Published in The Montreal Gazette, September 28, 2012
By Pat Hickey, The Gazette
MONTREAL — N.D.G. native Graeme Roustan was back in the old neighbourhood this week to oversee the start of construction on an outdoor rink in Confederation Park, the latest addition to the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation’s community rinks program.
“That was my park when I was growing up,” said Roustan, who runs a variety of businesses from his base in South Florida.
Roustan is proud of his involvement with the community rinks program, which was recently adopted by the Ottawa Senators. But most of his time and energy these days is focused on a larger project, a $325-million arena in the rapidly growing Toronto suburb of Markham.
The arena is one of the centrepieces of Downtown Markham, a $4-billion project that will see prominent developer Rudy Bratty transform 243 acres of former farmland into a community encompassing residential, retail, office and entertainment space.
The arena received the go-ahead from Markham city officials this summer, which heightened speculation Roustan was angling for a National Hockey League franchise. But Roustan said the arena isn’t counting on a professional sports franchise.
“We went into this project on the premise that we wouldn’t have an NHL team,” said Roustan, who will join with Bratty to put up $162.5 million to build the arena. The remaining $162.5 million will be financed by the city, which will recoup its investment through a leaseback agreement, ticket taxes and parking fees.
“When we did the feasibility studies, our business plan worked on a model with a minimum of 131 dates a year,” Roustan said. “The Greater Toronto Area has 6-7 million people and it’s growing by 150,000 people a year. It’s the only city of that size in North America that has only one arena.”
Roustan said the new venue will complement, rather than compete with, the Air Canada Centre.
“We talked to some performers who would like to do four or five nights in Toronto, but the ACC can only accommodate one or two,” Roustan said. “And then you have Cirque du Soleil. They have to set up a tent on the waterfront because they can’t get three months at the ACC. That’s something we could handle.
“Some cities need a pro sports team to make an arena work,” Roustan added. “The new arena in Quebec City doesn’t make sense without an NHL team, but we don’t need one to show a profit.”
That having been said, Roustan describes himself as a “hockey guy.” He bought Bauer Sports a few years back and took the company public last year. He’ll step down from the board next month to concentrate on the Markham bid, but will continue to be the company’s largest single shareholder.
Roustan has been involved in two unsuccessful bids to buy an NHL team. He was outbid by Jeff Vinik for the Tampa Bay Lightning and was an also-ran when Geoff Molson and friends bought the Canadiens from George Gillett. And the NHL asked him to look at the Atlanta Thrashers before they moved to Winnipeg.
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