A proposed festival in downtown Saskatoon boasts more than double the capacity of the current mainstage home of the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival and Rock the River.
On Wednesday, the City of Saskatoon shared plans for a nearly $13 million permanent facility to be phased in at Friendship Park. The site, among the least-visited downtown greenspaces, would be equipped with a mainstage, power hook-ups and public washrooms.
“It’s going to look spectacular and it creates all kinds of opportunities to create new products, grow existing products and introduce new festivals into the market,” said Scott Ford, festival manager for A Taste of Saskatchewan and Rock the River.
The location between the Traffic Bridge and Broadway Bridge could hold up to 7,500 people, compared to the 3,500 people that fill the Bessborough Gardens for events like Rock the River and the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.
While Ford said he continues to like Rock the River’s location, he’s encouraged by the thought of welcoming new events to the city.
The proposed site comes after years of wear and tear in nearby Kiwanis Memorial Park — the usual location of A Taste of Saskatchewan and its 100,000 visitors per year.
“Over the years, the large-scale events have resulted in soil compaction, turf wear and thinning of the tree canopy, a sign of declining health of the trees,” states a report going to a city committee next week.
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There is no timeline for the project’s completion, and city councillors haven’t approved any funding for it. The first phase carries a price tag of $2 million. Potential uses include large live music festivals, food vendors and marathon events.
Friendship Park has been home to a free stage for the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival in the past, but it’s too early to say what a new iteration would mean for the event, according to artistic director Kevin Tobin.
“Having a venue of that capacity that would be available to us with the necessary infrastructure is positive news, there’s no doubt about it,” Tobin said.
In additional to Saskatoon city council, the board of the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) will also need to give the festival site approval.
Meewasin, like Ford and Tobin, was involved in the consultation process for the site.
“It’s just going to provide a great focal point for festival activity,” said Alan Otterbein, Meewasin’s design and development manager.
He noted all areas overseen by the MVA must strike a balance between human activity and the preservation of nature. Otterbein said
“It’s sort of the missing link in the south downtown in terms of development.”