Viewpoint: A Mobilizing Project: The Peel Basin Entertainment Complex project must be discussed openly and frankly

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Added on 20 October 2005 in Viewpoints

Text signed by Isabelle Hudon, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, and Charles Lapointe, President and CEO  of Tourisme Montréal, co-chairs of the Support Coalition for the Peel Basin Entertainment Complex. Text published in Le Devoir on November 9, 2005, and on the Cyberpresse Website.

October 20, 2005

A Mobilizing Project
The Peel Basin Entertainment Complex project must be
discussed openly and frankly

Tourisme Montréal and the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal have joined forces to create a coalition made up of the city's leading economic, tourism and cultural players in favour of the Peel Basin Entertainment Complex project unveiled in June by Loto-Québec and Cirque du Soleil.

As Loto-Québec has already explained, this project was spawned to resolve the management and operating problems of the Montreal Casino. The purpose here is not to discuss or judge the merits of these problems but simply to state them.  

Thus, Loto-Québec cites the following issues: rising operating costs, poor road access, insufficient nearby parking, a small performance hall, a dearth of attractive services conducive to creating entertainment synergy rather than simply attracting the public to gaming, an inability to develop these services without significantly encroaching on Île Notre-Dame's green space and mounting competition by all-inclusive resorts with casinos. The end result is that the Montreal Casino has been attracting an increasingly local clientele and has seen traffic decrease in the last three years.

In light of this situation, Loto-Québec decided that the time had come to build a new integrated complex in order to remain internationally competitive. To this end, it enlisted the help of Cirque du Soleil, known for its creativity and expertise. Together, the two organizations came up with an innovative project for an integrated entertainment complex, the only one of its kind in the world. The site selected for this new structure is close to downtown, in a commercial and industrial pocket that has been largely neglected for years and requires decontamination.

It will be recalled that this project is debt-financed by Loto-Québec and will be repaid from operating revenues. The issue here is not about choosing whether to invest a billion dollars in health or in this complex. Without this project, there is no billion dollars. The government is not being asked to contribute to the financing, and therefore the public debt will not increase. Moreover, this complex will add at least $25 million a year to the public coffers, funds which could then be reinvested in health, for example.

There are many reasons to view this project with optimism and enthusiasm. Indeed, we sincerely believe it is our duty to defend and promote it.

A structuring project that resolves genuine problems

Often overused, the term “structuring project” is in this case very fitting as it will create a powerful economic, tourism and cultural lever for Montreal and definitely resolve some of the issues confronting the city in order to remain competitive on the world stage.

More specifically, this project will see the construction of an exhibition centre capable of hosting events and trade shows requiring more than 500,000 sq. ft. Montreal currently does not have such a venue, which is a tremendous disadvantage on the world stage since we are unable to attract large international shows and those that we do host cannot grow because of the limited space. By acquiring and decontaminating the land required for such an exhibition centre, the Loto-Québec project will be the spark we needed for this convention facility to finally see the light of day in Montreal.

The Peel Basin Entertainment Complex also includes the construction of a 2,500-seat performance hall, another sorely needed addition in Montreal. At the present time, the only other performance hall of this size is Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts, a venue that is frequently booked, preventing Montreal from staging world-class shows for extended runs.

While these two elements alone already justify building the Peel Basin Entertainment Complex, there are many others. First, this would be one of Montreal's largest construction projects for the next 10 years and more than 14,200 much-needed jobs would be created during the planning and construction period. Moreover, once completed, if we take into account the manpower required to run the complex and exhibition centre, and the positions generated by their ability to attract tourists, this project will ultimately create in the vicinity of 6,500 direct and indirect jobs.

But these are only the immediate economic spin-offs. There will be more. This project would be an international window par excellence for Quebec savoir-faire. Be it in terms of design, innovation, new technology or creativity in general, the approach developed by Loto-Québec and Cirque du Soleil will showcase our strengths and what we have to offer. Not only will the Complex have a first-class hotel and a one-of-a-kind spa, there will also be an Artist's Wharf where artists will be able to

create and share their works with the public. All this will attract a more diversified clientele than currently frequent the Casino. And we believe that the involvement of the nationally and internationally celebrated Cirque du Soleil will enhance the project's creativity and credibility and raise its global profile.

The Peel Basin Entertainment Complex is therefore a definitely worthwhile and complementary addition to Montreal's tourism offer and one that can be leveraged year round. Besides creating a natural link between the downtown core and Old Montreal, this project would trigger a vast revitalization and development of the Montreal harbourfront, an extremely important and strategic territory that would finally connect the river to downtown, allow citizens to reclaim access to the waterfront and generate development projects in the order of $8 billion until 2025. The Société du Havre has already stated that the Peel Basin Entertainment Complex is a cornerstone of its project.

Still, while the Complex holds promise for Montreal's economic and tourism development, the environmental and social concerns it raises must not be ignored.

From an environmental perspective, the Complex will be built according to sustainable development principles (LEED) and with a view to enhancing our heritage. All the land on which the facilities will be built will be decontaminated. Beyond that, the project will protect Île Notre-Dame from unbridled development and preserve its green space, yet still provide the impetus to one day reclaim the waterfront along the Montreal harbourfront.

From a social perspective, Loto-Québec is mindful of the communities affected by the project, as did the TOHU, the Cité des arts du cirque de Montréal. Loto-Québec understands that sustainable development is not possible without

striking a balance between social responsibility and economic development. To this end, it has already launched a dialogue with residents in the surrounding areas in order to minimize the inconveniences created by the project and to highlight the jobs that will be created by this initiative. While these concerns must be taken into account at all stages of the project, they ultimately must not cripple the process.

A Support Coalition

Because we are not alone to believe in this project, we decided to bring together organizations and key players from the tourism, economic, cultural and sport sectors to form a Coalition. This Coalition will collect relevant statistics and research regarding the project in order to highlight its benefits and spin-offs and encourage the government to make a quick decision.

To date, about twenty of Montreal's largest organizations have come out in favour of the project. We will continue to seek additional supporters and announce them as they join our group.

The Peel Basin Entertainment Complex is the stuff of dreams and creativity. It calls for a combination of careful planning and boldness. The only one of its kind in the world, this mega project would provide Montreal and Quebec with a powerful economic development, tourism and cultural lever. And consequently, we must make this happen.