A new NHL team in the Toronto area? Arena plan goes forward in Markham

Hockey fans can continue speculating about the potential for a second NHL team in the Toronto area after Markham city council approved a funding plan for a new arena that will be large enough to house an NHL franchise.

After a marathon session lasting seven hours, councillors in the city just north of Toronto voted 7-6 against a motion that would have cancelled a funding plan that included money from both the city and private developers.

During debate, which spilled over from Tuesday morning to early Wednesday, more than 60 concerned citizens spoke, many of them expressing concern that Markham taxpayers could be on the hook for millions if the city fails to attract an NHL team after it builds the arena.

Under the current agreement, Markham will borrow $325 million to foot the bill for the 20,000-seat arena and a development company will pay back half of that money over 20 years. The city plans to pay for the rest of the project through development fees, ticket surcharges and, potentially, property tax increases.

But even a shiny new arena large enough to house a team doesn’t guarantee the city will get a franchise. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t promise anything during a meeting with Markham city officials in October 2012. (Just ask Jim Balsillie about that.)

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