Henderson: The festive season came early this year

The Windsor Star

Gord Henderson

Pity poor Santa. The wheezy geezer faces a daunting challenge tonight in trying to top all the gift-wrapped goodies that have come tumbling down Windsor’s chimney in 2012 through hard slogging, slick stickhandling and a bit of good fortune.

The festive season came early for Windsor. It arrived way back in January when our ballsy man of the year, Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards, sent Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his trusty sidekick, Dan Stamper, to the slammer for failing to meet court deadlines to finish a project linking the bridge and interstate highways.

OK. They were behind bars for only one night. And yes, they enjoyed catered grub (under the privileged persons penal provisions)  from a prestigious Detroit club. Still, I cannot remember a story that put bigger manure-eating grins on the faces of long-suffering Windsor residents than the stunning news that this powerful duo was locked up.

It came as a shock to some to see an 84-year-old incarcerated. We respect our elders, and yadda, yadda. But it restored a wee bit of public faith in the system, or at least in one Michigan judge with backbone, to think that even a Forbes-ranked billionaire was not above the law. For Windsor and our senior levels of government, locked in an epic struggle with the bridge company over border infrastructure, it was too sweet for words.

Almost as sweet as the news in November that Michigan voters had sailed through their collective IQ test in easily rejecting Proposal 6, a constitutional amendment designed to block or delay construction of a new international bridge that would compete with Ambassador Bridge.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall next morning when the company’s blue-chip hired help gathered for the Proposal 6 post mortem: As in: “Which of you strategic geniuses thought it was a good idea to ‘let the people decide’ at a cost of $33 million?” Talk about getting zero bang for your buck.

These were freebies. The hand of fate. But most of the joy that came Windsor’s way this year was earned. Consider the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway — soon to be downsized to “The Herbie” or “The Parkway” or “The HGP.” This is the gift that keeps on giving, a $1.4- billion project pouring much-needed money into this region for meals, motels, materials, you name it. It’s one hell of a show, the build of a lifetime, and I can’t drive those 11 km without being flabbergasted over the scale of it — and proud as punch that it’s being built because the people of Windsor, led by Mayor Eddie Francis and current and past councils, fought tooth-and-nail (with expert hired advice) to secure a first-rate project that will transform a big chunk of Windsor when it opens in the fall of 2014.

Some say the best gift is the one you give yourself. In that case, Windsor should feel chuffed about the $77-million aquatic complex rising south of the art gallery. This is our baby, a major community asset like the WFCU Centre, that residents can enjoy and take pride in. “We’re on time and on budget and there’s nothing like this that I’ve seen in all of southwestern Ontario. It has every bell and whistle you can imagine,” boasted Don Sadler, the former parks boss who’s steering the project. He expects to have the entire structure closed in by early February at the latest. A city that was a competitive swimming facility backwater will soon be able to compete at any level.

Jocks will be happy. But this was also the year culture was saved in Windsor. Complex negotiations between the city and its major cultural players, the Windsor Symphony and the Art Gallery of Windsor, have ensured the survival of both organizations, with the symphony entrenched in the rescued Capitol Theatre and a desperate gallery relieved of responsibility for its money-draining building.

They say it’s better to give than to receive, but the University of Windsor might beg to differ. On May 30, at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, hundreds of this country’s movers and shakers gathered for a roast of Ed Lumley, the U of W’s immensely popular chancellor, that produced an astonishing $5.3 million in donations for the new engineering school, the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.

Three hours. And $5.3 million. A magical night. “It was incredible. It was amazing. It was the largest single fundraising event we have ever had,” recalled Alan Wildeman, U of W president. The bonus, he said, was a major boost in the university’s profile outside Windsor.

There were other gifts: The early CUPE deal, the long overdue Grace Hospital deal. The new extended care facility on the St. Clair College campus. I could go on and on. And you know whose mitts are all over many of these resolved issues. Those of our deal-swinging mayor.

Good luck St. Nick. You have a tough act to follow.