From “City Of Roses” To “Sin City North”
This is my final column for Biz X magazine. Twenty-three years is a long time, although leafing through all my columns it almost seems like yesterday.
I would like to start by thanking my wife Susan and my son Andrew for loving and supporting me through the ups and downs of a journalist’s career. And I want to thank Biz X Publisher Deborah Jones for giving me a soap box to stand on.
In 1898, American humourist and writer Finley Peter Dunne offered this advice: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
That lofty ideal has long been a mission to aspire to, for ink stained wretches like myself. I’m sure I have often fallen short of that pinnacle, although I seem to have offended some mighty people along the way.
Deborah, in her first “Publisher’s Note” in 1998, paid me a tribute: “Alan always has the knack of shedding the cold hard light of truth on his subjects.”
You make me blush Deborah.
I have actually contemplated this move for a while now. Former Windsor Star editor Carl Morgan once told me that good writing is very hard work. He was right.
I have always been a slow, meticulous writer and as I get older it gets harder still.
Way back in the mid 1970s, I quit the Toronto Globe and Mail. As a sports reporter with a morning newspaper, I had to meet murderous deadlines and file copy literally as the night games were ending.
I decided I didn’t want to subject myself to that kind of journalism on the run. I was fortunate enough to return to Windsor where I became a columnist and feature writer facing far less exacting deadlines.
In my younger days, I emulated Jack Dulmage, who was Sports Editor of the Windsor Star and famous for his delicate wordsmithing. I admired the wit and irreverence of Dick Beddoes, The Globe and Mail Sports Columnist, in the short time I was there.
I eventually latched onto Biz X, where I have struggled at times meeting the deadlines of a periodical that publishes 10 times a year.
Yes . . . I’m a procrastinator also.
My goals have been to inform, investigate, entertain, amuse and make people think.
If I kick the ruling class in the shins along the way so be it. Journalists like to make a difference, and I’m no different.
My introduction to Biz X coincided with my election to Windsor City Council, where I was seen as a dirt disturber by some and a watchdog by others. I suffered those stressors for 17 years before retiring in 2014.
Windsor’s political scene has always provided fertile ground for opinionists to unearth spin doctors and damage controllers who take themselves too seriously.
My first Biz X offering was in February of 1998. It was entitled “Time To Consolidate Our Marketing Forces.”
I identified seven entities, for the most part working in silos, to market Windsor Essex. The result was “a dog’s breakfast at worst and a patchwork quilt at best,” I declared sharply.
Nearly a quarter of a century has gone by, but in many respects the more things change the more they stay the same. In researching my archives, I came across numerous mentions of the need to shed the “City of Roses” tag (we hardly grow roses anymore) and find a new brand.
Despite calling in outside image consultants in 2008, at considerable cost, those efforts remain fruitless. Rose City has stood the test of time, mostly because we haven’t found something better.
Yves Landry, President of Chrysler Canada, died suddenly on March 15, 1998 one month after the birth of Biz X. It stirred memories of the birth of the Canderel Building, since Landry went to then Mayor Mike Hurst with the brainchild to expropriate the historic Norwich Block and convert it into Chrysler’s Canadian headquarters.
That decision became cannon fodder for journalists like me for years to come when the original plan to build 32 storeys dwindled down to 14.
The headline on my May, 2002 column read: “Honey I Shrunk The Tower.”
I hardly have space to mention all the topics I covered in my adopted role as advocate for the little guy, but I have tried to follow my own advice as printed on the Biz X website.
“I believe all businesses share a common interest in how governments spend tax dollars with an emphasis on exposing and commenting on the political gymnastics and taxation excesses of bureaucracies.”
Sadly, holding government spending to account is a near impossible task during the panic of the pandemic, when pretty well anything goes.
For the purpose of this epistle, however, I will offer one classic example of the little guys getting snookered.
In 2005, the city hiked the liquor licensing fees by 600 percent on mom and pop breakfast places, with a few beers for sale in ice boxes. Pete’s Place, across from Windsor Arena, was one of the victims. The city said the extra money was needed to cover policing costs.
In stark contrast, the City of Windsor subsidized the celebrations of the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit to the tune of $250,000 U.S.
The international media had a field day carving out its own brand for Windsor — “Sin City North” — catering to jet setters on the prowl for the hedonistic pleasures of Windsor’s more liberal laws. Remember Jasons’ laptop dancers and licensed prostitutes?
Since then the city has been flipping tens of thousands to market the “Detroit Grand Prix” auto race.
Local politicians love to throw tax money at mega projects and events on the premise that they create jobs. I found an article recently that lays bare the folly of that expectation.
A federal government watchdog recently released a study declaring that a super cluster of innovation projects, heavily bankrolled by the Liberal government, created roughly 14 jobs for every $1 million in funding.
Legendary Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once supposedly said that it wasn’t politically useful to spend money “below ground.” Shiny new skyscrapers are appreciated more than sewer and water systems.
As our roads and sewers continued to rot, Windsor politicians continued to covet fancy bricks and mortar like a $78.1 million aquatic centre that has been bleeding red ink since its opening downtown in late 2013.
That project led to the closure of Windsor Arena, still vacant, and Water World, today serving as a daytime haven for the homeless.
The city ultimately built a new arena, at the expense of the taxpayer, on the outskirts of the city for $71 million.
My most controversial Biz X column? Probably the one in September 2019 entitled “The Trials And Tribulations Of Downtown Windsor.” It followed the departure of Starbucks from downtown, and I speculated: “Does A Cloud Of Doom Shroud Downtown Windsor?”
I have concluded that downtown Windsor will never die. But, for downtown retail stores? Well that has pretty well already happened.
As for me, I don’t intend to head out to pasture. I continue to dream of publishing a book or two, and hopefully avoid any hard deadlines.