The downtown party starts

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Just because Greater Moncton, after years of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing, has finally awarded itself a modest sports and entertainment complex in the western heart of the city, doesn’t mean the controversies have concluded.

In fact, in all the most significant ways, they’ve only just begun.

Exactly what sort of a facility will (should) this be? Has the community had a proper chance to review the planning options? What will transform the venue from an expensive hockey arena into a vibrant cultural space and back again. Indeed, how will the various clients and tenants shake hands to benefit all? And what, pray tell, is the deal with parking?

It may be a certain comfort to know that almost no capital project of this type or size at a downtown location in a metropolitan area of Canada (actually, anywhere) has ever proceeded without also generating a riot of objection and opprobrium. That is the nature of this particular beast.

Many reviled Maple Leaf Gardens in the heart of Toronto’s financial district as a monstrosity when it flung open its doors in the early 20th century. Yet, here’s what the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada wrote about it in 2006 upon its designation as a National Historic Site: “One of the most renowned ‘shrines’ in the history of hockey. . .the largest arena in the country when it was built, it was one of the country’s foremost venues for large-scale sporting events such as boxing matches and track meets, and non-sporting events such as concerts, rallies and political gatherings, religious services and opera. . .the Gardens holds a special place in the country’s popular culture: here Canadians welcomed a wide range of cultural icons from the Beatles to the Metropolitan Opera, from Tim Buck to Team Canada vs. the Soviets, from Winston Churchill to the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight.”

All of which suggests that the birth pangs and growing pains associated with integrating a brand, new cultural edifice into a community that maintains, at best, an ambivalent relationship with its downtown core will eventually subside. But not without effort, and not without a broad appreciation for the hard-won successes other cities have somehow managed to manufacture.

Consider, as examples, the two Londons – the original and its Canadian namesake. The former is home to the redoubtable Southbank Centre; the latter hosts the less expansive Budweiser Gardens.

Established in 1951, Southbank Centre has evolved by effectively engaging the neighbourhoods that surround it. Today, it boasts three main buildings – Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward

Budweiser Gardens, on the other hand, better resembles in both form and function, the as yet unbuilt and unnamed Moncton facility. Again, according to Wikipedia, the sports and entertainment facility opened in 2002 as the new downtown home of London’s Ontario Hockey League team, the London Knights. Significantly, though, over the years it has also become an important venue for other worthy distractions: “Budweiser Gardens was launched as a concert venue with Cher’s ‘Living Proof: The Farewell Tour’ in 2002. In 2007, Meat Loaf’s ‘3 Bats Live’ DVD from the ‘Seize The Night’ tour was recorded here. Cirque du Soleil chose Budweiser Gardens to stage its first-ever arena show, a rebuilt production of Saltimbanco.

Sting performed during his Symphonicities Tour on July 21, 2010, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2010, Budweiser Gardens was awarded as the Canadian Venue of the Year at the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards.”

For Moncton, the controversies will surely continue. Eventually, though, we, like other cities, will get our downtown centre right.

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