The downtown core is currently in a state of complete disarray and disrepair. Populated by abandoned buildings like the Twin Pines Motel, a favourite spot for graffiti taggers, vandals and vagrants, the downtown core is becoming increasingly seedy looking and less and less attractive to investors and visitors.I was delighted when this week RMWB council greenlighted the opportunity to pursue negotiations with the successful proponent of the arena in the proposed location. These negotiations will hopefully address some of the areas of concern and if these concerns cannot be resolved or adequately addressed then discussions can move on to another location – but I am simply relieved to see something being discussed about progress in the downtown.
There are examples where arenas have worked in downtown cores, and examples where they have not. There are case studies to be examined, and there are many angles to be addressed, but the primary point is that whether or not an arena is constructed downtown we need to ensure that the downtown core is not left to continue to fall into disarray, as once we go down that path too far it becomes increasingly difficult to recover. I have seen it happen far too often in cities, and as we grow the risk for us to head in that direction grows daily.We have some bright and shining spots in our community. The new Fort McMurray Airport is a gem of which we are justifiably proud, and MacDonald Island Park continues to be the heart of the community. Shell Place is slowly coming to fruition, and will be a glittering showpiece for the region by any estimation. We are fortunate that our community is lush and vibrant with the boreal forest, and we have neighbourhoods springing to life with retail and office complexes that will change the experience of living in the community (for the record the Stonecreek Starbucks has already changed my life). But we need to remember to continue to work on those spots that are not so bright and shining, ensuring that they are developed in a way that does us justice, serves our needs and addresses some of the issues we face in terms of growth.
Is the current proposed location in the downtown core the right spot for a sport and entertainment centre? I don’t know yet to be honest, but I look forward to seeing the proposed design, hearing the potential areas of concern and possible solutions and seeing us move into the future. Even if the sport and entertainment centre is eventually moved to another location at least this process will allow us to progress with other possibilities in the downtown core as we look to build this community, including our downtown.This week we saw a greenlight given to progress, even if it may still be tentative and subject to change and revision. Progress is like that, bumpy and occasionally a rough ride just like an aircraft that hits a patch of turbulence on its journey. I have been on many turbulent flights, but I have been fortunate that each one, regardless of how rough the ride, landed safely at its final destination. I have no reason to believe this journey to the future of our downtown will be any different – and I welcome both a little bit of turbulence and the eventual joy in a successful arrival.