Construction association told to speak out in favour of new arena
The committee that drafted a plan for a new downtown arena and performing arts centre finally found a receptive audience last night.
Speaking to the spring meeting of the Kingston Construction Association, whose members would benefit if the proposed $28.5- million development on the waterfront is built, task force member Ken Wong chose to focus on how the proposed Large Venue Entertainment Centre (LVEC) would benefit the city, particularly on a downtown site.
"For too long, we've been the city that should be great, but isn't for some reason," he said.
Wong stressed several times that the task force wants to see an architecturally distinguished, well-finished building that would attract events and not become simply a hockey barn.
In contrast to the stormy public meetings on the proposed project, last night's dinner meeting at the Ambassador hotel was clear sailing for the three task force members who attended.
In his most impassioned presentation so far, Wong said that the "abuse" the task force has taken from members of the public and the controversy around issues of traffic, parking and cost was expected.
"If I was surprised [about it] I'd have to be either incredibly naive or incredibly arrogant," he said.
"The whole notion of an LVEC isn't just a question of facts, it's a question of judgments and opinions required to evaluate the facts."
He said people who live near the proposed site of the complex and dismiss it because of the traffic or parking problems have already made up their minds about the project.
While there are problems with the Inner Harbour site, Wong said they were manageable and said nothing at this point is cast in stone.
He dismissed fears that the building would eliminate Douglas Fluhrer Park, saying the LVEC's footprint wouldn't impinge on the park or the waterfront path.
The economic benefit to the city is also proving a contentious issue, with some saying people aren't going shopping if they're on their way to a Kingston Frontenacs hockey game. Wong asserted the LVEC would bring new business downtown, but only if the merchants played a role.
"If there's an event at the LVEC between 7 and 9 [p.m.], but the retail stores choose not to be open past 6, guess what? There's no economic development."
He made his most personal plea so far, saying he travels to sporting events in which his children compete and said he wished he didn't have to.
"I'm really tired of shelling out $300-$400 in a weekend in another town. I'd like them to stay here.
"An LVEC is not just a means of generating new economic activity, it's about keeping the dollars we have here."
He urged the people in the room who support the project to add their voices to the public debate. The next public meeting on the LVEC is tonight at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour from 7 to 9 p.m.
"The naysayers will be there," Wong told the crowd.
"They always are."
Martin Skolnick, another task force member, joked that the intensity of the debate wasn't likely to cool down if city council decides to continue with the project in early June.
"If you think the location is a hotly debated issue, wait until we get to the design phase," he said.
Photo: Michael Lea, The Whig-Standard / Arena task force member Ken Wong discusses the proposed site of the new venue at a dinner meeting of the Kingston Construction Association last night