I was at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday, along with several family members. Rider Pride was instilled into the Donnelly kids (all ten of us), in much the same way that community involvement became a natural part of our vocabulary. All of us share some experience working, volunteering or attending events at Taylor Field. One of my first “jobs” was selling hotdogs in the concession stands when I was 13.
Saturday’s announcement of a signed agreement for a new stadium in Regina was an excellent photo opportunity for Mayor Pat Fiacco, Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. While an earlier press conference provided some numbers, the announcement at the stadium was short and to the point, with few details….”we are building a stadium, bringing vision to reality.”
Rider Pride is, indeed, a phenomenon and there is no question that the team has a special place in people’s hearts. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new venue. One of my brothers was involved in the construction of MTS Centre in Winnipeg, and I’ve seen how much of an impact that venue had on the re-development of that city’s downtown. On the other hand, there are lessons to be learned from challenges that Winnipeg is having with its new stadium, namely the importance of due diligence, and thoughtful adequate planning before you start to build.
There was definitely enthusiasm for the news that was announced prior to Saturday’s game. Would the reception have been as warm had more of the details been shared? For instance, the City’s commitment to a direct contribution of $73 million and to borrow another $100 million from the province. I agree that the increase in the ticket surcharge is necessary to pay down the loan. And I was pleased to learn that a portion of the funding ($25 million) will be raised by the facility’s primary user, the Riders. But one can’t help but pay attention to some of the comments and questions that are being circulated. Many citizens are genuinely concerned about the implications on Regina’s future. What other priorities will be delayed, or sacrificed, in order to meet our obligations to the stadium?
Regina is already facing an impending water treatment facility replacement, a significant pension shortfall, a housing crisis made worse by the lowest rental vacancy rate in Canada, and crumbling infrastructure (roads, pipes, etc). The stadium is not the only pressing need in our city when it comes to recreation infrastructure. A recent report on Regina’s recreational facilities identified almost $100 million in necessary repairs and upgrades required to maintain functionality. Many of these facilities – indoor arenas, the Northwest Leisure Centre, and the Sandra Schmirler Leisure Centre – are used by Regina families on a regular basis.
This month, City Council will be asked to vote on the new stadium proposal, set to begin construction in 2013 – only six months away (but who’s counting?). People are asking: What will the new stadium look like? Who is responsible for the design and planning? Will there be public consultation into the process? These are valid questions. We need to be wary of repeating the mistakes of cities like Winnipeg. That city rushed through the design/build process and now they are re-designing and re-building, at additional cost. I know the City has had preliminary design work undertaken first for the CP Rail yards and then for Evraz Place. I’ve been asked if there has been a study that confirms whether upgrading our current facility is or isn’t an option.
There’s no question that something has to be done about our aging stadium, but don’t the new end zone sections show us what we can do for significantly less cost? Wouldn’t upgrading the current site allow Regina to preserve the heritage and history and collective pride that we all feel at Taylor Field?
This is our city. All of us deserve a voice in a decision that will have such a huge impact on the future of our city, and on the kinds of choices we will be able to make in the coming years. It appears that our current Mayor is determined to push this project through before the next municipal election on October 24th. It would also appear that this issue has the potential to become the only election issue….and that’s truly unfortunate.
The next City Council will be left with a myriad of significant problems; the largest debt load in our city’s history, an underfunded pension plan, a housing crisis, crumbling infrastructure, fractured relationships with our neighbors in the RM of Sherwood, and growing costs relative to unchecked urban sprawl. I am excited about the growth of our city and the potential we have yet to achieve. Our city has an opportunity to develop a new venue for our provincial sports team, but we also have to make sure we are doing the right thing, not just for sports fans but for everyone in our community. We also need to bring some reality to our vision…we need to be looking at the stadium issue as one piece of a much bigger picture. And not just as a great photo opportunity for our current leaders.
Having said all of that…it was a great game on Saturday…way to go, Riders! Well done!
Let me know your thoughts on the stadium issue. I look forward to having many conversations with people over the coming months leading up to our October 24th election.