The Saskatoon skyline is about to get an upgrade, both now and in the future.
A quartet of buildings of the highly anticipated River Landing project – a pair of office towers, one 22 storeys and another 13 storeys, a 20-storey condominium tower and a 17-storey Alt Hotel – are widely expected to revolutionize the city’s downtown real estate sector.
Construction has already begun on the condo building and hotel, both of which are scheduled to be complete by 2019, the same time as the smaller office tower, which will go into the ground before the end of the summer. The second office tower, assuming the blueprints don’t change, will become the tallest building in town a year or two later.
The $300 million project is located along the South Saskatchewan River at the southeast corner of 19th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.
The condos have been selling like hotcakes and the smaller office tower, known as the East Tower, has already signed its first tenant, law firm MLT Aikins.
“We are excited to welcome them,” said Blair Sinclair, executive vice-president of Triovest, the project’s development and leasing manager. “Interest in the East Tower has been exceptionally strong.”
While the impact of the River Landing project will be felt in the short term, even bigger changes could occur thanks to the City of Saskatoon’s recently approved 30-year growth plan. One of the highlights calls for a complete overhaul of the north part of downtown, including relocating the city’s yards, home to its heavy equipment and trucks, to a new location.
The city owns about half of the 30 acres in the north downtown area, and Randy Grauer, general manager of community services, said the intent is to replace the industrial uses with mixed-use residential, commercial and institutional projects, including a School of Architecture at the University of Saskatchewan.
“We’re in the infancy [stage],” Grauer said. “We’ve done a basic concept plan and now we’re fine tuning that plan and getting into the details of it.
“We want to make sure the land is used wisely and carefully. It’s a matter of planning for adaptive reuse of vacant land and some of the buildings and making sure the infrastructure plans match the visions for above and below ground.”
A variety of stakeholders believe reaching the downtown’s potential hinges on boosting the residential population from its current total of about 2,500 to at least 10,000.
The near- and long-term growth plans are certainly a breath of fresh air in a city that has seen its commercial real estate sector take on water for the last two and a half years.
Barry Stuart, managing partner and senior sales associate with ICR Commercial Real Estate, said he’s cautiously optimistic about the future as vacancy rates have levelled off in industrial and office space over the past three quarters.
“The economy comes down to the confidence levels of the business people and investors. Retail leasing still remains strong and the investment market and demand for owner-occupied property is still strong for quality property,” he said.
He also points to increasing sales of recreational vehicles as well as cars and trucks, which tend to be leading indicators of where the economy is headed. One of the country’s leading banks, RBC, expects Saskatchewan’s GDP to grow by 1.8 per cent this year.
One plot of land that some real estate players see as a bellwether project is the former site of the Patricia Hotel. Its bar was a favourite among thirsty U of S students for many years, but it was torn down with the hotel in 2013. The downtown lot at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 25th Street East has been up for sale for $6.2 million ever since, but no sale has been consummated and no development plans have been announced by the Vancouver-based owners. It is one of several dozen empty lots in the city’s central business district.
Keith Webb, vice-president of Colliers International in Saskatoon, said the owners felt it was a great site when they bought it and nothing has happened to change their minds. He said all options are being considered, including residential, retail and office.
“In the meantime, there is an agreement with Impark to rent the stalls on a monthly basis, so it shows a good return. There are lots of guys who hold raw property for years. If somebody pays what they’re asking, great. If not, they’ll keep cashing the cheque from Impark,” he said.
All in all, Webb believes Saskatoon is in a good place.
“Everybody in oil and gas is trying to figure out how you move ahead with $50 [per barrel] oil. People are resilient and they get on with it. The world hasn’t ended,” he said.