On political acrobats and citizen arenas

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If, we once thought, a new downtown event centre in little, old Moncton would never support artistically inclined gymnasts, torturing their minds and bodies to make their daily bread, then fear not populace.

The acrobatics of acrimony and conciliation are, in equal measures, on display right now in the council chambers and parliaments of power. Though the players’ creaking bones and calcified ligaments might be past their prime, they are nonetheless fascinating for their late-game contortions.

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe Member of Parliament Robert Goguen has devised an utterly splendid solution to the problem of funding a $107-million multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility in the Hub City’s downtown core.     As his federal Tory confederates say “no” to anything that smacks of hockey rink, Mr. Goguen, in his wisdom, has decided that all that money the feds owe to the tri-city area for regular road and sewer upgrades should be leveraged against a new downtown centre.

That is to say simply this: All the money we might have given you to upgrade your city’s urban core, we are now going to give you to expand your suburbs whose residents don’t give a fig about Main Street.

Take the municipal funds, Mr. Goguen sagely advises, that we would have otherwise invested in road repairs in the outskirts and pour it into an event centre, if, of course, we dare.

The problem with this “solution” is that it begs a problem.

It intimates that the feds have no real responsibility – notwithstanding a major build, such as an event centre – to upgrade the roads and sewers along routes in this city where people live and work. The Constitution declares otherwise.

It also suggests that a part of Moncton – the downtown core – simply does not contribute to the cultural and economic life of the greater urban area in ways and means that are sufficient to justify honest public investment. The evidence argues to the contrary.

Once again, I will trot out the fine work of my friend David Campbell, now New Brunswick’s senior economist. Three years ago he was on this file like a fly on honey. Here’s what he said:

“Like a successful shopping mall, a vibrant downtown will have economic anchors strategically located throughout the area. Moncton City Hall anchors a cluster of office buildings and services in the eastern part of the downtown and the Highfield Square Mall played this role in the western part of the downtown. “With the closure of that facility, it opens up the potential for another ‘anchor tenant’ that will drive economic activity and foot traffic in that area. There are not many large-scale opportunities that would apply on that site. The proposed Downtown Centre; however, is one such opportunity. It would be large enough to drive significant incremental economic activity into the downtown.

“The Sierra Planning and Management report reviewed for this brief estimated that the new Downtown Centre would cater to between 316,800 attendees (lower attendance scenario) and 396,000 attendees (moderate attendance scenario). These attendance estimates assume that 53 per cent of the traffic would come from regular season Wildcat home games. The lower attendance scenario is expected to result in over $12 million in new direct and offsite expenditures and the higher attendance scenario will bring in nearly $15 million in new expenditures to the downtown.”

In other words, a new downtown event centre does not need to be justified through political acrobatics. It justifies itself, and always has.

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