What a tangled web the long-heralded Wood Innovation and Design Centre has become but after cutting through the rumours and accusations, it's actually a pretty simple story.
A group of investors, led by Dan McLaren, got a loan from Northern Development Initiatives Trust to assemble the land where the wood centre was supposed to be built - on the site of the former P.G. Hotel on George Street across from the Ramada and the properties in that block.
Brian Fehr of the BID Group was one of the companies competing to win the construction contract.
Both he and McLaren are making the same accusation against Prince George Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell, the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training - that Bell made promises to them about their involvement in the development of the wood centre.
McLaren fired off an angry letter in November to the lawyer in charge of making sure the bid process on the wood centre was fair.
Our complaint centres on breached protocols, broken promises, misrepresentation, false warranties and bad faith, McLaren wrote in his letter, according to a story in Wednesday's Vancouver Sun. We were duped into this deal. The government has been caught playing dirty tricks on us. We have lost a great deal of money. We want out.
But where's the proof about these "breached protocols" and "broken promises?"
Neither Fehr nor McLaren has yet to produce any written documentation to support their allegations against Bell, preferring to just repeat endlessly how they've been wronged by Bell and they were led down the garden path in their noble efforts to revitalize downtown.
That seems most unlikely.
Both Fehr and McLaren are sophisticated, intelligent businessmen who have not achieved their level of success by being easily duped by grandiose schemes. Furthermore, both men are well connected to the B.C. Liberals, with their pocketbooks and, in McLaren's case, his political activism (he ran against Bell for the riding nomination back in 2001 and campaigned for Kevin Falcon in his bid to succeed Gordon Campbell as party leader ).
What does seem obvious is that Bell strongly encouraged McLaren and Fehr to get behind this project (how strong that encouragement was is what's at issue) and McLaren and Fehr responded, trusting the government would quickly come through on its plans to build the centre and provide them with a tidy return on their investment.
But the project languished and doubts rose to the surface over the building's size, who the anchor tenants would be and what the heck is a wood innovation and design centre, anyway?
Then, last fall, NDIT launched foreclosure proceedings against Commonwealth Campus, demanding payment on the outstanding $1.4 million of the original loan.
Now, in what appear to be their last months in power, the B.C. Liberals insist the project is still going ahead this spring, cheerfully ignoring the fact that the May provincial election will bring the NDP to power.
Will the NDP under Adrian Dix support the construction of the wood centre or will the project be gassed as a white elephant folly by the Liberals?
Hard to say.
Still, the story so far is a tale as old as time, once all the sound and fury is cleared away.
An enthusiastic politician boasted about a grand development in his city.
Sniffing opportunity, business people invested heavily in the prospect.
Reality did not match the politician's vision and the investors were left holding the bag.
Fehr and McLaren call that unfair.
Others would simply say that's the way business goes.
Win some, lose some.