The heart is back in the game in arena debate


(Meghan Plooy, executive director of the DBIA, speaks to city council's planning committee on Tuesday.)

The heart, it would appear, has not quit yet.

In mid-May, I wrote a column characterizing the discussion of a new twin-pad arena's location as one of the head versus the heart.

The heart argues for a return to the days when the downtown hosted hockey players and other arena users on a regular basis, whereas the head sees the current Memorial Centre site as the financially sensible option.

In recent weeks, it felt like the head had settled the matter.

The ad hoc arena committee recommended making the Memorial Centre the sole spot under consideration, with some very sensible arguments.

For starters, the city owns the land, so there is no purchase cost. Secondly, the Memorial Centre needs an upgrade anyway, so why not make that upgrade part of a larger revamp into a two-or-three-pad facility?

And wouldn't Brockville be better off with one large, mega-sportsplex (by local measuring standards, at least...)?

The heart, however, will not be denied.

On Tuesday, Meghan Plooy, executive director of the Downtown Brockville Business Improvement Area (DBIA), appealed to city councillors to look beyond the cost-saving numbers and consider the positive impact a downtown arena would have on the main core.

What's more, Mayor David Henderson, who has maintained a head-based posture throughout the very separate debate over the future of policing in Brockville, appears to be placing himself in the heart camp for the arena debate.

I say this because, at Tuesday's planning committee meeting, the mayor prefaced his comments by warning that he could get animated on the subject.

He then followed this up with an impassioned argument that can best be summed up with the words he used when he first brought up the downtown arena idea in May:

Generally, it's one of the city's goals to invest in the downtown,” he said during his “State of the Union” address. “Government's role is to do things the market won't do.”

The arena, argued the mayor, is one of the rare opportunities municipalities sometimes get to make significant investments that can help reshape the character of their main core.

The downtown, he continued, is still being reshaped from its past as the city's principal retail area to something resembling a mix of specialty retail, residential sections and other functions.

A small arena hosting regular hockey tournaments would make an ideal fit for one of those other functions.

And with that suggestion, the heart is back in the game. The idea of a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in a downtown game-changer should give us all reason to pause.

What happens after that pause will depend on how we choose to frame the discussion.

If it's about infrastructure planning and fiscal sense, then the Memorial Centre certainly wins.

If the mayor is successful, however, the discussion will fall under a broader frame encompassing downtown revitalization, community improvement and long-term benefits.

There are many ways the latter kind of discussion can go. We would end up talking about more than infrastructure, instead reopening the downtown debate to an extent that hasn't been done since the advent of the box stores and the revamp of King Street a dozen years ago.

And that broader frame would likely include a broader spectrum of potential funding sources. Would the DBIA be asked to kick in a share, albeit a smaller one? Would the Rotary Park group, having achieved its goals with that facility, be urged to kick into fundraising mode again for a facility that could, in one iteration, end up right next to it?

Does downtown revitalization open up other avenues of senior government infrastructure funding, for that matter?

The head might yet prevail, but it shouldn't until all these questions have been addressed.