Build new arena, convention centre and central library all in 1 place, says city councillor

"The days of building a big round arena, for just the events held in it, are over," says Darren Hill.

'The days of building a big round arena, for just the events held in it, are over,' says Darren Hill

Both a new arena and a new central library branch have emerged as big-ticket wants in Saskatoon. (CBC)

A Saskatoon city councillor has an idea for how to get around the quagmire of deciding between building a combination downtown area and convention centre or a new central library branch.

Build them all in one location, says Ward 1 councillor Darren Hill.

"How come that's not going to be incorporated into a convention centre or into an arena?" said Hill of a new branch to replace the aging Frances Morrison Central Library.

"You're building these great big capital projects. Put as many uses into them as you possibly can to try to decrease the capital cost."

Carol Cooley, the CEO of the Saskatoon Public Library service, said "everything is worth of consideration at this point."

"We're working to identify the unique needs of a new central library facility and how it can benefit the residents of Saskatoon from an economic, social and cultural perspective," she said. 

Competing costs

Hill's comment comes in the wake of the City of Saskatoon saying this week that if a new arena were to be built, it should probably be downtown.

Early talk of a new arena, meanwhile, comes as the Saskatoon Public Library and the city await the spring 2019 delivery of a business case for a new central library branch, which will include a cost and size estimate.

Building a new arena and convention centre could cost between $330 million and $375 million (not including land costs), while renovating 30-year-old SaskTel Centre could cost just over $100 million, according to consultants hired by the corporation that runs SaskTel Centre.

Saskatoon city councillor Darren Hill says all the facilities should be built in one place to save on costs. (City of Saskatoon)

Hill said that if that much money is to be poured into a new arena, the city should ensure the building gets as much use of out of it as possible.

"The days of building a big round arena, for just the events that are held in it, are over," he said.

It's the second time in recent days that mixed-use buildings have come up as possibilities for future city developments.

Last week, the Saskatoon Fire Department said it wants to replace its main fire hall on Idylwyld Drive and is even open to "mixed use buildings led by the private sector."

Hill pointed to a Chicago tower development calling for a fire station on the ground floor and residential units in the rest of the building. 

To referendum or not

Hill is also one of several councillors weighing in on whether the construction of a new arena should be decided via a referendum or by city councillors.

He said a referendum is "not the way to go on this."

"A referendum is what got us a casino 30 minutes out of town. A referendum is what got us an arena way in the north end, where there's no amenities and services."

SaskTel Centre, under construction on the north end of Saskatoon in 1986. (Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room)

Hill suggested the 2020 municipal election could be a key deciding ground for the arena.

"[Voters] will have a responsibility to ask all of the candidates what their thoughts are on an arena and downtown convention centre and then vote accordingly based on [that]," he said.

Fellow councillor Troy Davies agreed a referendum is not needed.

"I think that city council's in the position to make these decisions, not to throw it on the backs of the public," he told CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

Councillor Randy Donauer said he's not prepared to rule anything out at this point.

But he added, "I have residents ask for a referendum on a variety of different issues over the years and I think mostly it's the job of council to make these decisions and for us to campaign on what our platform is during an election and then walk that out."

Decision years down the road

Hill, Davies and Donauer all agree on one thing: The arena decision is a long way off, one likely to be made by a different mix of city councillors.

Davies, who sits on the board for the corporation that runs SaskTel Centre, said the arena still has about eight years left in it.

Randy Donauer said he would only support referendum on whether to build a new arena if it was held in tandem with a municipal election, in order to save on costs. (City of Saskatoon)

"It's tough," he said of weighing different big-ticket wants like a new library or arena. "That's why we're having this conversation about the arena today and not six years from now."

"This, if it does go ahead, is going to be several years out," echoed Donauer.

Donauer would only support a referendum if it could be held in tandem, and therefore more cheaply, with a municipal election vote, he added.

What would trigger a referendum 

According to the city clerk's office, a referendum could come about in one of two ways: by the request of city council, or if a petition is signed by 10 per cent of the city's population.

Such a petition is how a referendum in 1985 decided the location of SaskTel Centre in an area north of the city core.

Back then, 15 per cent of the city's population was needed to force a referendum

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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