Saskatoon city council hopes to receive a shortlist of options for a new downtown entertainment and event district by the end of June.
An advisory committee chaired by councillors Cynthia Block and Troy Davies is reviewing options for the venture, which would create a zone similar to the Ice district in downtown Edmonton.
The hub of the Ice district is Rogers Place, which replaced the Northlands Coliseum in 2016 and moved the Edmonton Oilers’ home closer to downtown. It has been credited with adding vibrancy to the city’s core and helping it stage a quick recovery from pandemic restrictions.
Saskatoon entertains a similar vision for SaskTel Centre, a 15,200-seat sports complex built in 1988 on the northern edge of the city beyond John G. Diefenbaker International Airport.
Centre management commissioned a report in 2018 in partnership with TCU Place, a 104,000-square-foot convention and arts centre in the downtown core that recommended relocating the aging sports complex and rebuilding it in a more central location.
“When you put amenities where people are, they are more highly used, but also the amenities and opportunities around them are also better utilized – whether that’s housing, whether that’s restaurants or shopping,” said Block, whose ward includes in the downtown core. “Council made the decision, when it comes time to consider replacing SaskTel Centre’s existing location, it will be downtown.”
Six potential locations were identified, and the advisory committee aims to have a short-list for council to consider by the end of June.
“You need to build a district. It’s not about one thing. It’s about a place where people want to be, it has to be a place where everyone sees themselves included, not just event-goers,” Block said. “Every site had to be evaluated to find out if the mechanics could actually even work. … It needs to have a certain amount of space it needs to have access to public transit, it needs to have parking options.”
A vision for the project was sketched out with the help of former Vancouver co-director of planning Larry Beasley, who facilitated workshops and created enthusiasm around how a downtown entertainment district could create excitement and opportunities for the city.
“It was very insightful about understanding the mechanisms that help a city grow, attracting the right kind of investment,” said Block. “We’re getting closer in that regard and also figuring out a grander scheme on a district.”
Work on the initiative was delayed by COVID-19, but Block expects the process to pick up speed once the shortlist of potential locations is identified.
“It’s been three years at least our community has been waiting to find out what are those options,” she said.
The final decision lies with city council. The schedule calls for a preferred site being selected later this year, followed by development of a district master plan by the end of 2023. A funding plan would follow, as well as permitting processes and ultimately construction.