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The Dog Days of Summer

You know we're in the dog days of summer when the Free Press can't find a single news story worth reporting and, instead, devotes its front page to pictures of dogs and cats.

The Black Rod, in turn, was debating whether to write about the lockout of CBC employees or Brad Pitt. Once we asked ourselves which story would people care more about, it was an easy choice.

But then this item came across our desk, and we decided to regroup again.

Canad Inns has run into some big financing problems, and why do we think this is related to the demise of the Crocus Investment Fund.

Once the Crocus taps were shut off, the good times weren't rolling anymore. A multi-million dollar project that's been rolled out more than pyrogy dough at Alecia's is on life-support.

Plans to build a four-star hotel in Grand Forks was first announced in the summer of 2003. It would cost $17 million.

Over the ensuring two years the project grew larger and larger until Canad Inns was trumpeting The Canad Inns Destination Center, complete with a "world-class" 40,000 sq. ft. water park and 191-room hotel that will be attached to the Alerus Center. Total cost now: a tasty $50 million, U.S.

This morning, the project is still on the drawing board, and even that's held together by chewing gum and masking tape. The word in Grand Forks is that funding for the project has disappeared. Which explains a lot.

When the hotel was first announced, they said construction would start in March (2004). But that was delayed when Grand Forks residents rejected a proposal to finance a water-park next to the hotel. Canad Inns stepped up and said they would do it themselves. Canad Inns inked a deal with Grand Forks in January, 2004 and the hotel was expected to open about one year later. The Crocus Fund was still flush and talking expansion every moment.

But by the fall, Crocus was in the throes of a soul-searching internal review. In September, 2004, Canad said groundbreaking was pushed back to February, 2005. In February, Canad Inns' architect, Lonnie Laffen of JLG Architects, said he anticipated it would happen at the end of March.

March came and went, and so did April.

In May, Canad Inns President and CEO, Leo Ledohowski held a news conference at the Alerus where he introduced architects, contractors, engineers, and financiers and said the hotel would have its grand opening in the summer of 2006. Meanwhile, across town, city inspectors still had not received the final plans they needed to issue a building permit.

On May 30, like the iceberg that hit the Titanic, Auditor General Jon Singleton released his report into the Crocus Investment Fund.

In July, the Grand Forks press reported that final plans for the hotel were ready. But architect Laffen said the building plans were just for the shell of the building. Uh oh. In Crocusland that's known as a "red flag."

Canad president Leo Ledohowski said his contractors were going to speed up construction by putting up a shell before working on the interior. Even we knew that didn't sound right.

Ledohowski said his goal was to open the hotel by summer 2006. Six weeks later, not a single shovel of dirt has been moved. The money's dried up and the city is still waiting for the architects to file some plans.

The Mayor of Grand Forks says he's still confident that construction will begin this year. But he's a desparate man. The Canad Inns Hotel has been dangled in front of his citizens for two years now as a symbol of growth and regeneration. Sort of like the new Hydro Building in downtown Winnipeg.

And it may be worse than we think. If memory serves us well, the deal with Canad Inns is void if construction doesn't begin by Dec. 2005. The clock is ticking.

What might be bad new for Grand Forks could be good news for Winnipeg, though.

You remember that this past December Canad Inns was blowing the horns over another big project---another hotel and water park right here, or rather, right beside, Winnipeg. The new entertainment complex would be part of the plans for a new stadium on land owned by the Red River Ex in Headingley.

Haven't heard much about that hotel, either, have you? It seems the feasibility study came back - saying it was feasible to study it some more.

So one water park-slash-hotel project is on the shelf and another is on the ropes. That's the water park-and-spa plus 120-bed hotel announced for Headingley by Joe Paletta. Since the death of one of his principle investors in April, that project has officially been "on hold".

That means the only water park proposal still in play is the one considered least likely to succeed. The tortoise in the race of hares. We haven't heard a word about it since the flurry of water park announcements in the winter when everyone was surprised to hear that the Winnipeg Convention Centre, too, was looking at building a water park.

This is a prime opportunity for Sam - and by that we mean Sam Katz - to do something that will silence critics all across the political spectrum by fast-tracking the plan. Bring people downtown, within 2 blocks of the Graham Transit Mall, for good clean family fun.

One of the major drawbacks to the Headingley-based projects was the distance from the majority of the population. The downtown project is centrally located, will enhance downtown business, and will prove that Mayor Sam can lead the way in making Downtown a destination for families when the bears have left Broadway.

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While it looks like bad news for Grand Forks, it's Brad news for Winnipeg. The local shooting for Brad Pitt's movie about Jesse James won't get underway for another month.

That gives you time to get to Calgary to audition to be an extra. Auditions are being held Aug 21 at the Inn on Crowchild. But bring comfortable shoes. When they held auditions in Edmonton, by 10 o'clock in the morning the lineup went around the Ramada Inn one and a half times! And that was before most of the people showed up.

And if you're not planning on a trip to Calgary but think there may be a need for extras in Winnipeg, here's some tips. They're looking for men with "great character looks" (beards and mustaches are huge pluses) and women with long hair.

"We'll be creating several communities in the American old west so we'll need farmers, gunslingers, Civil War amputees, gentile ladies, gravediggers, policemen, miners, cotton pickers, cowboys, and various other riff raff everyone from 5 to 95 can apply," said the casting director.

Of course, you might want to just grab a lawnchair and set up around the Burton Cummings Theatre. The moviemakers say they'll be shooting here at an "opera house" and , wouldn't you know it, The Burt (formerly the Walker, formerly the Odeon, formerly Victoria Hall) was built as an opera house.

No trees will be hurt in the filming of this movie.

Ben Affleck's little brother, Casey, is definitely cast as Robert Ford, the dirty little coward that (SPOILER ALERT) shoots Jesse James. That's the biggest role next to Brad's Jesse James and he better be pouring over the script because shooting (of the cinematic kind) begins Aug. 29th.

*****************
Just about the only people who won't be angling for a peek at superstar Brad will likely be the CBC. The lockout of employees started today and it looks like the brass are taking a page from the NHL owners playbook: go long.

CBC employees don't get the same paycheques as NHL players. Take a look at what CBC pays its editorial staff according to the media guild:

The starting salary for a producer at the CBC is $52,851. The starting salary for a reporter is $40,780. A senior reporter can earn as much as $75,784. The lowly researcher starts at the CBC at $29,981.

It's a tossup over how long they go before drinking the Kool-Aid and deciding to accept the unacceptable. (Note to readers from New Winnipeg : That's a "quote" from Hirohito, Emperor of Japan, Aug. 15, 1945.)

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