About 100 people rallied Tuesday in support of a Lunenburg businessman who blames town hall for his decision to stop investing in the Nova Scotia community.
Farley Blackman came to Lunenburg about 14 years ago and, with his wife Courtney, invested millions in renovating the Lunenburg Opera House, opening the Discord art gallery and restoring several houses, among other projects.
In a Facebook post announcing he was leaving, he said Mayor Rachel Bailey and her staff had created a "toxic and obstructive" environment.
At the rally, he said red tape delays over issues like moving power wires at his properties had dragged on, causing "six figures of damage."
"We just can't continue to lose those amounts of money," he told the crowd.
Planned brewery cancelled, taking 100 jobs
The opera house is for sale, as are several other properties Blackman owns.
He said they will finish the projects underway, but won't start new ones. That includes a planned combination brewery, distillery, cidery and chocolate shop he said would have brought 100 jobs to Lunenburg.
"Sometimes it takes a crisis — or even a mini-crisis like this — to turn a corner. And if we can turn a corner and move things forward here in Lunenburg, then it's a really big win. It doesn't really matter if Courtney and I are here long term; our hearts are always going to be here," he told the rally.
"Ultimately things have to change. We have to get rid of some of the red tape, some of the obstruction."
Last year, someone sprayed "go away" in front of his art gallery. At the time, Bailey said it didn't reflect the town's views on people who move to the area and speculated that a "disgruntled artist" may have sent the message to Blackman.
Bailey makes surprise appearance
Bailey made a surprise appearance at the rally, standing next to Blackman on the raised ramp in front of the crowd.
Bailey said professional conduct toward the public was a core duty of elected officials and that she had failed to meet that standard with Blackman.
"I definitely made a huge misstep with that last week and I've apologized to Mr. Blackman for that and I apologize to the citizens that are here today."
She didn't detail the incident, but was referring to a blunt text message she had sent him.
"I'm deeply sorry that I have let you down in my role as mayor. We always strive for excellence and sometimes we fall short, and I fell short."
She then went into the scheduled council meeting with Blackman and both took a conciliatory tone, expressing hope that they could improve the situation.
'We love Lunenburg'
Kelly-Sue O'Connor helped organize the rally through her Shop Lunenburg Facebook page. She also owns a shop in town.
"I wanted to show that we supported what Farley and Courtney were doing in our town of Lunenburg — all of the historical renovations they've done, the businesses that were opening here, and they've been employing many people over the last several years," she said before the rally started.
She hoped the rally would send a message to town council that they should support the couple. She said she's never had problems with council in her own business, but stepped up to help another business owner.
"We love Lunenburg. This isn't about putting Lunenburg down. We just want all the progress that the Blackmans have started to continue."