What an exciting place Kingston is these days! That was my first reaction when my wife and I returned home after a month at the cottage. The cries of loons and whippoorwills were replaced by the rattle of jackhammers.
Two giant cranes are poised over what used to be called Block D, where a new Marriott hotel and a mixed-use tower will rise next to Brit Smith's two supersized apartment blocks.
The downtown sports and entertainment centre is beginning to look like an arena. In the west end, the community multiplex has a roof. Behind City Hall, work proceeds on the amphitheatres that will complete the Market Square revitalization project. On Division Street, the fine new headquarters for our police and fire services nears completion.
At Queen and Bagot streets, a huge hole in the ground will accommodate Kim Donovan's new apartment building, while on Brock Street a few dilapidated stores have been demolished to make way for a charming new building that delightfully complements its neighbours, as well as a rather surprising gap currently filled by new - and, I assume, temporary - plantings.
As for Queen's University, well, Queen's has never stopped building, though what it plans for the vast limestone quarries excavated where Union Street and University Avenue used to be remains unclear.
It's hard to believe all Kingstonians would not share my excitement, because we haven't seen this much new building in decades. The city seems vibrant, full of tourists spending their money in our terrific stores and sidewalk restaurants. What a great place to live!
And we owe all this to our previous city council, which somehow struggled free from the morass of indecision and inactivity that had characterized its predecessors to vote through, if not without a fight, all these exciting new projects. So, to put it mildly, I can only say I was disappointed to find myself personally attacked by the KCAL (Kingston Concerned about the LVEC) website for a recent piece I wrote for the Whig-Standard in which I poked a little harmless fun (well, apparently not so harmless) at our new city council for its failure to agree on priorities for its four-year term ("Setting priorities is hard when you want to do nothing," July 21).
"Mr. Houghton demonstrates startling ignorance of recent Kingston history," I read. "The prior council blew it, as witnessed by the past municipal election, the results of which Mr. Houghton is apparently still having trouble accepting."
Excuse me? Our prior council "blew it?" Well, it actually reinvigorated Kingston. And I have no trouble accepting the results of last November's municipal election. While apparently reluctant to embark on further large-scale projects, which I can understand, or to decide on what order not to embark on them, our current council has taken some admirable initiatives. It voted to increase funding for the arts from a lousy $100,000 annually to more than $400,000. It forgave a $60,000 loan extended years ago to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, a loan there was no way the museum could ever afford to repay. It approved a considerably higher budget for the restoration of the Grand Theatre than had originally been projected. It even agreed to pay for the builders of the downtown arena to pour enough concrete for a thousand extra seats.
It did not, admittedly, agree to pay for the seats, so I suppose if the place is the success it's bound to be, a bunch of us will end up sitting on the floor. This could be seen as the final revenge of former city councillor Rick Downes, who fought the arena project while he was on council, and of those who voted against the downtown arena and even tried to have construction stopped once it had begun.