was said by anyone, until the critics seized their opportunity a few weeks ago.
That was then, as they say. On Feb. 13, after teasing the media about an important coming announcement, Vaillancourt finally pulled the wraps off his dream project – the Multipurpose Amphitheatre Complex – to be completed by 2014. It will be managed mainly for the next 20 years by entertainment promoter/producer Evenko. Since the naming rights have been awarded to Bell (for which Montreal’s Evenko-managed Bell Centre is named, as well as the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard), the Laval Amphitheatre Complex will be known as Place Bell.
The specs for Place Bell call for a 10,000-seat main arena to be used for Quebec-based, Canadian and international entertainment events, as well as for a wide variety of family, theatre and sporting engagements. A “community” section at Place Bell will have two ice rinks (one Olympic-sized with seating for 2,500 spectators, and another standard-sized rink with 500 seats). Both rinks will be available to local ice sports associations as well as residents.
Since it’s now confirmed Ottawa is no longer in the picture, Vaillancourt has decided that Laval itself will be taking up the slack. But that’s not all. There’ll be no long-term debt associated with this project, he said most assuredly while making the announcement. And, he added, since the bill will be paid with an accumulated reserve of cash set aside for just such a purpose, additional taxes won’t be necessary.
During a press conference following the announcement, the mayor gave a breakdown of the costs: Quebec provides $46 million, $32 million comes from an unspecified investment “partner,” and there’s now a nearly $16 million gap left by Ottawa’s withdrawal. While referring to the reserves Laval has at its disposal, Vaillancourt provided no specifics. But if you do the math, he told one journalist, (while not actually stating the result of the equation), the tab Laval is left with amounts to $42 million.
A coup for the NDP
Given that Laval’s four federal ridings are all held by the NDP, the Conservative government’s failure to make good on its pledge is being used to its full advantage by the local NDP MPs. “Just a few days before today’s announcement, the federal government went back on its word,” François Pilon (Laval-les-Îles), Alain Giguère (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin), José Nunez-Melo (Laval) and Rosane Doré Lefebvre (Alfred-Pellan) said in a statement issued on Feb. 13. Nunez-Melo added that the Conservatives “invent reasons to go back on their promises.”
From the outset of the announcement, Parti au Service du Citoyen leader Robert Bordeleau expressed concern about the much larger amount Laval property owners now have to pay. “How many dollars is in that reserve?” he said, while noting that the PSC still believes that Laval needs a sports and entertainment complex similar to the one proposed, but with four ice rinks. “Laval is just reaching 400,000 people,” he continued. “If we want to look forward a bit, we have to think about a fourth ice rink in the middle of Laval.”