On Monday, I had a date with city council. Several months of intense letter writing, one month of petition gathering, three months of research and interviews, approximately 60 pages of university-level evidence later, and over 100 phone calls all around North America, all came down to 20 minutes in city council.
It was a battle that was fixed from the start.
The original ‘deal’ to buy the Arlington Inn was conditional upon demolition to make way for the new, improved Greater Downtown Action Plan and the Riverlands project. Even though the demolition process required a thorough historical survey, and even though historical groups from Central Alberta were vehemently opposed to the action of demolition, councillors and committee members bowed to a vision that was based on incomplete information. In this case, the Heritage Management Plan is not equipped to handle a city-owned property that comes into conflict, only those with co-operative and willing owners. In this case, we have neither. What we have is a true conflict of interest that must be fixed before any other decisions are made that hold us hostage to an administration that is committed to debt financing in these uncertain times.
During the meeting, and previous communications with city councillors and officials, I raised points ranging from environmental concerns to historical facts not previously known to a potential political backlash that might soon become ugly. I supported my arguments, and provided documentation and photographs of what they had not seen. Few city councillors had ever set foot into the hotel to view what they were going to destroy. Once again, how can you make a decision with incomplete information?
During my research, among the things I discovered were:
Thomas Ellis and his NWMP friends built the hotel; The Central Alberta Hotel Association was born in the hotel; Queen Victoria may have been a visitor in 1899; the 1899 wing boasts 110-year-old woodwork in pristine condition; a murder occurred in the lobby; it is haunted; it has passed at least two separate mechanical inspections. There are other facts I uncovered, and artifacts as well.
In the process of the meeting, it was markedly clear that many of the councillors did not read the reports sent into them, and hence could not or would not make an informed decision. Even the agenda had to be amended to include the CAHS, and the Heritage Committee letter. The initial package included only my comments, along with Craig Curtis’s matter of fact (we did everything right) letter and Laura Turners’ BDA opinion piece.
A direct question from Frank Wong was answered by Mayor Flewwelling, but seemed to hinge on Mr. Curtis’s OK. I was under the impression that this was a democratic process, not controlled by a paid employee. With 370 plus signatures and a 80 plus percentage rating on this issue, even this was not enough to sway a council whose rationale hinged on a ‘low integrity’ rating.
Reasonable questions were asked, which I answered. When it came time for ‘debate,’ Mr. Curtis, and Mr. Flewwelling made comments that demanded a counter question. This was not a time for debate, this was a time for the status quo to be upheld. Mr. Wong did request a time frame for myself to find a buyer, and to work with the documents that I promised to provide given time. I thank him for that.
There was no vote to hold off demolition. My petition was accepted, then ignored. I am thankful I was asked to present my side of the case, the side of the people of Red Deer to those who are supposed to serve the citizens.
This is a sad day for the city of Red Deer. We no longer require proof that our concerns are not heard when large financial decisions are involved, it’s right in front of us.