|Should the arena go ahead?
NO: Process was flawed, so think when you vote
Opinion Columns - Thursday, October 26, 2006 @ 09:00
The results of the upcoming municipal election may well be determined by the
process that created the Large Venue Entertainment Centre project in our
downtown core. Perhaps that is justified.
Having been in the traffic engineering field for more than 40 years, I have
always tried to apply practical principles borne out by thousands of hours
of studies of what people want and what people will do. In the case of our
about-to-be-built downtown arena, my major concern has always been the
sustainability of such a large venue when it forces people to do what they
do not want to do: Walk for half a mile to a mile in cold, blustery weather
to participate in, and therefore support, a new entertainment centre in
Our Kingston Regional Sports and Entertainment Centre, as it is now dubbed,
must be supported by a majority of the residents of Kingston; it will cost
us a bundle of money in taxation if it is not supported sufficiently by
people attending events. Can anyone argue with that?
What galls me is the many facts Kingston residents have not been informed
about. Allow me to elaborate.
What was the democratic process in selecting the original Anglin Bay site
for the entertainment centre? While a committee can be an admirable working
body, it is not necessarily representative of a majority of voters and
The mayor's task force was unwavering in its opinion on where the arena
should be located, and maybe that was its downfall.
The current mayor, Harvey Rosen, has always defended the task force's
report. Please ask yourself how democracy has been illustrated in this
event. Where was the mayor's "open mind"? Where were the choices in the task
force's report? Isn't life about selecting between choices?
When it came to examining the Anglin Bay site as a feasible location for an
arena, the district councillor, Rick Downes, called a meeting of his
constituents. They showed up in droves, as did people from many other
districts. Downes allowed everyone to speak, sometimes at great length. The
speakers overwhelmingly opposed the Anglin Bay site. I witnessed a
tremendous democratic process at work.
The traffic study for the Anglin Bay site was a disaster. You may review the
details if you go to the Kingston Concerned About the LVEC website at
kcal.ca. I pointed out 14 major flaws and concerns that the consultant has,
to this day, not rebutted. Why didn't he? Because there was never a desire
to tell the people of Kingston the truth about the impact of an
entertainment centre on Anglin Bay.
When, because of the concerns about the Anglin Bay site, the mayor realized
he could be losing his chance to build an arena in the downtown area, the
North Block was offered as a carrot and a second choice. Those who may
suggest that putting forward the North Block location was the result of
listening to people don't have a concept about what democracy really is.
As if lightning could not strike twice, the residents of Kingston were again
presented with a traffic study of the North Block site that was so full of
holes and lacking reality as to be shameful. For instance, the consultants
tell us that people will walk from the entertainment centre at King Street
along Place D'Armes west to the Wellington Street traffic signals, then will
cross Place D'Armes, then will walk back down Place D'Armes to King Street,
then will walk north to the parking lots of the OHIP building and Anglin
Bay. I kid you not - that is the consultants' position. Reality is obviously
not an option, because the mayor's ultimate plan must be realized.
What is my take on all of this? I think consultants are too afraid to "lay
it out" as it really is for fear of losing future contracts with cities. But
my hope is that if you have an honest, caring leader in your community, you
stand a chance of having your civil rights and your tax dollars protected.
Mayoralty candidate Rick Downes has certainly demonstrated that his opinion
is irrelevant; his constituents' opinions are what matter. And to me, that
is the essence of democracy.
In fairness, Councillor Kevin George, another mayoralty candidate, is a
great person. He has always returned my phone calls even though I do not
live in his district, and we have talked at length. George seems to be
passionate about handling city issues fairly. I have, however, been somewhat
baffled by his voting record on the entertainment centre.
If the people of Kingston want to ride a railroad to Kingston's future place
in the world while never deviating from one man's way of thinking, and if
they want to be cut off from addressing city council directly, then they
should vote for the re-election of Harvey Rosen as mayor. If people want
someone who will listen to their objections and concerns, then think of
Kevin George or Rick Downes. If people want to ensure that things will be
hammered out at public meetings and that their voice will always be heard
and taken to heart, then Rick Downes seems to be the obvious choice for
mayor. Bruce Todd is a retired traffic operations and planning analyst who
served 32 years with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications in
the Kingston area, and is a founding member of KCAL (Kingston Concerned
about the LVEC).
|Should the arena go ahead?
YES: Majority on council opted for progress
Opinion Columns - Thursday, October 26, 2006 @ 09:00
With the 9-5 city council vote to approve the downtown sports and
entertainment centre and the official sod-turning ceremony, I thought
Kingston had turned the corner and that we would spend the next year proudly
watching the centre rise in our midst. Alas, there are those who just won't
take yes for an answer, people who are determined to turn back the clock on
the centre and on our future prosperity as a city.
"It's too expensive." "It's only for hockey." "It shouldn't be downtown."
"No one will go." "It will increase taxes." "There's nowhere to park."
Sound familiar? These were all comments made by London residents in response
to the building of that city's sports and entertainment centre, The John
Labatt Centre, in 2001. All have proven to be false.
