The Markham arena project might have a new lease on life, as GTA Sports & Entertainment announced a new proposal that would shift the financial framework of the venture into the private sector. GTA Sports announced via press release that GTA Centre, LP would be responsible for funding all costs towards the construction of the GTA Centre above a maximum amount of $162.5 million, which the City of Markham would facilitate through private development contributions.
This new option is being supported by two investment banking firms, Jeffries LLC and Canaccord Genuity, who have recently joined the GTA Centre group. The group states that this new proposal would make the project 100 percent privately funded.
The GTA Centre was originally being proposed under a financial framework that would need Markham to borrow $325 million. While the deal was originally approved by an 11-2 City Council vote in April, Jack Heath, the deputy mayor of Markham, reportedly put forward a motion to kill the project in August.
Heath told The Hockey News that without an NHL franchise coming to Markham, the concept of an arena project was pointless, via City News Toronto:
"When you add it all up, a second franchise for the GTA is not a priority," Heath told the Hockey News. "I have no interest in duplicating Copps Coliseum."
Whether this new proposal will keep the arena project alive remains to be seen. However, it's obvious that all involved are interested in an NHL franchise playing in the building.
Questions about the league's future plans to expand its membership have been circulating for months. The NHL currently has 30 franchises, with an uneven number of teams in its two conferences. On a logistical level, it appears as though they're moving towards having 32 franchises sooner than later.
Many have viewed Markham as a prime spot for expansion/relocation because of the broad scope of hockey fans in Toronto. Reports circulated earlier this offseason that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has recommended that the league's 30 owners consider opening up an expansion franchise to the Seattle market. As of Monday, a report surfaced that the NHL is keenly interested in the result of two review boards scheduled for this week in connection with the development of an arena in Seattle.
Whether the league is interested in Markham as a future home of an NHL franchise remains to be seen. Of course, in order to play hockey, you need to buy pads and to have an NHL franchise, you need an arena. GTA Sports & Entertainment appears to be preparing themselves for that potential opportunity.
The league has previously denied all reports indicating that they are looking to expand at this time.