Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 30, 2015
When the residents of this city are asked what they believe is the single most important economic driver for the community, many will point squarely at the Keystone Centre.
Even though the structures housed within have evolved and been reborn over and over again throughout the centre’s 40-plus-year history, the time appears to have come to commit a steadier stream of support for capital projects and its long-term future.
The Keystone is constantly in flux year to year and is beginning to show its age. That said, it remains one of the biggest drivers in this community — all the while forced to pinch pennies to repair failing roofs or flirt with ever-increasing user fees to barely keep the lights on.
Throughout the past number of years, I, like so many others, have spent countless hours at the Keystone. Without a doubt, it is this generation’s Wheat City Arena or Prince Edward Hotel — a place where community happens.
The Keystone has played host to the biggest events to roll through the Wheat City over the last couple of decades.
Yet its funding for major capital projects has been as much of a roller-coaster ride as the events themselves — continually setting up and tearing down in hopes of finding the ability to build on the opportunity the complex affords while remaining sustainable.
As the structure ages even further, it will continue to need larger investment for capital repairs — which is why an idea tossed around city council to dedicate a direct strand of funding from the accommodation tax toward capital spending at the complex is a sensible approach.
Talk of this plan and review of the accommodation tax structure was headed up by Coun. Lonnie Patterson (South Centre), and if moved would see council undertake another review of the accommodation tax, possibly opening it up to committing a dedicated stream of dollars to the Keystone Centre for improvements and major projects.
This is unlikely to be enough money to bite off large chunks of new improvements, but it may be adequate to leverage further provincial investment, or the 50-cent dollar, as a recent Sun editorial alluded to this week.
As well, a review would bring the usage of those funds to a more transparent level and eliminate some of the grey areas as it pertains to who qualifies for pots of funds — and if so, how much they may receive for improvements.
The accommodation tax makes sense for the community, and although met with some initial resistance, the concept has funded some worthwhile initiatives to better the city.
The one stumbling block for the tax has always been the scope of projects that actually qualify. It is difficult for a tax such as this to see its full potential if it is limited to predominantly event-based delivery and cannot be used for more capital spending like the Keystone desperately needs.
The scope and nature of their investments through a broadened accommodation tax could really be a financial “shot in the arm” for the Keystone, and may take a bit of the pressure off the centre having to continually come back to council on a regular basis to help fund repairs.
As well, with a dedicated line of support, it would allow for some more long-term strategic planning at the Keystone level for major projects. Repairs and investments done ahead of the curve often cost less as opposed to cleaning up damages after the fact — much like the repairs to the roof of the amphitheatre, which finally saw the doors reopen after seven years of being shuttered.
The economic impact of the centre is thought to eclipse $60 million annually, so the need to further maintain and build on opportunities in the structure makes a lot of sense for this region.
If the Keystone was able to further leverage the province to match dollars in the meantime, all the better for this community and the many businesses and stakeholders that benefit from it.
A review is a good strategy for council and is a positive move to always be examining how to better invest our dollars.
Furthermore, if city council feels the need to dedicate a percentage of funds toward the Keystone, it could provide a more long-term and effective plan for the future of a complex — a complex many would say is, without a doubt, at the heart of this community.