Hello, Saskatoon community,
When I think about visionary city leaders, it doesn’t get more iconic than those who paved the way for the current TCU Place more than 60 years ago. The current building was constructed in 1968 with a 2000+ seat theatre, when the population of Saskatoon was only 120,000. There have been some enhancements over the years, and through it all, TCU Place has been home to conferences, galas, graduations, concerts, and theatre shows, as a vibrant reminder of Saskatoon’s dynamic community, and the bridge that connects our city to arts and culture, business, and human expression. TCU Place has helped to build Saskatoon into the vibrant business and cultural centre that exists today – and has frequently hosted events that would normally go to another venue or another city. People say we punch above our weight class. And while that is true, we know it won’t last forever.
HOW WE COMPARE
When you look at the development of new venues both in Canada and beyond, our competition is advancing far beyond what our current beloved building can deliver. In Canada, many of the venues that we compete against have seen renovations that are upping the game. Look at Winnipeg’s RBC Centre that doubled its size in 2015, connected to the arena and added 50,000 visitors per year with a 45% revenue growth. Or Halifax Convention Centre with their rebuild of 120,000 square feet that now comfortably hosts conferences up to 2,300 delegates. (We can host about 800). And the Shaw Centre in Ottawa more than doubled their size because they wanted to be relevant on the national and international stage and has since added over $220M in Economic Impact per year to the city. Shaw Centre has also been recognized as the best convention centre in the world through AIPC. Now that draws attention to a city.
And then we look at places like the BMO Centre in Calgary with its stunning representation of the Calgary culture, and the Sphere in Las Vegas, which breaks all boundaries for presentation, sound, and technology. I’m not suggesting that Saskatoon competes directly with Las Vegas…or Banff, or Whistler…or Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver for that matter. But indirectly, when our clients experience these iconic, incredible venues, and then inquire about booking at TCU Place, we pale by comparison. Our building is choppy, disjointed, with a loveable old basement room that has seen better days. Our clients want things like more natural light, a blend of inside and outside, large flexible spaces that can adapt to a variety of set ups, eco friendly spaces that help preserve our environment, and a space that visually showcases and represents Saskatoon. We don’t have that.
Each year 200,000 people walk through the doors of TCU Place, to over 400 events. Each time we host an event, all the businesses around us see a spike in their business – from hotels to restaurants and shopping malls. We have not fully recovered from COVID, and we still are expected to contribute more than $40M in Economic Impact to the City of Saskatoon and the province of Saskatchewan in 2023.
Each year, we also lose one or two more events that no longer fit in our space. Or our clients choose to meet in a newer space, that quite likely is also easier to travel to. For each major conference lost, we lose an estimated $1M in Economic Impact to our city. For each major show lost in our theatre, Saskatoon loses an important cultural experience plus the economic impact generated by both local and out of town guests.
BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS SUPPORT DEVELOPMENT
Our local business associations have championed the development of a new downtown entertainment district, including a much-needed renovation of our convention centre.
In September, the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce held a luncheon featuring Dr. Mark Rosentraub, an expert on urban revitalization, sports, culture, and economic growth. I left the event inspired by his strategic insights, ideas, and wisdom as we all start to dream about and action the future of Saskatoon’s downtown. And this week the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce and Downtown YXE have shared the results of a forward-looking Economic Impact Study for the new proposed downtown entertainment district. (By the way…can we PLEASE come up with a new name for this vibrant city district other than DEED!)
Let’s look at Dr. Rosentraub’s key messages first.
Dr. Rosentraub shared that deliberate and thoughtful investment in infrastructure adds richness and resilience to our city. If we dream big, we can create a vibrant city that can sustain us all – a city where our children want to stay when they grow up. This speaks to me. Admittedly, I am fairly new to Saskatoon. I’ve lived in Ontario for most of my working life, and have also lived in Vancouver and Medicine Hat AB. It still amazes me how under-represented and unknown Saskatoon and Saskatchewan are. National studies tend to skip over SK, many of our children go to school here and then look for opportunities elsewhere in our beautiful country. As a parent with children across the country – I would like nothing more than for our children to stay in Saskatoon after university. That adds a richness that no downtown district can offer. But the reality is, that for our young people to stay here, we need to have a vibrant city with an energy that attracts and sustains them. That energy comes from a diverse downtown district with a variety of entertainment options.
