Kelowna mayor's letter sets off political firestorm in Ontario city

Kelowna’s mayor has inadvertently helped fuel a political firestorm in a city on the other side of the country.

In response to a request for information from people in Belleville, Ont., about how Kelowna has kept its Memorial Arena open, while having a modern facility, Prospera Place, operate in its city, Gray recently wrote a letter explaining how important the city considers its old arena.

“It is a significant representation of postwar community efforts to commemorate lost soldiers, build community pride and construct new recreational facilities,” said Gray in the letter.

“It is valued for its association with the importance of local organized hockey leagues in Kelowna and for its continuous use as a hockey venue.”

In Belleville, where that community’s Memorial Arena has been closed for three years, the letter has raised the ire of the mayor, who saw Gray’s comments as political interference, especially in this, an election year.

And the Ontario mayor was not shy about telling Gray exactly how he felt.

According to Gray, Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis called him Tuesday and was very angry.

While some in Belleville want the city to re-open its old arena, the city says it does not have the money to pay for the extensive renovations required.

In his letter, Gray explained how Kelowna’s 2004 renovations to Memorial Arena not only were important from a preservation of an historic building perspective, but it also allowed the city to defer building a new city-owned arena for at least 10 years.

It appears it was Gray’s call for Belleville to “preserve this rich and vibrant piece of history for the benefit of future generations and as a testament to the past,” that sparked the most controversy.

And Gray’s suggestion that Belleville consider a public-private partnership as a possible solution didn’t help, either.

Ellis reportedly told Gray his council has more important spending priorities than its old arena.

Gray went on radio in Belleville and was interviewed by the newspaper there explaining his letter was not an attempt at political interference.

He apologized if offence was taken.


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