Transit, population key factors in location of proposed Saskatoon arena district, experts say

·5 min read
Proponents of Saskatoon's Downtown Event and Entertainment District hope the project will be similar to Edmonton's ICE District, home of the Rogers Place arena.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Proponents of Saskatoon's Downtown Event and Entertainment District hope the project will be similar to Edmonton's ICE District, home of the Rogers Place arena. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

As talks about the location of Saskatoon's Downtown Event and Entertainment District continue to drag on, city planners say it's vitally important that accessibility be part of the overall plan.

DEED is expected to be home to a massive new arena as well as a new or renovated convention centre.

The exact location of the district is still up in the air.

While a short list of locations was expected in June, one of the commercial landholders involved in discussions said it needed more time to work on approvals on its end.

As a result, the short list is now expected sometime this summer.

Many potential sites have been floated, including the Toys 'R' Us parking lot south of Midtown Plaza, the parking lot near the Farmer's Market in Riversdale, and the undeveloped north downtown area near city yards.

Alan Wallace, the former director of planning and development at the City of Saskatoon, believes the parking lot south of Midtown Plaza would be the best location for the downtown arena.

Our downtown arena is likely going to have more seats than the current 14,000-seat limit that we have at Sask Tel Centre. In order to get that volume of people in and out of that area, we're going to have to be relying on rapid transit.

- Alan Wallace, former City of Saskatoon planner

He says the area already has a number of bars and restaurants within walking distance, creating the beginnings of a concentrated entertainment district.

As well and just as importantly, he says, the land is adjacent to three lines of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, with two transit stations in close proximity.

"Our downtown arena is likely going to have more seats than the current 14,000-seat limit that we have at SaskTel Centre," said Wallace.

"In order to get that volume of people in and out of that area, we're going to have to be relying on rapid transit."

While the current Sask Tel Centre is ringed with open-air parking lots, Wallace is convinced that the transit system will be a major solution to the parking issue.

He envisions people driving to large mall parking lots around the city, then taking transit to the arena. Wallace says there simply isn't enough space in the downtown to accommodate large surface parking lots.

"The thing that would kill an entertainment district is to add acres of parking," he said. "You can't really take the model that we currently have and just put it downtown."

ICE District successful without major parking lots 

Wallace says recent stadium projects in Edmonton and Winnipeg have shown that stadiums can be built in the downtown with relatively small amounts of parking.

Edmonton's Rogers Place and Winnipeg's MTS Centre have both been built without large surface parking lots and have been successful, he says.

Simon O'Byrne, senior vice-president at Stantec and an award-winning city planner with offices across Canada, worked with the owner of the Edmonton Oilers to help plan the ICE District project, a 25-acre development that includes condos, a hotel and the Rogers Place arena.

O'Byrne says Oiler management was surprised at the number of people who chose to use transit to get to the stadium.

"Far more people than we thought were either parking further afield and walking, or they were taking transit to get there — bus or light rail transit or taking Ubers there," he said.

"We presumed overwhelmingly people would drive in and park, and there was still a very healthy number of people that did that, but there was a much higher proportion of people than what we originally estimated would actually get there by other means."

O'Byrne says downtown Edmonton has enjoyed real benefits from the presence of the ICE District.

"It really changed people's perception of the downtown," he said. "Before the arena and after the arena was really a night and day switch.

"It really gave people a lot more confidence to be downtown, knowing that there'd be more restaurants and pubs and more things to do, more events happening, making downtown safer and more interesting."

An opposing view

However, Bob Patrick, an associate professor in geography and planning at the University of Saskatchewan, wonders whether the entertainment district should be located downtown at all.

He says it might make more sense to keep an arena project in the city's north, home to much of the area's population.

"The growth is northward, especially when you think of Martensville and Warman," he said.

"So, if you're drawing those populations into a core downtown area, you have to begin to think the north end might make better sense."

Patrick says land in the north end of the city would likely be much cheaper than land in the downtown area, and would not necessarily face the congestion problems the downtown might.

As well, he says, choosing the north end might make more sense from an environmental perspective.

"At a time of climate change and global warming, we should be minimizing distance travel," he said.

"So maybe it's the best approach for this facility is to look at the distance-travel formula and think about what then is the best location for it."

If the project is built downtown, he says, it would be important to build more high-density housing projects nearby to increase the area's population.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting