TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Brandon Sun managing editor James O’Connor (left) speaks with Premier Greg Selinger during an editorial board meeting earlier this week at the Sun’s Rosser Avenue offices. At bottom left is Sun political reporter Jillian Austin. At far right is Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell. Not seen in photo is Sun publisher Eric Lawson and Selinger’s press secretary, Matt Williamson.
The NDP showed it’s really gotten quite good at playing the game of politics this week.
A screen grab from local online bulletin board eBrandon earlier this week, in which the poster offered a lesson in journalism.
Not only did it — or a Crown agency, or political ally — leak a major announcement to a friendly Winnipeg media outlet Tuesday about a brilliant new gaming policy, it did so while Premier Greg Selinger was neatly tucked away at a reception in Brandon.
And the news of a government-run "gaming centre" — not a casino, and that’s an impotant distinction — in downtown Winnipeg to be operated by Manitoba Lotteries but owned by the owners of the Winnipeg Jets came an hour after the first minister had spent time with the Sun’s editorial board.
Trust me, if we had known what the CBC had known when we had Gregger on our turf, we would have grilled him mercilessly on there being any chance that Brandon could also have a similar gaming centre.
A place for gambling that isn’t subject to the unworkable and outdated existing agreement with the province’s First Nations that all new casinos — but not gaming centres — be native run.
Sure, there are some semantics at work here, but it’s the first sign of logic the province has shown on the gaming file in a long, long time.
"I think it’s a model that could certainly work very well in Brandon," Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said. "It’s also a solid signal that the province is open to looking at different models besides aboriginal-controlled casinos."
Decter Hirst said if Brandon were to develop a gaming centre, downtown would be a natural location, depending on the size and scope.
"A hotel/entertainment complex has always been on the radar," she said.
Former premier Gary Doer was wrong more than a decade ago when he promised all new casino licences to the province’s First Nations. Sure, his heart was in the right place — using casinos and VLTs as an economic development opportunity for Manitoba aboriginal bands — but it hasn’t proven to be exactly a runaway success. Of the five possible casinos, only two have been built in more than a decade and a third — the controversial proposed Spirit Sands project south of Carberry — still isn’t a sure bet.
Predictably, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, was quick to accuse the NDP government of being underhanded in allowing the new gambling venue.
But in reality, the AMC has fumbled the casino file — and let millions of dollars in potential revenue just go to Saskatchewan or the northern United States — so the Manitoba government has wisely found a way to sidestep that sideshow.
And the concept of a smaller gaming centre is perfect for smaller venues and smaller communities — such as Brandon. What we could be looking at here is a 5,000-square-foot gaming centre offering 140 or so slot machines (not VLTs), poker and blackjack.
We hope clear heads prevail in laying the groundwork for this new era — and our mayor stops putting the cart before the horse as she did in a messed-up CBC interview late this week — so Brandon can also be granted one of these mini-casinos.
Rumour has it there is already talk that the Spirit Sands consortium on Highway 5 — a half-hour east of here — might demand a competition exclusion zone that would encompass Brandon. But I digress.
But what about those two plebiscites (in 2002 and 2008) when voters rejected the idea of a casino? Well, time moves on and this isn’t a casino we’re talking about. It’s a gaming centre.
It would be perfect in a boutique hotel — there are several chains nationally now into smaller, funkier hotels — where the closed and doomed Brandon Inn sits. The city has been slowly assembling land in that block for what we assume is part of the downtown revitalization component of the city’s Roadmap for Growth 2014 Strategic Plan. That’s the document that lists an "entertainment centre and a downtown hotel" as a priority.
Sure, there are many holes to be plugged in a plan such as that — such as acquiring what’s left of the Brown Block from its owners without causing a major issue — but a combination hotel/gaming centre with a refurbished Strand Theatre as its entertainment venue would be a marvellous destination draw for downtown Brandon. And yes, that’s assuming the Strand gets its public funding and is able to raise the private cash it needs when it starts its campaign.
That’s the type of bold and bright thinking that will spark a wave of private development downtown. Which could, by then, even include a brew pub in the historic former fire hall a few blocks to the east.
While the city’s retail centre — our 21st century downtown — clearly now runs the length of 18th Street, there’s no reason we can’t revision our former core. We still have a nice collection of older character buildings and a lot of people willing to try their hand at improving the place.
But they require clear indication that the city and province are ready to work together and start things off with something that will draw people to the area.
Hello, gaming centre/hotel complex.
Last week, I wrote about the potentially ruinous decision that was brought forth during city council’s recent budget debate that resulted in a $50,000 cut to our downtown development group, Renaissance Brandon.
With provincial matching funds, that actually meant a loss of $100,000 to the organization that helps new businesses get off the ground and also helps the city implement its broader strategies for the core area.
Thankfully, at last Monday’s council meeting Victoria ward rep Coun. Murray Blight gave notice he’ll bring forward a motion at a February council meeting to reconsider the reduction in funding for Renaissance Brandon.
In the interim, council plans to met with Ren Brandon to examine policies, procedures and priorities.
And that’s a good thing, because Ren Brandon is crucial to the future of redeveloping our downtown.
In the editorial board meeting, Premier Selinger said if the city decides to reconsider its decision to slash $50,000 from urban renewal funding in the 2013 budget — restoring it to $250,000 — the provincial funds will still be there.
In fact, he said the province would be ready to talk about even higher levels of funding. That’s because these types of organizations do work, as Selinger has seen in the provincial capital since 1999 with CentreVenture.
"We’re trying not to be prescriptive to the city, if they want to go back to the original amount, we will be there with them," he said. "That’s not a problem. If they want to go higher, we can have that discussion."
In these tough economic times, if a senior level of government is willing to give you matching dollars for development that will make Brandon a better place to live and raise our standard of living for generations, why say no?
This is exactly the type of commitment developers are waiting to hear from the city and province.
I was floored when I read the post below on a local bulletin board about what my role should be as managing editor of this media outlet. Sheesh, I hope the author wasn’t serious. First off, I am flattered he thinks I have so much power that someone such as myself "can get you what you want in this town." But somehow, I fear the poster hiding behind three random letters is serious. And he just doesn’t understand the traditional role of a mainstream media outlet.
We are here to faithfully and without bias inform readers of the news of the day. And through editorials (the company viewpoint) and columns such as this, we help stimulate public discussion on those very issues. As the old saying goes, newspapers comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And tolerate attacks from the online shadows.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 1, 2012