Regina city council approves downtown arena among other big projects

A Regina resident views information boards potential projects that could shape the city's downtown for decades to come. On Thursday city council voted to pursue four projects recommended by the catalyst committee.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
A Regina resident views information boards potential projects that could shape the city's downtown for decades to come. On Thursday city council voted to pursue four projects recommended by the catalyst committee. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

After conducting a survey and having dozens of delegates share their views on a series of mega-projects, Regina city council has voted to pursue all of them.

"This is an important vote. This will shape the future of our city," said Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins on Thursday.

"It's easy to find a thousand reasons not to do something, but sometimes you have to be courageous and build into the future and that's what we're doing today."

The votes at Thursday's special council meeting do not mean these mega-projects are guaranteed to be built, or that construction will began right away.

"Council is not making a commitment to spend all the money on all the projects," explained Barry Lacey, executive director of financial strategy and sustainability.

The votes mean the city will now start figuring out how to secure funding for the projects and finalizing the intended designs.

LISTEN| Walking trail, aquatic centre and arena among the planned mega-projects for Regina:

The projects were all recommended by the city's catalyst committee. If built, they will help shape Regina's downtown core for decades.

They include a new arena that would function as a replacement for the Brandt Centre, the modernization of the Regina central library and a non-vehicular trail that would join parts of the city centre where the proposed projects could be built.

Another recommendation, the construction of an aquatic centre to replace the aging Lawson facility, was passed by council earlier this month so it could submit an application for federal funding ahead of a mid-March deadline.

Mayor Sandra Masters said the decision to approve the catalyst recommendations serves as a clear signal to other levels of government and private entities as the city looks to secure funding that according to preliminary estimates could total more than $490 million.

"If the federal government comes to us and says 'we have X number of dollars in this particular funding stream for this type of project,' we know that we've got approval, that we believe these things need to be built and we have a general sense of the area they should be built in," she said.

Alexander Quon/CBC News
Alexander Quon/CBC News

One of the most controversial projects to receive sign off on Thursday was the proposed replacement for the Brandt Centre.

Council had delayed voting on the catalyst committee recommendations for a few weeks as it arranged for Forum Research to conduct polling on locating the new arena downtown.

The poll had a sample size of 1,000 people, with 100 responses per city ward, according to a handout provided to councillors. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.09 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

In the survey, 34.6 per cent of respondents said the arena is needed but that it does not belong downtown, and 29.8 per cent said it is needed and it belongs downtown.

The survey also found 30.3 per cent of respondents said the arena is not necessary, and 5.3 per cent said they were unsure.

The catalyst committee declined to provide specifics on the five possible but broad locations.

City of Regina
City of Regina

Council ultimately approved the recommendation of council, but broadened the recommendation to include the arena's location as the "greater downtown" area, which they defined as the Warehouse District, the Yards or directly downtown.

It's projected to cost $156 million.

Legacy making? 

The decision marks a significant triumph for Tim Reid, CEO of Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL), who served as co-chair of the catalyst committee.

The idea of a committee to help shepherd the development of a series of mega-projects together was first floated in July 2022.

In less than a year, the committee's work has been completed, submitted to the city and voted on by council.

The co-chairs of the organization have insisted that their rapid pace was being driven by the desire to apply for and secure funding from the federal government's Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP).

That was echoed by co-chair and CEO of Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) CEO Tim Reid on Thursday.

"If ever there is a reason to move quickly, [$128 million] is probably a good reason," he said, before adding that the rapid pace is something that shouldn't become the standard going forward.

Tim Reid declined to say whether the potential construction of the catalyst projects could serve as a legacy for him.

Instead, he said it's important to look at the benefit the projects could bring for future generations.

"If this is a generational project, I actually think my kids get to use it, and someday my grandkids get to use it, and we convince them to stay in Regina," Reid said.

The modernization of the central library is expected to cost at least $125 million, while the construction of the non-vehicular trail could cost around $20 million.

Efforts to secure funding are well underway for the new aquatic centre and its accompanying thermal heating facility. It's the only project that has a targeted location and preliminary design. Council has submitted an application to use $128 million allocated to the City of Regina in ICIP to help fund the two projects, which combined are projected to cost $189.2 million.

The city must keep in mind a warning from the catalyst committee about how inflation could help the projects blow past initial cost projections.