A centre will build growth

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Was it only just the other day when New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant appeared less than convinced by the multiplier effect in economic planning – specifically, by the wisdom in pouring public money into a new downtown events centre for Moncton?

My, what a difference a day makes – even though that day has taken three months to properly arrive. With his government now willing to invest $21 million in the form of a forgivable loan toward the estimated $107-million construction cost, Mr. Gallant is leaving himself precious little room for political wiggle, as the momentum for the project clearly swings forward.

In April, Mr. Gallant stated a commentary carried by this newspaper, “Much has been said about the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .To create jobs and have strong social programs we must invest our money strategically. . .This principle is an important one that requires us as a government to do our due diligence when making decisions. This includes the decision on whether or not to financially support the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .It isn’t responsible to rush into a $107-million project.”

Last week, his chief cabinet lieutenant Victor Boudreau was whistling a  somewhat different, and happier, ditty. “I am here to say the City of Moncton’s application has not only been reviewed, but approved. To date, discussions on this project have been a bit of a moving target. It is our hope our commitment to invest in this project will allow the City of Moncton to leverage funding from other partners.”

From the beginning (at least since 2010, when the City commissioned its first, full economic impact study), the issue was always whether or not a new multi-purpose event centre would become a catalyst for economic and commercial growth and diversification throughout the urban area and even beyond.

Two years ago, New Brunswick’s senior economist David Campbell – who was an independent economic development consultant at the time – told Moncton City Council 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, he declared, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.”  

Still, not everyone was encouraged by last week’s funding announcement. Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told this newspaper the province’s poor finances clearly argue against these sorts of discretionary infrastructure builds. “The government has hiked taxes, cut teachers and hospitals are in troubl., And the government is spending money on a hockey rink today?”

It’s a nice line, sure to generate buzz in all the right constituencies. But it’s not especially accurate.

There’s very little doubt in the calculating mind that a mix-use sports and entertainment facility (if it is large enough, designed well enough and comes deliberately equipped with cultural spaces) will, as Ben Champoux, CEO of Metro Moncton’s 3+ economic development agency, persuasively points out, take “the game” to a “much higher level. . .An announcement like this gives us the tools to turn around and (show) the can-do attitude that we have. . .As a result of this project, other projects going on in Greater Moncton that are tied to this one, there is more than a quarter of a billion dollars  right now in the pipeline of projects.”

Indeed, those are economic multipliers that any smart politician must be only too happy to endorse.

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