Moncton’s cultural climate change is past due

 

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The great “snow dome of 2014” across the street from this fine rabbit warren of esteemed scribblers and other ink-stained wretches has all but vanished – proof, perhaps, that when Moncton wants to get things done, it does so in a more convincing fashion than any other city of its size in Canada. 

Here, even the weather cooperates, eventually.

Of course, what’s now emerging, as the ice melts, is the vast, crumbling parking lot that once belonged to the now vacant Highfield Square – a testament either to unrealized potential or dereliction of duty, depending on how the municipal cards fall over the next few months. 

In our bones, we Monctonians know that the greater metropolitan area needs, nay deserves, a new multi-purpose events and entertainment centre. We’ve been thinking about it for decades, talking about it for years. After all, it only makes sense.

A facility with suitable amenities and capacity (the sweet spot is between 9,000 and 12,000 seats) would generate, according to reputable estimates, between $12 and $15 million in annual spending and attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people to the downtown core, where 18,000 souls already work, thousands more reside and hundreds of shops, cafés, bistros, and restaurants operate under seasonably variable circumstances. A downtown centre would, quite simply, anchor these opportunities year round.

Those few among us who still cling to the proposition that Moncton is at its best when it’s flat on its back romanticize adversity to maniacally absurd dimensions. A turtle dies when it can’t turn over, when it can’t move. And Moncton is no turtle. 

Mayor George LeBlanc’s state of the city address earlier this week was instructive. In it, he reminded his Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club audiences that a centre will cost $100 million, give or take, and that “we have to get it right. Let’s go big or stay home.”

He also pointed out, according to a report in this newspaper that, “for the first time, the city reached more than $400 million in tourist dollars spent last year – $409 million, to be exact. Moncton saw 1.65 million visitors in 2013, which outperformed all of the Maritime cities by about 20 per cent. LeBlanc reiterated the city’s stance on a hotel levy which would need to be regulated by the province. It would aid the infrastructure spending needed to attract even more tourists to the city.”

What’s more, “LeBlanc touched on the fact that the city saw an average of about $500,000 in new construction spending a day with 2013’s total building permits issued and reminded those at the meeting that Moncton was named best place to do business in all of North America – not once but twice, referring to 2012’s and 2013’s KPMG cost-competitive ratings.”

These are not the indicators of a city that resigns itself to second- or third-rate status in the nation’s municipal cosmos. 

Moncton’s civic boosters (and I am one of them) have routinely trotted out that old trope that we “punch above our weight class.” It’s a phrase that always plays well in the center of the country, where condescending attitudes about small cities insulates citizens in the megalopolis from the truth about their obligations to the rest of us. Good for us, they say; just as long as we look after our own problems, as we orphans in this Constitution must. 

I wonder if we, in this distinctly unpromising corner of of the nation, should adopt any spin-managed message to represent ourselves to the world. Our economic development record in Moncton speaks for itself. Our community is as diverse and vibrant as any other in this country. We have been, and continue to be, the masters of our own fortunes – the true “hub”’of economic adventure, of enterprise, in New Brunswick. 

That we should honour this by enhancing it with a sparkling, glittering, ridiculously busy downtown core is, frankly, a no-brainer. It’s in our civic DNA. It’s our customary right of passage through the chaos of economic and social dislocation elsewhere in New Brunswick. 

It is time to move our municipal conscience forward, before another deep winter buries us in ice, before our hearts finally fail to melt the “snow dome” that threatens to take up permanent residence where culture deserves to triumph.

 

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