With a new city council soon to take office, the possibility of a new downtown arena in Saskatoon will likely become a louder conversation. While this may seem like a benign subject, it is actually the start of a very logical, yet exciting, fantasy.
In August 2016, SaskTel Centre CEO Will Lofdahl announced that the venue was partnering with TCU Place to hire a consultant on the subject of building a new arena and convention space in a new location — most likely downtown. This is an understandable move as both facilities are aging and their ability to fulfill their purpose in the city is vital.
I’m of slightly conflicted mindsets when it comes to this possible relocation.
SaskTel Centre — for my money — is not a great venue. It’s inconveniently located and not particularly charming or romantic, appearing as a giant, ominous stone polyp off the freeway. Any event that even comes close to generating a crowd reveals the insufficient number of bathrooms and the place always smells like French fries even when there appears to be no concession nearby — but perhaps that last one is just petty. In short, it could certainly be improved.
On the other hand, the much older TCU Place, located in the heart of downtown, seems less outdated. It remains one of, if not the best, concert venues in the city when it comes to sound quality and it handles its crowds with much greater ease — though, to be fair, it is also dramatically smaller.
Regardless of those views, a downtown arena all but screams of promise. It would be more easily accessible to those with mobility or transport issues, pump money into shopping, dining and nightlife in Saskatoon and give us the opportunity to increase the seating capacity. That way, maybe Beyoncé would finally come back to town.
A bigger arena would no doubt be appreciated by the Saskatoon Rush who sold out the venue with regularity in their inaugural season. Perhaps it could even house an NHL team — a possibility that was kept in mind when SaskTel Centre was first conceived.
It’s simple logic that any new arena should be downtown. While SaskTel Centre in fact replaced the downtown-located and since-demolished Saskatoon Arena, the decision not to stay downtown was controversial in 1986 and remains a bone of contention to this day.
Writing for the Star Phoenix, Phil Tank argues that even if a new arena was years or even decades down the road, there’s no time for discussion like the present. He makes a compelling point in saying so.
While SaskTel Centre may be sufficient for the time being, we should be planning its replacement long before we go about building it, and there’s little point to pouring money and renovations into a pre-existing venue when funds could go towards preventing those kinds of issues in a new one.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that it took Edmonton over 15 years to make its dreams of a new arena finally come true in September 2016. While the 28-year old Sasktel Centre may still seem relatively new, we may not feel that way when the place is 15 years older. After all, Saskatoon Arena was a rundown, shoddy 48-year old when its long-needed replacement commenced.
In a discussion of replacement and relocation, I would be remiss not to mention the Remai Art Gallery. The still unopened replacement to the Mendel has been disastrously executed since it was approved by city council in 2009.
While this may scare us away from committing public funds to a grand civic project or replacing something that for the time being still serves its purpose, the example of the Remai should instead teach us to take our time and make sure that when we do it, we do it right.
Personally, I can’t wait to catch a concert or a hockey game and have a $20 draught beer at a new downtown Saskatoon arena — whenever that may be.
Zach Tennent / Opinions Editor
Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor