Eleven months ago, the downtown arena project was short of funds and sitting on thin ice. After much acrimonious debate, on Feb. 27, 2007, city councillors approved a $4.3-million budget increase to pay for unforeseen costs.
Councillor Bill Glover, for one, expressed concern that night about dipping into city reserves to pay for $3 million of the cost overruns.
Also that night, Councillor Leonore Foster announced that a public fundraising drive was being planned to help defray construction costs.
Fast forward to Tuesday night's meeting, when city councillors were told that, with just four weeks to go before the opening of the Kingston Regional Sports and Entertainment Centre, formerly known as the LVEC, the fundraising drive was still $1.2 million short of its $2-million goal.
As part of the funding contingency plan, councillors were told, staff were once again preparing to raid city reserves.
Again, Glover stood up to express his displeasure.
Mayor Harvey Rosen took some stern criticism in the course of Tuesday night's debate and was urged by Councillor Vicki Schmolka to "redouble your efforts as fundraising chair."
Rosen said that he would, but asserted that "There's no shortfall until the campaign is over."
Still, a stark reality faces the fundraising team.
When the new facility officially opens on Feb. 22 with a Frontenacs hockey game, the horse, as they say, will be out of the barn. Staff have stressed that after the opening, it will become more difficult to convince Kingstonians to donate to the construction of a building that would appear to be already constructed.
There will be time later for analysing the campaign's successes and failures.
But Rosen likely hit the nail on the head when he referred to possible donor fatigue. Dozens of fundraising drives take place around the region every year, and the city itself has already sought donations for Market Square and the Grand Theatre. Now there are plans looming to also raise money for a new community pool.
Right now, it's the downtown arena that's on the table. And Kingstonians must make a decision: are they ready and willing to push this fundraising effort to its $2-million goal?
An earlier Whig editorial exhorted those 23,000-plus Kingstonians who voted for Rosen in the last election, essentially giving him a mandate to build the downtown arena, to stand up and vote once again with their wallets.
Many citizens will feel they're already giving enough through taxes and the use of reserve funds, which is essentially tax money as well. Perhaps they've purchased Frontenacs tickets. It does come down to personal choice.
Clearly, if the committee is going to reach its goal, corporate and business Kingston must stand up and be counted. The new arena, after all, will be a regional facility that will bring exciting events, and visitors, to Kingston. It will be a source of civic pride and will be central to Kingston's image outside the region.
Of course, the councillors are right: as the campaign chairman, the mayor must lead a spirited push to the finish line.
The idea to raise funds publicly was proposed in the context of councillors being asked to approve a substantial draw from city reserves.
Rosen must do all he can to either avoid dipping into the reserves again or, at the very least, reduce the amount that will be needed.