Cranbrook’s latest elephant story is white
By Gerry Warner
What is it about Cranbrook and elephants?
First there was “Charlie Ed,” a circus elephant that escaped while performing with a carnival in town in 1926 and was captured in the bush six weeks later alive and well and renamed “Cranbrook Ed” by jubilant town folk who were joyous that the roaming pachyderm survived his ordeal. Unfortunately, Cranbrook Ed came to a tragic end eight years later when he was executed by a firing squad after goring his trainer.
Surely there’s a metaphor here for another Cranbrook elephant, one distinctly white in color otherwise known as Western Financial Place.
Let’s face it folks. That’s what we have at the corner of 17th Ave. and 2nd St. N, a colossal white elephant with a leaking roof that has to be replaced to the tune of more than $3 million in taxpayers’ money, equal to the City’s road budget in a normal budget year, and the prospect that 15 years hence the taxpayers will be digging into their pockets to do it again because of the roof’s questionable design.
No kidding! In fact, I’ve been talking to City officials and I’ve filed a Freedom of Information application to get to the bottom of this horrendously expensive mess, but in the meantime some things are glaringly obvious.
Like it or not, we’ve been had, but I hasten to say, not by the current council. They’re just the poor shmucks that are going to have to bail us out of this mess. No, we were had by a cabal of lawyers, businessmen and politicians almost 20 years ago that somehow in their lust to land a Canadian Hockey League team convinced a gullible public to believe in their cockamamie scheme to bring a CHL team to Cranbrook. We’re a great hockey town in our own right, but maybe not quite big enough to support a CHL team. Then they housed the team in a building designed by a “three P” public/private partnership, which included an outfit out of Cincinnati that didn’t know or care a hell of a lot about hockey, nor it appears building design, if you consider the leaky roof and the loading bay that’s too small for the big rigs that service the few major concert acts that we’ve been able to bring to our fair burg.
The referendum vote was close, but we fell for it hook, line and sinker and now it appears we’re going to lose our no longer so loved hockey team attracting paltry crowds of 1,700 or less in a building that seats over 4,200. As for the building itself we’re going to have to decide whether it’s really worth spending another $3.5 million on at the expense of the taxpayers’ already tightened belts and the City services that may have to be cut for our over-sized and costly white elephant.
And you know what’s really sad about this already sad affair is where is that group of lawyers, businessman and politicians that brought us this debacle? Where is the “Save the Ice” committee raising money and selling T-shirts to save our once beloved team? Well, I’ll tell you where they are. They’re nowhere! Not a peep out of them while the fate of The Ice and the fate of our White Elephant, I mean Western Canada Place, twists in the wind. And in their place, what do we see? Former Ice players writing mature and articulate letters to the newspaper pleading for the team to remain in Cranbrook. That’s the saddest part of all.
I don’t envy the task facing the current council to somehow salvage something out of this stinking manure pile we’re now in. Will a White Knight come forward at the last minute and save Cranbrook’s most famous team? Would community ownership be the answer? Could the former Rec Plex be sold to a private owner if the price was right?
None of these are easy possibilities, but let’s face it Cranbrook, we’re all responsible one degree or another for this unholy mess and we’re all in it together.
Gerry Warner is a retired City councillor and a former reporter for the Townsman.