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With news that Halifax city council is debating reinvigorating the old Forum for around $85 million, Charlottetown residents can’t be blamed for feeling that the world is still passing them by.
It’s been about a decade that we’ve been talking about a new multi-use sports and entertainment facility. The price tag for a 5,000-seat facility is in the area of $74-$81 million.
We have a report recommending the project and we’ve hired an Ontario company, Sierra Planning and Management, for $105,000 to explore funding options. They’re expected to report back to city council sometime in the new year.
After that, more debate, public consultations and dragging our heels. We certainly don’t mind the city’s due diligence, but enough is enough.
Charlottetown is a capital city. It’s time we started acting like one. As it stands now, we’re in Summerside’s shadow. Each time that a major event or entertainment act comes to the Island, it passes us by in favour of Credit Union Place.
As we’ve seen for the past decade, Charlottetown's facility isn’t going to build or fund itself. It takes political leadership to bring together funding partners, both provincial and federal governments as well as the private sector. And, it isn’t only Summerside and Halifax that are reminding us that we’re behind the times. Moncton’s shiny new multi-use facility – The Avenir Centre – is regularly attracting major events since it opened earlier this year. And Islanders aren’t shy about making the two-hour drive to spend their dollars next door.
The Eastlink Centre has served us well, but it’s time to move on and grab the economic opportunities we’re losing. Building the facility would be a major boost to Island jobs and the construction industry. Other economic spinoffs will be to hotels, stores, restaurants, and tourism. And, for all the talk about our pitiful record recruiting health-care professionals, a major selling point could be a brand new facility that can attract big city events.
But more than that, a new facility would be a place for the community to use and be proud of, and an opportunity for our next generation of athletes to train and play in a world-class venue. Yes, this facility would put us back on the map as a major player in the Maritimes.
It can be done, and it should be done. Places all over North America are building new arenas or multi-use facilities.
But it’s like the saying goes, ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ In Summerside’s case, Mayor Basil Stewart and city councillors had the will, and they found a way.
Charlottetown’s mayor Philip Brown and councillors must show they have the will to lead this project and make it a reality. If they’re not up for the task, then we need to find a mayor and council who is.