Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Confederacy of dunces

Glendale plain stupid to sink more $$$ into Coyotes

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Here's a dilemma you don't have every night: Should I watch Game 6 of the blood-and-guts series between the Canucks and Blackhawks... or a city council meeting in a Phoenix suburb where, among other matters of business, was a resolution on a liquor licence for the Desert Mirage Golf Course?

Hmmm. Tough call.

Settled for the game, and good thing, too.

Because I probably would have done a spit take when Glendale councilman Phil Lieberman -- who had vowed to vote against propping up the hemorrhaging Phoenix Coyotes with up to $25 million in tax aid -- announced that he'd had a change of heart after an encounter with a seven-year-old boy named Logan Wade. We're not making this up. According to the Arizona Republic, Lieberman said young Wade, a Coyotes fan, asked him, "Will you vote for this resolution tonight?"

Suddenly, Lieberman, who had spent the previous few days railing against paying the NHL's ransom, was won over.

"I can't turn him down," he said.

So it was that seven Glendale councillors voted unanimously Tuesday night to agree to fork over up to $25 million to the NHL as "bridge financing" for next season -- unless the league can unload the Coyotes first, of course.

Man, how's that for the power of persuasion? Is this kid's allowance, like, $500 a week? Or maybe it's the same kid who convinced Glendale councillors to build the Coyotes a new $180-million hockey rink in the first place. No, can't be. Logan would have just been a newborn in 2003, when Jobing.com Arena opened.

But we digress. Lieberman was probably just being theatrical. You know, mugging it up for Channel 5 KPHO News -- "Telling It Like It Is." Or maybe old Phil is clinically insane.

Regardless, Lieberman's acquiescence is just another reminder of how screwed the fine residents of Glendale are when it comes to the NHL and how financially fatal was their decision to erect a city-funded arena in the desert. How did that meeting go, by the way?

Mayor: OK, everybody, listen up. All in favour of issuing a liquor licence to the Bangkok Thai Bar B Q restaurant?

Council: Nay!!

Mayor: Next, all in favour of spending $180 million on a hockey rink for that team in Phoenix that has already lost tens of millions of dollars?

Council: Aye!!

Because it was that motion that doomed Glendale; that fateful decision that made them beholden to the NHL. So you have to ask, 'Where does it stop?' Because if council feels obligated to risk another $25 million -- and the team will lose more than $25 million next year -- due to the aforementioned $180-million investment, what happens the next time either the league or (potential) new owner comes hat in hand? After all, it's not like anyone's going to wave a magic wand and, poof, the Coyotes, who've never made a dime in their 14-year existence, will suddenly become profitable.

On the contrary, the Coyotes will lose at least $20 million a season no matter who owns the team. So if you think Glendale is over a proverbial barrel now, they'll only be more invested if Tuesday night's motion comes to pass.

Can the Coyotes survive long term? To answer that question, ask another: If the city of Glendale could go back in time, would they agree to build that arena all over again? Or would they run from the NHL screaming as if it were on fire?

But there are still other pressing questions to be answered: Can Ice Edge get the proper financing to buy the Coyotes and absorb the team's future losses? Will Jerry Reinsdorf, the other potential buyer, accept any deal that doesn't involve the city forking over the $165 million he demanded in his original lease proposal?

And can the city actually raise the $25-million guarantee through a commercial facilities district, a tax mechanism that Glendale officials repeatedly insist is "voluntary"?

Boy, what a train wreck. But then we've been there haven't we? I remember seven-year-olds handing over their piggy banks to keep the NHL in Winnipeg. Seen tens of thousands flood into the streets for Save the Jets rallies. So Mr. Lieberman's curious logic aside, let's not be too smug. However, it's one thing to be emotionally invested. What's happening now in Glendale is another more desperate matter entirely. It's a community held financial hostage by their own hand.

Beware: If you build it, they won't always come.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2010 C2

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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