Consultants weigh in on improvement of downtown enviornment in Saskatoon

New voices are weighing in on what the development of a downtown arena in Saskatoon could provide for the city.

In November, Saskatoon’s city council approved a $25M land purchase for the proposed arena, a move Mayor Charlie Clark called “one of the most significant decisions that’s been made to shape the city and shape the downtown for the last 50 years.”

During a panel discussion hosted by the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce Friday, experts who helped develop the Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton said an arena downtown could help revitalize Saskatoon’s city center.

Bob Black, a partner with MLT Aikins who assisted in the development of Edmonton downtown arena, said with proper planning Saskatoon could see similar success. (Mia Holowaychuk/650 CKOM)

Bob Black, a partner with MLT Aikins who assisted in the Edmonton arena’s development, said most cities found themselves at a crossroads when deciding what their sports facilities and entertainment centers should look like.

“There was certainly a model in the past which favored putting arenas in remote locations and surrounding them by surface parking,” he said.

That model, he noted, produced very little investment in facilities.

Black said if designed carefully, a sports and entertainment facility can be a powerful engine for revitalizing the downtown core of a city, which he said they have seen in Edmonton.

When it comes to concerns about parking and traffic, Black said they faced the same questions in developing the Rogers Place, but ultimately found that there was enough parking capacity to support the downtown area.

“In Edmonton, we had so much conversation about traffic and parking, and neither one of them has been a concern in the operation of the facility,” Black said.

He said it requires some analysis, but the overall parking equation is easy to solve.

Black said parking in different locations downtown could be advantageous for growth, as it will encourage people to use different routes and visit different locations along the way.

“As you look to disperse people through your downtown core and create as much energy as you can, where they park has a big impact on that,” he said. “How you manage the connectivity to your current downtown core will be a really significant part (in) the success of this.”

Planning is crucial, Black noted, because “ultimately, you’ve got one chance to get it right.”

Black said a unique aspect to the success of a Saskatoon arena could be TCU Place. He said that event center could serve as a “second engine” to drive growth to the city’s downtown.

When it comes to attracting big names in the entertainment industry, Black said Edmonton wasn’t always attracting big events, but after the development of Rogers the city is now attracting concerts from major acts that wouldn’t have stopped there before.

‘That’s because we designed a building that performers really like to be in,’ he said.

When it comes to addressing concerns about a downtown arena, Black said it’s important to listen to the debate thoughtfully, and to talk to other cities about their experiences.

“The subject expertise matter is a really big deal in this equation,” Black said.

Despite the fact Edmonton’s population is about four times higher than Saskatoon’s, Mike Staines, district manager for PCL Construction Management, who also assisted in developing Rogers Arena, said Saskatoon could still expect to see a similar outcome.

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