What could a new town square do for Saskatoon’s economy?
As Saskatoon moves toward a new downtown, experts say it could make the downtown more vibrant, but it’s unlikely to increase tourism spending.
The city brainstormed a potential downtown site in late August, with councilors receiving a report on the pros and cons of its potential locations.
Even with all the work done so far, designing, budgeting, council decisions and construction will take at least six years before the ribbon can be cut, according to Dan Williams, the city’s director of technical services.
One of the first decisions to be made is where the town square will be built. The city administration has said that the parking lot just north of Midtown Plaza is the preferred location.
Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., studies developments in city arenas across North America. He said the new arenas could make downtown more vibrant, but they are unlikely to improve the city’s economy.
“There is almost no impact, at least from the primary tenants, in terms of hotel or tourism revenue,” Matheson said. “The NHL shows no significant demand for hotels in cities with downtown arenas, and neither does the NBA.”
The new arena is set to hold about 15,000 people, with room for expansion, Williams said.
The city’s current stadium, the Saskatchewan Centre, hosts minor teams such as the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League and the Saskatchewan Rattlers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
While a musical performance by the likes of Taylor Swift or Garth Brooks can increase hotel stays, Matheson said, it’s more of a focus on food spending in a central location rather than an increase in revenue for restaurants across the city. It is possible.
“It’s good for the bars and restaurants that are in that area of the brand new arena, but it’s not good for restaurants in other parts of the city,” he said. “On the net, it’s a very expensive way where people eat dinner.”
He said the research also shows that a new arena in Saskatoon likely won’t attract bigger or more popular music performances.
Matheson suggests the city make the arena flexible and make sure it can accommodate big and small shows, and cheap and expensive seats.
Edmonton Downtown Business Association executive director Punita McBrien said Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta., opened in 2016, contributing to the city’s transformation.
McBrien said downtown was different before the arena and entertainment district came in.
“It was an old Greyhound station and there were tons of surface gravel parking lots that nobody liked, nobody used,” he said.
Now, he said, the ICE District is home to performances, sports games and businesses. It also led developers to build three new residential towers in the area, McBryan said.
“I think creating an entertainment district — if you do it right and you also think about the whole area around the arena — it can really, really change a city,” he said. .