Don't be swayed by arena naysayers' tired
Letters to the Editor - Saturday, November 04, 2006 @ 09:00
As a member of the original mayor's task force on the regional sports and entertainment centre, I must challenge the positions of mayoralty candidates Rick Downes and Kevin George.
Let me say at the outset that in light of new evidence, there is one recommendation I would change from the original report: the sale of the Memorial Centre grounds. While I still believe that economic development of that area would best be served by a housing development, the relative paucity of greenspace in Williamsville relative to other districts offers a compelling argument against development. This comparison was not considered in our deliberations. I can easily understand, and agree with, the "greenspace" argument.
This is why I challenge Mr. Downes's proposed movement of the sports and entertainment centre to the Memorial Centre grounds. The facility will not be greenspace - not even close. The landscape architect working on the Memorial Centre's rejuvenation was recently quoted in The Whig-Standard as stating that the space "is not appropriate for large-scale structured sports events" (such as those intended for the sports and entertainment centre). Move the new facility to the Memorial Centre and you can say goodbye to the green space.
Mr. Downes repeatedly claimed that the potential noise, traffic and sightline of the sports and entertainment centre would be unfair to his constituents. Does he feel that Williamsville residents are entitled to less consideration? Is he appeasing one set of constituents at the expense of another? And if he wins the mayoralty election and keeps his promise, will Williamsville residents take up arms to again defend their green space? Will Mr. Downes then call for another referendum? Another task force? Another set of studies? He might as well just kill the project now.
Moreover, Mr. Downes's claim of a sports and entertainment centre-driven economic renewal of Williamsville is unfounded. The 100 or so event nights generated by an arena will neither justify nor sustain a new business. If they could, we'd have seen greater development in the neighbourhood prior to the Memorial Centre's decay.
Dr. Fillion, the University of Waterloo expert on downtowns, has consistently stated that arenas only work where they build on an existing base of businesses. For example, neither the downtown core nor the arena alone could generate enough activity to attract a privately funded 600-car parking garage, such as the one announced last week. However, an arena in the downtown means local residents will gain 600 new spaces that will be used 365 days a year: when they go to the sports and entertainment centre, use Market Square, shop downtown, attend events at Confederation Basin, use the marina and so on.
That is "leverage."
Kevin George's call for a reassessment of the arena business plan is similarly naive. Why would he expect a finding different from what past studies have found? Two task forces said the facility was viable. A KPMG consultant said it was viable. The city's planning department said it was viable. Every credentialled expert who has studied the plan in detail has concluded it is viable. Indeed, with so many different independent sources of expertise concluding that the plan is viable, one has to wonder who Mr. George would appoint in search of the answer he wants. Is this just a veiled attempt to take the non-committal middle ground instead of being decisive? This is no small matter; it's a $2-million-plus question. And that is a very conservative estimate
It is imprudent and irresponsible for Downes and George to assume that the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement area, Kingston Accommodation Partners and provincial government contributions will still be available if the arena is moved (to my knowledge, this has not been explored); to forget the $1-million-plus public cost of building 2,500 parking spaces that will only be used 100 nights a year; and to forget that delays will mean the chance to bid for the next Ontario-hosted Memorial Cup hockey tournament will be lost.
I am weary of these mayoralty candidates' rhetoric about an undemocratic process and favouritism toward a select few with business interests. The task force invited and listened to several local groups and individuals before we wrote our proposal. Minutes were posted to the city's website, and The Whig had a reporter at all our meetings. We held public forums after we released the report, and a second committee of review was struck. (Incidentally, Mr. Downes, who was appointed to that review committee, chose to write his final opinion in a letter to the editor prior to the final public hearing; yes, that's democracy).
As for favouritism, if this was the case, I was the wrong person to invite to join the task force. I have no political or business interests in the city. Nor do I have social connections to downtown or to the mayor. Rather, I have, in The Whig's pages, been publicly critical of business and political practices in this city when I felt they were wrong. Indeed, groups critical of the sports and entertainment centre have tried, unsuccessfully, to find any linkage between me and the so-called "select few."
Wholesale change is never comfortable and invariably raises the anxiety and ire of those who are content with, or benefit from, the status quo. Harvey Rosen was not elected mayor just to replace the Memorial Centre but to usher in an era of purposive change. He has delivered on that, even in the face of intense opposition. It is time for all of us to reward that courage by re-electing him on Nov. 13. If you do not like the status quo, then vote for someone who has sought to change it.
Associate professor Business and Marketing Strategy
Queen's School of Business