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City of Saskatoon unveils design concepts for downtown arena and entertainment district

An artistic rendering of what the Saskatoon downtown event and entertainment district, Saskatchewan Place, could look during summers once it’s completed. (Submitted by City of Saskatoon - image credit)
An artistic rendering of what the Saskatoon downtown event and entertainment district, Saskatchewan Place, could look during summers once it’s completed. (Submitted by City of Saskatoon - image credit)

The City of Saskatoon revealed Thursday the artistic renderings of what the downtown event and entertainment district could look like once it's completed.

"We're revealing today… what this district could become, what it could look like, what it would feel like to experience the district. It's not the final drawings," Mayor Charlie Clark told reporters.

"A great gathering place for our increasingly metropolitan, growing, thriving urban centre right here on the Prairies."

Visuals and colourful design concepts labelled "Saskatchewan Place" were shown including summer and winter scenes capturing the potential for winter festivals, outdoor markets and summer activities in the downtown area.

An artistic rendering of what the Saskatoon downtown event and entertainment district, Saskatchewan Place, could look during winters once it’s completed capturing the potential for winter festivals.
An artistic rendering of what the Saskatoon downtown event and entertainment district, Saskatchewan Place, could look during winters once it’s completed capturing the potential for winter festivals.

An artistic rendering of what the area could look like during winters. (Submitted by City of Sakatoon)

The visuals show what the proposed event arena and convention centre could look like, with a focus along a transformed 22nd Street. The guests were given a VR tour of the streets and buildings. The land where the arena will be situated is on the Midtown mall's north parking lot and some surrounding properties.

Councillors hope that the downtown would become a gathering place for the city's growing diverse population.

"I think it is important that we continue to be a city that believes in itself and understand that we have a legacy that goes long before us," Ward 6 Coun. Cynthia Block said.

"If we're serious about a city that's going to be more efficient, more affordable and more sustainable, we must drive more density to the core where the infrastructure and services already exist."

Take a virtual tour of the proposed design here:

Block said this would also create over 200 jobs and attract $100 million in investments.

The district developments would also mean modernizing the public transportation system, she said.

Ward 4 Coun. Troy Davies said the district would replace the aging infrastructure like the TCU Place and Sasktel Centre in the city.

"We are missing out on some key conferences that have decided to move past Saskatoon. We've lost some concerts that have decided to go to Edmonton and not stay in Saskatoon," he said.

Ward 4 Coun. Troy Davies says the district would replace the aging infrastructure like the TCU Place and Sasktel Centre in the city and attract national and international events.
Ward 4 Coun. Troy Davies says the district would replace the aging infrastructure like the TCU Place and Sasktel Centre in the city and attract national and international events.

Ward 4 Coun. Troy Davies says the district would replace aging infrastructure like the TCU Place and Sasktel Centre in the city and attract national and international events. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Davies explained that the roof at SaskTel Centre is 52 feet whereas for major concerts a 90-foot ceiling height is needed.

"This is a plan and a vision that we need to have for the future eight to 10 years, whatever that might be."

When questioned how the district will address or combat the crime rates in downtown area and the visible homelessness, Davies said none has the answer to it "because every major city in Canada and North America is dealing with these issues".

Dan Willems, director of technical services, said the seat sizing for the arena is in alignment with the market analysis done in 2018. The arena will have seating for 15,900 people with room for a future expansion to 18,000.

Timelines and funding model still unclear 

Willems said it can take up to 10 years to complete the project.

"We typically complete a conceptual design to establish a budget to nail down a cost estimate so we can come forward with a budget. We do enough design work to get a firm grasp on what those costs will be," he said.

Once that budget and funding elements are approved, Willems explained city council moves forward to detailed design with finer details.

Dan Willems, director of technical services, says it can take eight to 10 years to complete the Downtown event and entertainment district.
Dan Willems, director of technical services, says it can take eight to 10 years to complete the Downtown event and entertainment district.

Dan Willems, director of technical services, says it can take eight to 10 years to complete the downtown event and entertainment district. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

It is still unclear how the funding model for this project would look. The city is considering many funding options including a proposed accommodation tax that swells customers' costs to hotels and restaurants.

The city, as an option, can partner with the provincial or federal government to fund parts of the project.

"We are looking to do this in a way that doesn't put pressure on property taxes, but finds other sources of revenue," Clark said.

"Even accommodation taxes would require partnerships with hotels to identify a funding course… we are right now looking for a private partner to help to see what they would bring to the table."

YMCA firms up agreement with city

The land where the arena will sit has already been purchased by the city. The initial land purchase for Midtown's north parking lot added up to $25 million. An additional $17.3 million was spent to purchase surrounding land.

Meanwhile, YMCA has confirmed an agreement with the city to purchase the downtown building and property for $8,504,750. The "promise to purchase" involves initial payments to secure the agreement: a down payment of $875,000 and an additional $2,000,000 due on Sept. 30, 2024.

"The YMCA will maintain ownership until the city finalizes the purchase as part of the proposed entertainment district project or the YMCA decides to relocate programming to alternative city locations," YMCA said in a news release Wednesday.

The city's governance and priorities committee will have the opportunity at its Feb.14 meeting to discuss the visionary opportunities of the district.