A CITY FOR THE FUTURE – FOR OUR KIDS AND THEIR KIDS
Dr. Rosentraub shared the benefits of nurturing urban lifestyles. Rather than encouraging sprawled growth, which is costly to maintain, we need to focus on centralizing, and infusing life into the heart of our city. Our city, with its existing structures, carries historical weight and societal sentiment. But if we dare to dream of a future that accommodates the growing scale, I urge all of us to envision spaces that meet both today’s and tomorrow’s entertainment needs. The reality is that it will likely be 7-10 years if all goes smoothly, so we are ONLY talking about developing for the future. By building out the downtown with core anchor facilities, other businesses like restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail will follow, and will be supported by as well as offer support to the district. It is a wonderful symbiotic relationship. What we create now, we build for our successors. We need experiences that catch their eye, nurture their creativity, and inspire their sense of belonging. They are our future, and creating an urban hub is a legacy we craft with them in mind.
BILLION DOLLAR BOOST TO SASKATOON’S ECONOMY
If you have watched, listened to, or read any news this week in Saskatoon, you will have seen the media release from the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Saskatoon sharing results of a third-party study forecasting $1.3 billion in total economic impact over ten years driven by the development of the district including the new event centre and a substantially new convention centre. This is not small change. But economic impact is a foreign concept for some. With the right financial plan including private investment, hospitality tax, and tax incremental financing, our community members will see a vibrant district with more businesses, more jobs, more choice for entertainment and gathering – without impacting our taxes.
Part of the city’s plan is to increase the population of people living downtown by 10,000. For these 10,000 and for the other 265,000+ people living in our incredible city, we need infrastructure to support living, working, and playing in Saskatoon. We invest in infrastructure such as roads and bridges. This key difference between that infrastructure and the proposed downtown district, is that the district has the potential to be a magnet for so much more – including new business, new jobs, new investments, new people moving to our city, and new opportunities to elevate our city on Canada’s stage. There is a reason why so many cities across North America are taking action to redefine their cities. If we look at an aerial map of cities that have transformed their downtown districts in the past years and compare that to an aerial map of the same area 10 years ago – the result is clear. Investing in the downtown is helping to transform these cities, businesses, and lives.
WHAT IF WE DON’T?
That truly is a million-dollar question. While this is fundamentally an economic and city development opportunity, at the very heart of the opportunity is connection and enrichment. Without substantial development to the current primary facilities, we WILL lose events. We will miss out on the development of businesses to support these facilities. We will lose our young people to other more forward-thinking cities. We will lose the close connection to arts, culture, educational conferences, and welcoming people from across the country and beyond to experience Saskatoon. We will continue to be forgotten, overlooked, and not even recognized as a viable place to live and grow even in our own country.Like the Chamber and Downtown Saskatoon, I am eagerly awaiting the financial plan for the development of the district to assess the overall feasibility. And while that is in the works, we have work to do — to have important conversations about how we want our city to evolve and develop.
I was fortunate to be invited in October to a workshop with the most creative and respected people in our industry from across Canada and around the world as we examined the future of venues, and the important role these venues play in community building. There were 20 people including architects, engineers, futurists, venue managers, accessibility experts, and more, gathered for thought provocative discussion about how we as an industry can support, shape, and lead the way people like to gather and connect with a bigger purpose. How people are choosing to gather and connect today is different now than it was 60 years ago when the plans were developing for the current TCU Place. We have an opportunity to provide something wonderful for our city that will outlast most of us reading this article.
The conversations referenced in this article, plus other events in recent months, have left me invigorated and hopeful for what Saskatoon can and will be. Each one of us at TCU Place commits to playing our part in this progress, orchestrating shared experiences, and painting a vibrant tapestry of community life with each event that we facilitate, and each event that we imagine. We are daring to dream of what’s next even though we don’t have it all figured out. That’s where YOU come in…join the conversation. Imagine what is possible. Dream big – because others deserve to know just how magical Saskatoon really is.
Here’s to our shared journey toward a vibrant future,
CEO, TCU Place