The people of Saskatoon will soon embark on a discussion of whether or not the city should build a downtown arena. Without a major tenant that plays year-round, this may be a poor economic decision for City Hall.
The possibility of an arena has been under consideration since 2016, when a study was proposed to analyze the costs and benefits of arena construction in downtown Saskatoon — as well as the future of the city’s entertainment, hospitality and conference centres, such as SaskTel Centre and TCU Place.
Although the survey results have not yet been released, one helpful Saskatonian proposed two possible locations for the new arena on Twitter — the current location of Toys “R” Us, near 20th Street East and 1st Avenue South, and one block north of Midtown Plaza, on Pacific Avenue and 22nd Street East. However, building in either of these locations would definitely reduce downtown parking options.
A downtown arena would likely require funding from municipal, provincial and federal levels of government. Mosaic Stadium — which was completed in Regina in 2017 — was built with funding from both the City of Regina and the provincial government. Mosaic Stadium’s major tenant, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, also chipped in 25 million dollars — which was only about 9 per cent of the final cost.
Saskatoon does not have a major tenant who could help pay for this development. The Saskatchewan Rush, while popular, only play nine regular-season games at home each year, and the Saskatoon Blades are struggling to draw in fans on a consistent basis. Furthermore, both of these teams already have adequate facilities.
So, unless the proposed arena comes with the promise of a team that would be able to draw in thousands of people to each game — like an NHL or NFL team — the venue would also have to rely on large events like concerts, which can be difficult to plan and promote, to bring in revenue.
It seems that Saskatoon is often passed over by big-ticket tours or else falls victim to early cancellations due to a perceived lack of sales. In January, David Byrne of Talking Heads cancelled his tour date in Saskatoon only weeks after announcing it.
Another problem that might arise from the addition of a downtown arena is increased traffic. Adding possibly thousands of people, travelling in their own vehicles, to an arena in our current downtown area would create an unfortunate traffic gridlock. Saskatoon would have to restructure its downtown area or add shuttle locations to the existing transit system in our city, like Regina did for their new stadium.
Despite all this, there are some potential positives. The construction of a downtown arena and the subsequent influx of people would likely benefit businesses in the downtown core. Consider the demographics of the people who would attend arena events — these patrons would greatly improve business for the existing downtown bars and late-night restaurants.
Furthermore, when I voiced displeasure about the possibility of an arena in downtown Saskatoon on Twitter, a friend of mine reminded me that it would probably be better to have 2,000 drunk people with access to public transit in our downtown area than 20 drunk drivers coming down Idylwyld Drive after an event at SaskTel Centre.
I ended up agreeing with my friend — a downtown arena could certainly assist in decreasing the amount of drunk drivers who travel across the city when events go on at our current major arena.
Selfishly, I would love a downtown arena here in Saskatoon. It would be more convenient to attend games there, and the arena would probably draw bigger concerts to our area. But, I just do not think it would be economically responsible for the city — or the province, which is currently going through a period of austerity budgets — to fund a stadium that, in the spectrum of possible ventures, is not important.
Photo: Heywood Yu