Tag Archives: Moncton Downtown Centre.

Will Moncton’s downtown dreams come true?

IMAG0604

The hole in the heart of this fair city is about to be filled. The question is: with what?

That 11-acre scar between Highfield and Cameron Streets along great Main now stands as a testament to either a promise fulfilled or a promise broken.

It is, in fact, astonishing how inured we can become to ugliness, lassitude and dereliction. Harder still to calculate are the imaginings of civic pride in the absence of something to behold: a structure to regard, an edifice of iron, concrete and glass to observe.

Still, that will be for later.

For now, Moncton City Council has voted (8-3) to dream and to dream big. Barring acts of God, Parliament and the winds of economic fortune, a multi-use sports and entertainment facility will rise in the urban centre sometime within the next three years.

This has been a long time coming – at least seven years, and likely more. That’s nearly a decade of studies, economic impact analyses, debates, arguments, public consultations, and more debates.

It is only human nature that makes us cool, over time, to something we once burned to have when we were younger, braver and less complacent. And so we now witness a sizeable chunk of Metro Moncton’s populace wondering whether any of this was worth the wait.

It’s a fair question. After all, what does $100-million buy these days?

Will the final product be a fancy, extraordinarily expensive hockey arena? Or will it be a true cultural space, where sporting events shake hands with ballet companies, theatrical tours and musical concerts?

Will it be a monolithic, concrete gulag that incarcerates its patrons with foggy front doors, rotten fast food, and more parking space than anyone has a right to expect in a city that’s less than half the size of Oshawa, Ontario?

Or will it be an elegant, nuanced commons for athletes, artists, performers, and prestidigitators of all stripes and fashions? Will it be a place to gather and ruminate and appreciate just how marvellous civic life in the public square can be when thought transforms both the form and function of everyday life into art and sport and, finally, durable memory.

Imagine walking downtown, years from now, in a blizzard and finding, instead of an empty lot, a place to warm your ears as the convivial roar of a practice hockey game fills an arena while a final, public dress rehearsal of the Atlantic Ballet Company concludes to stupendous applause.

This thing we’ve conjured over the years – this mythical centre, now made manifest – is less a state of bricks and mortar than it is a state of mind. It becomes anything we choose; anything we want to make of it.

The economic effects of a facility like this are, frankly, inarguable. Managed intelligently, it will pay for itself within 15 years of its door opening. After that, it will return millions of dollars in tax revenues to the metropolitan area, year after year, generating untold direct and indirect economic benefits.

But more than this, far more than this, it will anchor a beautiful little city’s spirit to itself. It will mend the tear in the fabric of a community that should never have considered its downtown area – where 18,000 office workers ply their trades and skills and, in high season, 50,000 tourists gambol for fun and profit – irrelevant, a vast parking lot, a hole that can’t be filled.

Then again, what sort of facility will we erect to repudiate this claim? What is the promise?

And will it be broken?

Tagged , , , ,

A centre will build growth

IMAG0604

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.

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: