Salt with Pepper – An embarrassing situation that could be turned into a golden opportunity.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 16, 2011 It has been embarrassing. Many people worked very hard to make the elite cycling event that was to include five different races including a dramatic, exciting race through the downtown streets of Burlington – but it didn’t happen.

City staff put in hundreds of hours and the Halton Regional Police Service put in almost as many. The project may well have been doomed from the start when the promoter, Craig Fagan failed to show up at a Council meeting to talk to the plan in 2010, but the people involved didn’t know at the beginning what they know now – they were working with a most incompetent and unreliable event promoter. His behaviour is a mark against all the semi professional cyclists in Canada and one would hope that the Canadian Cycling Association would take steps to enforce some discipline on Craig Fagan and the Midweek Cycling Club. They put the city and the Regional Police though hoop after hoop.

Every time Fagan failed to appear for a critical meeting there would be an excuse and each time the people working with the promoter would shake their heads and try again. Fagan was taking advantage of everyone’s good will. We were had.

Is there a lesson for us here and an opportunity as well? I think there is. One of the things we have that no one else has is geography and if the cycling groups want to work with a city that puts real effort into making something happen – well maybe they will get in touch with us.

Fagan is now complaining about the cost of policing the event – and indeed the costs did seem very high, but he was aware of those costs right from the beginning. Fagan’s hope was that there would be significant sponsorship to offset the costs – but that sponsorship failed to appear.

We can cavil forever about how incompetent Fagan and his Midweek cycling colleagues were – what we need to do is look for the lessons and learn from them and then figure out how we can take the geography we have and get it in front of the people who want to use it for an elite level cycling event.

And here the city is going to have to lead, for it is Burlington that stands to reap most of the benefit. We will also have to partner with the police and work with them to find ways to get the policing and traffic management costs much lower. While the police may not see economic development as part of their mandate; working with the communities they serve and protect is most definitely a part of their mandate.

So – how would we best do this? The first step would be to learn more. When Fagan and his MidWeek people first approached Burlington we knew next to nothing about the intricacies of elite cycling events and we were constantly waiting for Fagan to give us information. We were far too dependent on a guy who didn’t show up for meetings and didn’t know how to balance a cheque book.

The city can, and should consider putting together a small team, three to five people, and have them research this business of elite sport cycling. Find out who the ‘players’ are. How does it work as a business ? Who makes the rules, who governs the sport and what are the financial basics ? Learn what the sport wants and then put together a report and have the city determine if there is an economic benefit for the city and if there is what will it cost the city to develop that benefit ?

We have an economic development corporation in place that does this kind of thing every day and while I have difficulty seeing Kyle Benham, Executive Director of the Burlington Economic development Corporation (BEDC) peddling a $7500. bicycle through the streets of Burlington, I can see him applying his keen mind to the financial inputs and outputs and advising the city on what might work. Sports tourism is big business and there is no reason why Burlington cannot be a sports tourism destination. We flood Spencer Smith Park with people during the Sound of Music Festival and the Rib Fest. There is an opportunity here – but the city is going to have to show leadership.

The team of three to five people I am proposing would spend less time on the research side than city staff spent in meeting after meeting being jerked around by an incompetent event organizer who was consistently dishonest with the people he was working with.

There is significant potential for the city with the geography we have. Can the city pull all the pieces together and make it work for the city? The first thing Scott Stewart needs to do is pull his people together and do a debriefing and figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong. His staff did a superb job of trying to get the thing off the ground. Not as sure that the policed did as well as the city staff but that can be brought to the surface in a debriefing.

The police could over time develop significant expertise in traffic management and working with communities to handle the different but very legitimate uses of our rural roads. The farmers need to be able to haul hay along those roads and the strawberry growers want those roads passable so that people can get to their fields. Surely there is a way to work with the calendar and figure out a way for everyone to use those same roads.

The police could become experts at this type of road management and traffic control and market their expertise to other municipalities and organizations..

Last weekend Toronto all but shut down parts of the city while thousands ran a marathon. The same thing happened in Mississauga. Properly organized Burlington could have an annual sports cycling event that would bring thousands of people to the city that would get national exposure.

At one of the Budget Orientation meetings earlier this year the BEDC talked of sending a delegation to Appledoorn, our sister city in Holland, on a search for a Dutch company that might be interested in locating in Burlington. Council didn’t warm up to that idea but they just might take to the idea of using some of the BEDC budget to look into Burlington becoming a sports cycling centre.





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