Edmonton Ice District designers visit Saskatoon with input on new downtown event centre

There are many things still up in the air regarding Saskatoon’s downtown event centre, but the Saskatoon Chamber is hoping to learn from those who have worked on something similar.

An event was held Friday with people who worked and planned out the Edmonton Ice District, which has been evolving since 2014.

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The district surrounding the Rogers Place arena in downtown Edmonton contains a vast array of amenities: an off-leash dog park, the Banquet and Canadian Icehouse bars, a Loblaws City Market grocery store, a J.W. Marriott hotel, Braven restaurant, the 66-storey Stantec tower, the Oilers Team Store, a cannabis shop, and a liquor store.

There’s also a fan plaza where Edmonton Oilers fans gathered for watch parties during the team’s playoff run last summer, which doubles as a free public skating rink in the winter.

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A photo of Oilers fans in Edmonton’s Ice District during the 2022 NHL playoffs. Global News

“It’s now become quite clear — and I say this based on having been to 40 facilities across North America and Western Europe —  that designed right and integrated properly into a downtown core, that a downtown sports and entertainment facility can be a real engine of revitalization in the downtown core,” said partner Bob Black.

Black is the executive vice-president of the Edmonton Arena Corp., which operate the City of Edmonton-owned arena and pay maintenance expenses. The company also gets all the revenues.

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Something Saskatoon citizens and city council have been concerned with for the new downtown arena is parking.

Black said that management in Edmonton faced similar backlash during the design phase of the Ice District.

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“It’s actually advantageous that people will park in different locations in the downtown core, because it results in people coming to the downtown core in different routes and leaving the downtown core at different locations and different times.”

Black believes this will heighten Saskatoon’s connectivity and bring customers to other venues in the district — however not all are in agreement.

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“If you net out the benefits of that new arena with the costs of the new arena, you will find that there is really no net gain,” said Moshe Lander, a sports economist at Concordia University of Montreal.

He explained the centre would only be used approximately 50 to 100 days a year, claiming it might not be the best investment of city funds.

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“If they are viewing this as a financial investment, it is not going to deliver.

“If you are viewing it as a civic pride exercise, maybe you can’t put a price on that.”

The City of Saskatoon said a better idea of what the event centre will look like will come in the following months. On Jan. 17, the governance and priorities committee discussed the potential of getting a private management company involved, noting they had at least three separate companies show interest in the project.

Although Friday’s panel was an attempt to learn from what others have done, Lander thinks cities like Edmonton and Saskatoon are hard to compare.

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“Edmonton and Calgary have billion-dollar (NHL) franchises where you can say hey, you should be paying for some of this,” Lander said referring to the Oilers and the Calgary Flames.

“You just don’t have that luxury in Saskatoon.”

While Edmonton had contributions from major partners, he said Saskatoon does not have near the number of corporate partners, going on to say he thinks all of the costs will be forced onto the city.

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“You have one chance to get it right,” said Black.

“So, spend the time to do the due diligence carefully and do the work thoughtfully through the lens of your hometown.”

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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