Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, October 13, 2014

GOlden Buffalo in Fort McMurray

You probably read the title of this post and thought I made a typographical error. After all, it appears I inadvertently capitalized the first two letters of "golden", but I assure you it was quite intentional. You see when it comes to the proposed Golden Buffalo high-rise complex now seeking permit development approval in downtown Fort McMurray I think there are two operative letters of most importance - and they are the G and the O, or GO.

The Golden Buffalo project is undoubtedly remarkably ambitious, a complex that will tower over our downtown. I am hearing rumblings of concern about that ambition, particularly the height of the development and thoughts that it will somehow be out of place or mar our skyline. I am not one of those who thinks this, you see.

Do you know the Eiffel Tower was almost never built? It was deemed far too ambitious, far too big, far too much for the Paris skyline. It was only built through steadfast belief and perseverance, despite the belief of many Parisians that it was an enormous white elephant that would mar their city forever. And I suspect in many cities the first skyscraper was controversial, with some thinking it would stick out like a sore thumb...right until the next skyscraper was built, and the next, and the next, until the skyline had changed to the ones we now associate with cities like Edmonton and Calgary, where you can see the downtown core long before you are in it, marked by towers that shine in the sun.

I don't know if you have looked at our downtown core lately, but "shining" isn't a word that springs to mind. We have a downtown pockmarked with vacant and abandoned buildings, scarred with graffiti and far too dispirited-looking to reflect the true nature of this community. The catalyst projects once planned for the city centre redevelopment have fallen off the radar for various reasons (and we can argue those reasons but there is no point, as the reality is that they have become part of a faded dream that may one day be resurrected but that for now gathers dust as blueprints on a shelf). The Golden Buffalo complex now may well represent our best hope for a revitalized downtown, a catalyst project for which the taxpayer will carry no burden and an investment from others in our community. We just have to say one small word.


I admit I have been skeptical of the Golden Buffalo proposal in the past because it is not the first large towering complex proposed for the downtown core by private investors. Those other proposals have never come to fruition, but those experiences do not mean we should reject an opportunity to see an amazing complex built in our downtown that may well serve as the catalyst we need to change our skyline - and our downtown core - forever. Perhaps we do not need a taxpayer-funded and municipally-led drive to revitalize the downtown. Perhaps we just need to grant permission to those developers who are willing to take on the cost and risk to do so.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris was built for the Paris Exposition in 1889. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel faced a tremendous challenge when it became apparent that the Exposition committee would only fund 1/4 of the construction costs, leaving Eiffel to find funding for the remainder. It was a daunting task, particularly given the skepticism of the civic leaders and general populace of the value of this structure, one that some even deemed an "abomination". To say that they were wrong would perhaps be the largest understatement in French history, as the Eiffel Tower has of course become the most visited site in France and one of the most iconic structures in the world - and it was almost never built as there were those who wanted to say "no" rather than "go".

I am under no illusion that the Golden Buffalo is some sort of Eiffel Tower of the north - but that it could well be iconic, catalytic and game-changing for our region seems clear. That it could be the very change we seek and the very first step in not only revitalizing but reclaiming our downtown core seems abundantly clear to me. I suppose in this I choose to side with Eiffel, a man who forged on despite the cynicism of others and eventually proved his detractors quite wrong, as well as changing the face of Paris, France and even the world forever. Ideas lacking in boldness are not ones that provoke change. Only bold ideas, ones that may seem unusual or far too outside the box, are the ones that change skylines - and cities.

All we need to do is one small thing - say "go".

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