There has been some talk, in the course of the agonizing public debate on a Large Venue Entertainment Centre, about vision. Where would Kingston be, some ask, if in the 1840s the city had decided against building City Hall? Wouldn't future generations of Kingstonians have accused the Kingstonians of those days of a lack of vision? And if we don't build the LVEC, won't the same thing happen to us?
The difference is, surely, that City Hall was planned on a grand scale when Kingston hoped to be confirmed as Canada's capital city. If there was any suggestion today that our proposed Large Venue Entertainment Centre was envisaged on similarly grand lines, I believe there would be far less anguish over whether we should build it, and if so, where.
A truly grand building would make sense of any site. St. Mary's Cathedral was built a long way from what was then downtown. The Frontenac County Court House was built fronting on City Park. If either project were proposed today, think about what shrill protests would be raised over accessibility and parking problems, let alone the cost.
I believe that opponents of the Anglin Bay site for an LVEC would feel less badly about losing parkland and working waterfront if we had been presented with drawings of a grand building that future Kingstonians would be proud of. Instead, all we've seen is a photographic simulation of something like a vast zeppelin hangar from the First World War, but with a glass front. It hasn't been made clear whether this represents an architect's vision, or even if an architect has been appointed.
One thing we can be sure of is that to placate those who fear enormous increases in our taxes, our poor LVEC will be built as cheaply as possible, and will look like it. That was not a consideration when Kingston built City Hall.
In the circumstances, the alternative North Block site seems vastly preferable to Anglin Bay, where the ugly LVEC would have dominated the waterfront and the neighbourhood. On the North Block there is none of either, just a parking lot.
Let's hope that Mayor Harvey Rosen, who was frustrated during a September city council meeting when councillors, bowing to majority public opinion, nixed the Anglin Bay site, now devotes his formidable energies to getting the North Block site approved. But building something our successors may thank us for is probably too much to ask.
Tony Houghton has lived in Britain, France, Switzerland, the United States and the Bahamas, but prefers Kingston. He is a member of The Whig-Standard's Community Editorial Board.