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City Explores Non-Traditional Funding Strategy To Realize Its Vision for Downtown Saskatoon

For immediate release: April 14, 2021 - 4:40pm

As the City continues to finalize its vision of a vibrant Downtown into the future, some key components are clear and will require:

  • A new entertainment facility/arena
  • A convention centre
  • A high functioning transit system (including Bus Rapid Transit)

Other Downtown priorities include upgrades to roadway, walking and cycling infrastructure, Fire Hall #1 replacement, advancement of the outdoor festival sites along the riverbank, and reducing homelessness.

Achieving this vision of enhanced vibrancy Downtown is fundamental to the City’s future success.  We have been and continue to be a destination city because of the vision and amenities put in place by our predecessors. Approximately 50 years ago, the train station became Midtown Plaza, Sid Buckwold Bridge opened, and the Meewasin vision became a reality. This is a similar moment in the City’s life, planning for a Downtown that will meet the needs of the future. To maintain our competitive advantage and position, we must continue to provide world class amenities that support our quality of life and our economic foundation.

In a report for the Governance and Priorities Committee, three main projects -- an arena, a convention centre, and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system -- are outlined as key priorities with the potential to transform Downtown, boost our economy, and further increase our attractiveness and improve our quality of life.

“Sasktel Centre and TCU Place are both nearing the end of their useful service lives and, without substantial renovations, cannot maintain market competitiveness in their current state,” says Lesley Anderson, Director of Planning and Development.

“Locating a new arena Downtown would have many mutual benefits for other major facilities such as the convention centre, and existing Downtown attractions including dining, hotels, and retail – creating the conditions for a fully-animated event and entertainment district.”

“A Bus Rapid Transit system, which has already received City Council approval to proceed, is an integral piece of building a successful and thriving entertainment district in Downtown Saskatoon,” notes Dan Willems, Director of Technical Services.

“Advancing a plan to provide core entertainment amenities located in Downtown which are supported by a rapid, reliable transit system will strengthen our position as a destination city.”

Construction of these types of amenities has been accomplished in many other jurisdictions through use of multiple funding streams, many of which have not been used before in Saskatoon.  Examples of funding tools used elsewhere for similar projects include taxes on hotel room and other short-term accommodation rentals, motor vehicle rental charges, and tax increment financing, to name a few.  Exploration and implementation of non-traditional funding sources will be key to achieving the vision of Saskatoon’s future in a way that minimizes reliance on property tax.

The Administration estimates that over a 25 year-period, there will be the potential for significant revenue generated to offset the need to rely on property taxes for these projects. These sources include a combination of new possible revenue streams and existing funding, such as the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program contributions expected from all three levels of government.  This combination of funding would be more than enough to cover the estimated costs of a new downtown arena, upgraded convention centre, and BRT.

“The aim of this funding/financing strategy is to minimize contributions from property taxes to pay for the bundle of sub-projects within this transformational project. It also attempts to improve fairness by generating revenues from those who benefit from the amenities, particularly, non-residents who tend to benefit from tourism-based infrastructure,” says Mike Jordan, Chief Public Policy and Government Relations Officer.

“However, achieving this outcome requires a substantial long-term investment and a partnership between the City, other orders of government, and industry.” 

The report will be presented to GPC at its April 19 meeting.