Saskatoon city councillors backing downtown arena, entertainment district

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Saskatoon city councillors backing downtown arena, entertainment district
WATCH ABOVE: A Saskatoon city committee considered a report from administration recommending an arena be considered in any future plans for the downtown core. Ryan Kessler reports – Nov 13, 2018

A Saskatoon city committee voted Tuesday in favour of planning for a downtown arena and entertainment district over renovating SaskTel Centre.

The governance and priorities committee considered a report from administration recommending an arena be considered in any future plans for the downtown core.

READ MORE: Future Saskatoon downtown planning should include option for new arena

Coun. Troy Davies put forward several recommendations to direct administration, including not only planning for an arena, but also an entertainment district surrounding it.

“The day of just thinking of [a] just bricks and mortar arena are over,” Davies said.

“You might have a fire hall in a complex. You might have a library included into TCU Place. There’s different ways to look at it.”

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In the report released on Nov. 7, administration said a number of factors went into its support for a downtown arena, including benefits to hotels, restaurants, and the shopping district.

It also recommended an analysis be conducted on how an arena would affect infrastructure.

Councillors voted to seek terms of reference for demands on infrastructure, transit, parking, future growth and an optimal location related to other key destinations.

WATCH BELOW: The case for a new arena in downtown Saskatoon

The committee voted 10-1 in favour of the recommendations, with only Coun. Sarina Gersher voting against them, citing questions about the number of capital projects the city is pursuing.

Though the committee includes every member of council, the matter still needs approval at an upcoming city council meeting.

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The vote gave administration clear direction, according to city manager Jeff Jorgenson.

“The vision is when the time comes to replace SaskTel Centre, it’s replaced downtown,” Jorgenson said, stressing administration made no inferences about timing or council’s prioritization of the project.

A separate report outlines funding options, stating municipalities, on average, funded 60 per cent of cost for arenas and stadiums constructed in non-NHL cities since 2005.

READ MORE: New arena and convention centre recommended for Saskatoon

The city’s chief financial officer, Kerry Tarasoff, said the funding analysis is not to provide strategy, rather to provide different financing options.

The administration report lists an amusement tax, naming rights, business district levies and parking revenues as possible funding options.

Taking a portion of subsequent property tax increases from properties in the area surrounding the arena is also a possibility, according to the report.

“Ultimately, we are going to need help. We are not going to be able to do this as a city on our own,” Davies said, saying he wouldn’t support taxpayer funding alone.

The cost to replace SaskTel Centre and TCU Place is estimated between $330 million and $375 million.

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The CEOs of both facilities have previously stated they would prefer a new facility rather than upgrades to the current buildings.

Coun. Ann Iwanchuk said council also needs to be ready to consider future uses for SaskTel Centre if a new arena is constructed.

“It’s not going to be bulldozed,” she said.

Coun. Darren Hill stated he believed a downtown arena will become an election issue in 2020, but he wouldn’t support a referendum.

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