Sunday, April 19, 2015

Recent news on downtown St. Catharines is creating a buzz

First of all, my apologies for being absent the last couple of weeks from this space, but a number of personal issues had to be dealt with that took precedence.  Now I'm back with plenty to say, which should come as no surprise to anyone!

Recent news out of our soon-to-be-completed Performing Arts Centre is the naming rights for the complex have gone to First Ontario Credit Union for a sum of $ 3-million.  This is indeed great news as the construction continues towards the fall 2015 opening.

I was on Twitter the day of the announcement, commenting on the fact two of the three major infrastructure projects underway on St. Paul Street are now to be named after Ontario credit unions:  first Meridian purchased the naming rights for the new spectator facility that opened last fall, and now First Ontario is doing the same for the Performing Arts Centre.  What I suggested at the time was that credit unions were investing in us, which indeed they are.

The important thing to remember about both of these significant announcements is they reflect each credit union's commitment to community values.  I'm not saying the major financial institutions in this country don't step up the plate themselves; they do with projects such as BMO Field in Toronto, for example.

But these two hit especially close to home, and benefit our community both directly and indirectly.  Directly buy injecting funds to help defray the costs of building the projects to begin with, and indirectly by giving them a higher profile in the community through betterment of our way of life and of those around us elsewhere in the peninsula.

If you need proof of how much of an impact these projects have and will continue to have on our community, all you would of had to do is walk downtown during the recent Niagara Ice Dogs playoff run.  The season ended Friday night with another loss to the Oshawa Generals in the Motor City, but while the run continued the downtown was electric on game nights, and it was great to see.

I had the pleasure of handing out noisemakers prior to the first two Round One playoff games against Ottawa before Easter and I can tell you, the atmosphere was upbeat and fun.  And that fun included lots and lots of families coming downtown on a weeknight to catch a game at the Meridian Centre and cheer on the home team.

I talked to some of the downtown restaurants and bars during the last month or so and what I heard is they were very pleased with the increase in business on game nights.  But they were also pleased with the make up of those crowds.  More families coming in before or after the game to eat, rather than just a bunch of guys grabbing a beer or two before or after the game.

So family is one of the direct benefits we're seeing here.  The Meridian Centre and the Niagara Ice Dogs have given families a reason to come downtown, spend some time and money, and feel good about a night out in our city core.  That has not always been the case.

While I was at the Rankin Bridge entrance to the Meridian Centre on game night, I could look down and see the progress on both the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and the new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, and I could visualize a night next fall when we have a game at the Meridian Centre, an event at the First Ontario Centre, and ongoing classes and student activity at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.

If that doesn't get your heart racing just a little bit, you are not a proud St. Catharines resident.

Oh sure, I have heard the naysayers, including one older gentleman who lamented to me the fact we had a chance years ago to build a rink in the lower-level parking lot when the St. Catharines Saints of the AHL were playing over at the Gatecliff Arena back in the 80s.  I remember those days well and the heated debate going on over whether we should build in the lower level lot back then or not.

This gentleman reminded me since the Saints were the farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the majority owner back then being Harold Ballard, we could have had Mr. Ballard build us a new arena back then.

Okay, I appreciate where you're coming from, but really, if you have to rely on Harold Ballard to support your argument, well, you've lost all credibility in my books.

These new projects are being funded by government at all levels as well as us, the taxpayers.  And even if you don't plan to directly appreciate one or more of the facilities, consider others who will.  The fact is we are a community, and we can't just opt out if it doesn't fit our own personal vision of what constitutes a community.

Should we only pay taxes proportionate to the length of the street we live on that gets plowed every winter?  Of course not.  We pay our fair share and that benefits everyone.  The same goes for our new infrastructure projects downtown.

I may not often go to an Ice Dogs game, and you might not often go to a Niagara Symphony concert, for example. But think of what both of those events bring to the community as a whole and then you're looking at the bigger picture.

We are investing in ourselves and our future here in Niagara.  We are giving families and future generations of families reason to settle here in Niagara and contribute to our economy and our collective lifestyle.

Two of Ontario's largest credit unions get it, and lots of others do, too.  We are not waiting for opportunity to knock.  We're opening the door and grabbing opportunity by the scruff of the neck and saying "Hey!  You might want to stick around here for awhile!"

To Meridian, thank you.  To First Ontario, thank you.  To the Niagara Ice Dogs, thank you.  To all levels of government and all the donors so far and yet to come, thank you all.

Teamwork builds futures.  Let's work together as a team to help build ours right here in Niagara.

Have a great weekend!

April 19th, 2015.

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