I had been thinking about this for some time, but credit really must go to Marshall Madness of KAOS Radio for reminding me of it today on Twitter. He commented this morning about the Boomtown Casino, and his comment got me thinking about a couple of businesses that have their place in our community - but maybe not in the places they are in.
Before I begin this post I want to make clear I have no problem with either of the establishments I mention. They are not places I frequent, although I have been in the casino to work for various non-profit organizations as fundraisers. The other place - our local strip club - I have never visited, but I recognize that there are those who do. My thoughts are this: do these two businesses belong in the downtown core of Fort McMurray? I think the answer is no.
There is a vision in this community of what our downtown core should become - vibrant, energetic, urban. And while casinos and strip clubs may seem urban more and more true urban centres move those businesses into areas outside the downtown core, and for good reasons.
The casino downtown adds to the parking chaos at the local mall. And if you are like me then you too have witnessed incidents of a violent nature in that parking lot. In an area already filled with nightclubs the addition of the casino simply adds more people and potential problems to the mix. Why not move the casino to another location in town, freeing up that space in the urban core? This seems to me utterly logical, and a way to eliminate some of the issues we do see downtown. I am not in favour of eradicating gambling entirely, although I am troubled by some of the issues associated with it, including gambling addictions. I recognize the casino serves many community organizations very well, allowing them to raise funds that would otherwise be very challenging to secure. And I acknowledge there are those who enjoy both the experience and the atmosphere of the casino - but the question remains if that would be better enjoyed in a different location, freeing up some prime downtown land in the process.
And that brings us to Showgirls. Again, I don't have a real issue with strip clubs. I spent my twenties living in Toronto, where strip clubs pop up on Yonge Street. I acknowledge the interest in them, and that it is a business - but again I question whether this business needs to be located in the downtown core. To what benefit is it there? Does it lend that vibrant and urban feel we seek, or does it detract from it? And in the end does it even serve their business well to be located there?
There are communities that have moved establishments such as casinos and strip clubs to the outer city limits or industrial areas, while others have in fact moved these businesses into the downtown core. An argument can be made either way, I think, but for me I believe that to capture the vibrant urban feel we seek we must consider carefully what we want that picture to look like. Does it include strip clubs and casinos or is it boutique stores and funky coffee shops? And what is the impact of moving these businesses to another location?
I think the time has come to have this dialogue, especially as we begin to see the plans for the new downtown Fort McMurray begin to take shape. Perhaps this is the time we begin to talk about the elephants in the room - or the downtown, in this case - and work on a plan that both accommodates them and fits in with our vision for our community. This is one case where I admit I don't know the entire answer, or the best solution - but in my opinion the casino and strip club don't fit in with the downtown vision I have in my head. This is one occasion where I think having that conversation is of vital importance, because we are slowly seeing our downtown transform - and now is the time to make sure it reflects exactly what we want it to be, because this is our chance to get it right. The question is: What is right for us?