(This column, by Kingstonian Geoff Smith, was originally scheduled to run in the Kingston Whig-Standard on Monday September 19, 2005, but was pulled "for logistical reasons.")
The lines of battle and rules of engagement are pretty much in place for a key City Hall meeting Tuesday night. Mayor Harvey Rosen and Council supporters of the Large Venue Entertainment Centre will have the chance to further their argument on the advantages of the proposed Anglin Bay site.
Supporting arguments stress that an LVEC on Anglin Bay will energize the downtown core and produce significant economic renewal. Kingston, advocates contend, is a gorgeous waterfront city and the new addition will add to the sparkle. As the punch line in the film, Field of Dreams, put it, "If you build it, they will come."
Perhaps. For a growing number of Kingstonians, however, LVEC as projected presages not glory but an invitation to deeper malaise. The burgeoning opposition found voice last week at a City Hall gathering of more than 200 people. Howard Stone’s nascent Kingston Taxpayers’ Association served notice that Mayor Rosen and his associates have failed to keep the democratic faith.
Stone’s group, which may become the big story in Kingston’s next municipal elections, announced that it was mad as hell and not ready to take it any more. They made it clear that in its handling of questions relating to the LVEC, Rosen and his supporters have failed to respect the vox populi. They have held too many meetings in camera, and they have conducted city business as information sessions, defining politics as something other than gatherings where healthy debate might lead to consensus and informed choice.
Clearly, according to this group, the Mayor has not been hospitable to pointed questions and contrary views.
Dubious procedures at City Hall gird perceptions and rumours of possible conflicts of interest involving interlocking Rosen and Springer family holdings in areas near the proposed structure. Although we lack specific information on these interests, the crescendo of criticism of the Anglin Bay site leaves the impression that the Mayor must have something to gain. In the not-too-distant past, problematic conflicts of interest involving law, land, and dubious politics in Kingston Township made several groups very wealthy.
But however intriguing, purported conflicts of Rosen/Springer family interest do not provide sufficient grounds to oppose LVCEC as constituted. There are other reasons to oppose the site, and these should make us think againnot if we need a new centre, but where we should locate that building.
Anglin Bay is off beam for several reasons. For one thing, the Rosen administration has never made it clear whether public monies from Kingston will ultimately be required to keep the new building operating at the level it should - housing as we assume it will opera, symphony, theatre, the Tragically Hip, ice shows, and, of course, hockey at all levels. The new Guelph Arena left taxpayers holding a $3 million bag after a few years, and all who follow Toronto sports recognize the precipitous decline in value of Toronto’s Skydome. And several sports economists demonstrate that rather than godsends, new stadia usually become badspendscosting, not benefiting urban communities, and even further eviscerating the downtown course they were supposed to help.
The Rosen administration has handled the public/private dilemma by ignoring it - failing to consider in its campaign the lack of athletic facilities, for example, in Kingston’s north end. The mayor and council also have failed to satisfy critics who raise environmental and ecological concerns about the site.
Anglin Bay may look like moonlight bay on a good night, but this mirage hides the reality that this is not healthy ground. How could it be, contaminated by the industrial effluence of railroad works, a long-time tannery, and other toxic chemicals reputed to have sickened the nearby OHIP building? The sins of our fathers like under this land, and, of course, will underlie any structure erected above it. We are much concerned these days about this area as a threat to public health. LVEC may even make matters worse. One thinks as well of the federal authorities who ignored warnings about what could happen to New Orleans in case of a hurricane. Horrific images of the noxious aftermath of Katrina make clear what land maltreated may exact in return.
Finally, one confronts the green space and parking problems - both of pressing interest to the citizenry that lives in propinquity to the planned structure. On the first matter, an LVEC with sufficient parking allotted will cut into the green space south of the old woolen mill building, so important to the neighborhood. People meet, ponder the cosmos, and walk their dogs in this area, one of the few open spaces left to them.
And for the locals, the parking issue grates painfully. One resident pointed out that the recent Wellington sewer project brought 35 cars usually parked underground onto the street, a situation that generated much anguish. Think about 2000 cars jockeying for a spot, she ruminated.
Kingston badly needs an LVEC. If the proposal had been to build an architectural gem, say along the lines of handsome structures in Stratford, Sydney, or San Francisco; if those who govern us at City Hall had provided a better venue for vigorous debate; and if the site had been appropriate, then there would have been strong public support. But we have fallen short on all three counts - lacking especially a hardy debate and a proposal for something better than a shoebox horned into a site that is so wrong. It’s not too late to get out the drawing board again, both in terms of design and location, and on the matter of open and productive discussion on an issue of importance to all of us.
Last updated September 18 2005