According to the "Official State of the Downtown Annual Report - London,"
that city's sports and entertainment centre has been a resounding success in
every dimension. Attendance at events last year was a staggering 800,000.
London Knights hockey games have averaged more than 9,000 in attendance per
game, as compared to 3,000 in the old arena.
More than $250 million (a quarter of a billion dollars) has been invested in
the area in new construction. Seventy-four new retail outlets and businesses
have opened, and 1,100 new residential units housing 2,000 new downtown
residents have been built. (From 1993 to 1997, only 16 new residential units
were built in London's downtown).
Ground has just been broken for a $100-million apartment/hotel and retail
complex adjacent to the Labatt Centre. Downtown construction values have
increased fivefold from what they were in the years prior to the building of
the Labatt Centre, and private sector construction investment outpaced
public sector spending by 37 to 1.
Since 2001, when the Labatt Centre was built, value assessments on
downtown properties have increased by more than $50 million.
That means significant tax dollars flowing to the city to apply to
infrastructure and social programs. Facade improvements in the downtown core
have doubled to more than $195,000 per year, "a significant sign of
confidence from the private sector," and building permits in the downtown
core have averaged (pre- and post-Labatt Centre) 400-per-cent increases for
comparable five-year periods. As well, 357,000 square feet of new office
space has been built in the area. "The new Covent Garden Market and the John
Labatt Centre have acted as a catalyst for private sector development."
As the London example so graphically illustrates, the existence of a major
entertainment and sports centre in a downtown has significant economic
benefits to a community, as will be the case in Kingston. For instance, one
hotel built in the core will contribute $600,000 in new taxes. The
equivalent of 300 homes and two such hotels are being planned for our
downtown. Far from being a drain on Kingston taxpayers, the sports and
entertainment centre is one of the first steps to reducing taxes by
increasing the number of new commercial enterprises downtown. It is an
economic engine for the growth and economic prosperity of the entire city.
Our new centre will be much more than a hockey rink. The lineup of stars who
have played London in the last couple of years includes Sheryl Crow, Nine
Inch Nails, Brad Paisley, Aerosmith, Great Big Sea, Willie Nelson, Melissa
O'Neil, Our Lady Peace, The Black Crowes, Simple Plan, Bryan Adams, Anne
Murray, Hillary Duff, Robert Plant, George Jones, Pearl Jam, Tom Jones,
Shania Twain and David Bowie. Plus, London hosted the Canadian Hockey
League's Memorial Cup tournament (which contributed $15 million to the local
economy), Disney on Ice, the National Arena Cross series, the Scott
Tournament of Hearts, Monster Jam, Broadway productions such as Grease and
Fame, the Harlem Globetrotters, Dora the Explorer and many more events -
something for everyone. And the new Kingston centre will be the only such
venue in all of eastern Ontario outside of Ottawa. As such, it will draw
from a region of approximately one million people.
There are still people who believe that the centre should not be built
downtown, but virtually every city in North America that has studied such
venues comes to the same conclusion: Downtown locations are necessary to
maximize attendance and revenues. As well, a downtown location assures that
the core of the city remains vibrant and attracts new residents and new
investment. And, of course, a vibrant downtown is essential for the
prosperity of the entire city. Construction of the centre is not directly
being paid for by property taxes. Some $23.3 million will be carried by cash
flow from the centre, $3 million is coming from the Downtown Kingston BIA,
$3 million is from development charges, $4 million is from the provincial
government, $2 million will come from fundraising and $3.45 million will
come from the city's capital reserve fund. The capital reserve fund was
established to fund projects such as the entertainment centre, as well as
projects like the multiplex and the Market Square revitalization. In fact,
the only current capital project directly funded from taxes is the new
police headquarters on Division Street.
As well, it is anticipated that the centre will have an annual $15- to
$20-million impact on the economy of the city.
Kingston is on the move. After years of not attracting business, Mayor
Harvey Rosen and the majority of council have given us progress and
momentum. This, after years of procrastination and neglect. Thirty years of
discussion on Block D was too long; 19 years of discussion on Market Square
was too long; our infrastructures were crumbling, our roads were in need of
repair. We now have the Ravensview sewage plant project coming on stream.
John Counter Boulevard is being widened, and we have the Wellington Street
extension and the Centennial Drive extension.
Is there more to be done with infrastructure? Yes, and the capital projects
now in progress will attract new investment, new residents and new jobs, all
of which will contribute new tax revenues to help pay for infrastructure and
social services. It is essential that Kingston keep the momentum; that we
continue to attract and retain new commercial enterprises and a skilled and
Kingston is known for its historic past, but it must also be known for its
bright future. We cannot afford to return to a do-nothing municipal
government and endless, fruitless discussions. We should be, and can be, the
envy of every other city in Canada. We need to keep the momentum going and
keep Kingston on the road to economic prosperity.
Don Curtis is a former executive vice-president and managing director of a
large communications agency. His experience handling tourism-related
communications includes several government departments or organizations,
such as the federal Department of Tourism, the Ontario Department of
Tourism, Ontario Place, the Canadian National Exhibition and Canada's