Memo to Charlottetown’s multi-use facility task force: It will be a colossal disappointment and waste of time unless your report unanimously recommends the construction of a new facility to replace the Eastlink Centre. If there’s anything else there, we don’t want to hear it.
The task force, appointed in the spring of 2016, is expected to deliver its report in two weeks. The group hopefully has arrived at the same conclusion that many Islanders reached years ago – the building needs replacement, and the sooner the better.
“Big Blue” was a ghastly mistake in design when it opened some 27 years ago, a year before the 1991 Canada Winter Games. The Games were the main reason for its construction and provided various options for funding.
A similar playbook is unfolding that can rectify the mistakes of the past and fund a modern arena with all the amenities that fans and patrons deserve. For too long, sports fans, music lovers and entertainment productions have suffered needlessly in a building constructed for horse shows and cattle auctions.
The roadmap to a new facility is clear. In September 2016, the province threw open the door by accepting an uncontested bid for the 2023 Canada Winter Games. When thousands of Canada’s most gifted young athletes gather on P.E.I. in a little over five years from now, a new facility should await them.
Frankly, we’re tired of limited vision, stopgap solutions and wasted opportunities over the years. The civic centre is a good example but there are others. In our 2014 sesquicentennial year, P.E.I. dropped the ball on a permanent memorial for this Birthplace of Canada, opting for a series of minor province-wide celebrations. Sure, the communities appreciated the support at the time, but the benefits were gone from both memory and landscape shortly afterwards.
As this year winds to a close, the country’s so-called 150th birthday bash is about to conclude with a similar disappointing finish. What did the Cradle of Confederation get out of it, except for the start of long-overdue renovations to Province House? There was a lack of big-picture vision stretching from Ottawa into every provincial capital. What a wasted opportunity.
The city task force can salvage something from this year. Infrastructure spending or other federal and provincial funding must support a facility that will benefit the city and province. Mayor Lee has understandable concerns about debt and taxes but the city can’t sit on the sidelines and let others do all the heavy lifting. Corporations must come on board in support, starting with naming rights.
Summerside did it right when it had the chance. Former mayor Basil Stewart saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build something special and did it. The city hasn’t declared bankruptcy and is reaping the rewards of its vision every day.
Charlottetown can do the same, starting in two weeks. The opportunity may not present itself again. It’s time the city takes a leap into the future.
A positive recommendation for a 5,000-seat facility would be a welcome Christmas gift.