Get the comedy out of city hall and onto a proper stage

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How many times shall we pose the existential query that pertains to Moncton’s, as yet entirely fictional, downtown events centre? How much patience must we yet muster before we finally obtain an answer?

To build or under-build: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous Council,

Or to take arms against a sea of dragging feet,

And by opposing trip them?

Naturally, I extend my deepest apology to Bill Shakespeare’s phantom, both for mangling one of his finest soliloquies and for inappropriately inserting it into the wrong fantastical genre.

After all, Hamlet is high tragedy, whereas the play underway at Moncton City Hall seems more, in form and function, an Italian farce, if by this we accept the dictionary’s definition of a “light, dramatic composition that uses highly improbable situations, stereotyped characters and broad humour.”

According to The Moncton Times & Transcript’s Cole Hobson, reporting yesterday, “a preliminary copy of the potential RFP details that the centre must have a minimum of 7,500 permanent seats, which is significantly lower than figures that have been discussed in the past and not much larger than the current fixed-seat capacity of the Moncton Coliseum, which sits around 6,500.”

So irked by this were the organ’s sturdy, fearless opinionators that the lead editorial in yesterday’s T&T concluded in righteous exasperation, “A new centre, based on the original concept of seating in the 10,000 to 12,000 range with an ability to be expanded in the future, would cost $100 million or more, but would attract a far greater variety of events and thus generate the kind of entrepreneurial interest that would lead to at least another $100 million in related development.”

As to the kicker, “If this council can’t embrace the future, it might as well cling to the past,” I heartily concur. And I don’t even come from here.

In fact, I come from a couple of places where this sort of nonsense happens all the time, where institutional hemming and hawing and corrosive uncertainties among the penny-wise and pound-foolish virtually paralyze municipal chambers. Even when they don’t, the decisions are invariably absurd and counterproductive. (Halifax City Council’s endless debates over which view of the harbour should take precedence over the construction of which mixed-use high rise are legendary).

Which brings us back around to the little matter of seven-thousand-five-hundred seats. I’ve said it once; I’ll say it again: That’s not enough to do the job of a proper multi-use events centre. So, then, why bother?

A proper multi-use events centre draws and hosts gigs from every possible quarter of the world’s $4-trillion entertainment-and-sports-industrial complex. That means its capacity must meet a specific threshold to attract a wider variety of performances and events. Below this mark of 10K-15K seats, we’re stuck with, at best, serving the status quo; at worst, losing business that was once ours to venues in places like Summerside (Sound familiar?)

On the other hand, if we do it right, according to a research report by Moncton-based Jupia Consultants, we can legitimately expect that a new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

We know this, don’t we? We’ve been yakking about it for years. And for years, we’ve been chasing our tails in City Council like the bumbling protagonists of the 19th Century stage trifle, The Italian Straw Hat.

To his credit, Mayor George LeBlanc has been clear and consistent on the issue. In yesterday’s piece, he said that he “personally” believed in “something in the range of 9,000 seats, plus suites and club seats. . .which would bring the total capacity up to about 10,000 seats. . .I think at this stage of the game, we really need to be looking forward, not backward.”

Yes, we do, and before we come to the grinding realization that we, in this community, have lost interest in taking a bold, leading role in our own lives.

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