In a city projecting another deficit year, it might seem strange that Mayor Charlie Clark has decided to lay down a mandate for a new downtown rink. However, Clark recently declared a site for the new arena will need to be chosen before the end of 2019.
What’s the big rush?
Maybe because without a plan, there can be no action.
In spring 2018, a study was ordered by Saskatoon City Council to investigate the viability of a downtown arena. SaskTel Centre is in the stage of its life where major renovations will be soon be required if the city continues to operate it.
Council has weighed the options and decided the best option would be combine a new arena with an expanded convention centre to replace TCU Place, which is also aging.
Who’s paying for this thing?
There is currently zero consideration, however, for how the city will fund the estimated $330 to $375 million for this new facility.
City planners are being tasked by Clark and his council to come up with the location, so they can presumably start drafting a plan to pay for it.
This would be the biggest development ever undertaken by the city. It’s fairly certain the municipality would be shouldering the most significant portion of the funding.
According to the feasibility study, municipalities have been on the hook for approximately 25 per cent of the required funding for new convention centres. In the absence of an NHL team, some cities have paid more like 60 per cent of the funding for new arenas or stadiums.
Close to home, the report notes Regina put up 62.2 per cent of the cost of Mosaic Stadium.
With that data in mind, do I dare utter the words “arena tax”?
Let’s not get the location wrong again
I think we can all agree putting a hockey rink in the middle of nowhere was, in hindsight, a poor decision. In a finite area like downtown, the options aren’t exactly plentiful, though.
One small hitch to that: it’s privately owned and not technically for sale.
I’m sure any good salesman would tell you everything is for sale, and there is some truth to that theory. But if council is the driving force to fund this new facility, it cannot afford to pay a premium on the land and that is what purchasing a site like Toys R Us might entail.
The big picture for Saskatoon
Council also needs to consider all the other moving parts to the plan. One reason it supports the idea of a new arena and combined convention functionality is that it aligns with the greater plan to develop a rapid transit system.
No word yet on where funding for that is coming from either, but again, with no official plan in place the work will never get started.
In a quickly growing city it would seem we are on the cusp of growing too big for our current transit infrastructure.
I can’t wait to grab the light rail system from 8th Street down to my first concert at the new rink.
Any idea how old I’ll be when that happens, though? With no way to pay for this vision, I’m hesitant to even garner a guess.
Let’s hope I’m still attending rock shows by then!