I've felt that there hasn't been as much discussion as there should be about a major decision that will face the next Council. It's an elephant in the room if you will...and a large elephant at that!
I'm talking about the Crystal Centre expansion of course.
The latest expansion study proposed a $44 million upgrade to the facility. The project would see the CGA seat count increase to 5000. It also included a retrofit of the north side of the building to be made into a conference centre. The intent of the project is to attract more shows to GP, open possibilities for a WHL team, and provide an avenue for economic stimulus with conferences.
The next Council will have to decide what to do with this study.
To expand or not to expand...
To be completely blunt, I am not in favour of expansion, at least for the next few years. I feel there are other priorities that need to be addressed first, such as the twinning of 92nd St. and 68th Ave. A project of this magnitude, which would have to be largely financed, would push us near if not over our debt limit and I don't want to move in that direction.
When the city is in a more favourable financial position, I would reconsider my stance. However, there are a number of concerns I have regarding the expansion at any rate.
First, I am unsure of whether there is enough public support for the project to warrant the expenditure. I believe people do want more entertainment opportunities in the city, as do I, but is the Crystal Centre the best option for this? Many people have suggested that a Performing Arts centre would provide better value for residents as it could bring in a greater number of smaller acts and provide a facility to be used for youth programs and arts groups throughout the year.
Others have suggested that building a new arena would be more cost effective in the long-run as it would address many of the deficiencies of the Crystal Centre. I'm not definitively saying that the Crystal Centre isn't the best option, I'm saying there needs to be a lot more thought and consultation as we proceed.
Second, I am not sold on the value of the conference centre addition. We would be going head to head with the Entrac (TEC) Centre and a number of private facilities, thus splitting the market putting into question the economic viability of the project. It has been suggested that we could grow the market with a premier facility like this. I realize that the conference hosting market is lucrative and could be a huge economic stimulus for the city, especially the downtown core. Let's just say that at this point I'm not convinced we could grow the market big enough to justify the expenditure.
Third, there's the issue of ongoing costs. In Dawson Creek they guarantee shows meaning that taxpayers are on the hook if a show flops. The EnCana Centre is also subsidized at four times the rate per capita as the Crystal Centre. In order to compete with EnCana, it will take a lot more than a big fancy building. There would have to be significant operational dollars added. The city would have to have a serious discussion on whether these costs are justifiable.
With all this said, there may be a "third option" I would entertain in the short-term. The Crystal Centre has lost shows just because it cannot structurally support the light and sound equipment that the bigger acts are using. I've been told that the promoters of the Carrie Underwood show came to us first, but had to go EnCana after finding out we couldn't support their equipment. For a $1 million dollar upgrade, I've been told we could address this deficiency. This would be a cost-effective solution that I would consider in the short-term.
In conclusion, I am not in favour of a large-scale Crystal Centre expansion for the immediate future. As we plan for the future, I believe a larger performing venue should be in our minds. There are a number of options for what this venue should be. I would love to hear your thoughts!