Friday, July 14, 2006

Letter to City Council regarding River Landing Destination Complex for October 17, 2005, meeting

October 11, 2005

His Worship the Mayor and
Members of City Council
City Hall
Saskatoon, SK
S7K 0J5

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of Council:

RE: River Landing Destination Complex

Through Access to Information requests I have obtained a number of documents, some of which are attached, from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and Infrastructure Canada (INFC). I wish to bring some concerns and questions to Council’s attention.

1) How serious was the City in wanting a national response to its River Landing Destination Complex Expressions of Interest (EOI)?

The EOI issued on April 22, 2005 had a closing date of May 30, 2005. However, it was apparently not until May 7, 2005 that it was advertised nationally in the National Post. Interested parties, at that point, had just 23 days to prepare a submission. How could the City expect to receive any quality responses in such a short time frame? Why was it advertised so late and only once?

At its May 16, 2005 meeting City Council approved an April 28 request from Tourism Saskatoon and Meewasin Valley Authority to extend the EOI deadline to June 15, 2005. This, of course, did not appear to make it into any national advertisements.

I would like to draw Council’s attention to a July 19, 2005 document released to me by Western Economic Diversification Canada. It appears the federal government seriously considered a Request for Proposals process to select a Saskatoon project for the $10-million centennial funds. According to WD the process ‘would have to be at least 60 days and possibly 90 days to allow a reasonable time for applicants to prepare a proposal.’ This is a far cry from the 38 days originally allowed for by the City for a local response and 23 days nationally.

It seems clear that Meewasin and Tourism Saskatoon had a generous head start against any competitors whether they were in Saskatoon or not. By December 2004 the MVA had already prepared and issued its ‘Request for Proposals – Feasibility and Conceptual Design of the River Landing Centre’. Page one states, “The Meewasin Valley Authority and Tourism Saskatoon, in association with volunteers working toward a Saskatoon-based Joni Mitchell exhibit, want to develop a plan to construct and operate a visitor center to meet their collective needs.”

At its February 4, 2005 meeting the Meewasin board, which conveniently includes the Mayor and three City Councillors, discussed the cultural block RFP process. According to the minutes ‘S. Lamb reported on the Request for Proposal for the cultural block and the steps leading up to the proposal call as per a board motion in March 2004 and a follow-up report in November 2004.’ It is stated further that ‘The Meewasin/Tourism proposal will respond to the City’s competitive process for the cultural block.’ At its June 3, 2005 board meeting Meewasin recommended that it provide an expression of interest for the development of a new Meewasin Valley Centre on the cultural block at River Landing.

The process can hardly be considered fair. The short listing of Meewasin, Tourism Saskatoon and Joni Mitchell Centre seemed pre-determined from the start. The theatre and spa hotel process has been just as appalling and suspect.

2) Page three of the July 19, 2005 WD document states that ‘Development of the proposed Saskatoon River Landing Phase I – Cultural Centre project is currently at a critical juncture. Several key stakeholders including the City of Saskatoon, Meewasin Valley Authority and Persephone Theatre are discussing whether it is possible to reach consensus on the form of a building which would reflect each group’s interests and be financially feasible from both an operating and capital perspective. WD-Saskatchewan has indicated to the stakeholders that a consensus proposal would need to be developed by the end of August, to enable WD’s own due diligence and Ministerial consideration to take place well before the end of 2005.’

It appears that some groups involved may have enjoyed a level of dialogue with the City and federal government that others did not. What about the Children’s Discovery Museum on the Saskatchewan Inc. or Science West Inc., or any of the other groups that submitted proposals, were they extended the same opportunities for discussion with the City and federal government? Perhaps the City and/or federal government could clarify this aspect of the process.

3) At City Council’s September 19, 2005 meeting during discussion of the River Landing Destination Complex, Councillor Elaine Hnatyshyn indicated that the City had not yet decided on where the $10 million in federal centennial funds should be spent.

It appears, however, that some type of decision or resolution may have been reached several months earlier. According to the federal government, ‘The City of Saskatoon, in its April 14 letter to WD, identified “River Landing Destination Complex” as the project it favoured for the centennial project for Saskatoon.’

In the May 4, 2005 SP story ‘Ottawa favours cultural centre’, it was reported that the city’s general manager of community services, said in an interview ‘that the city administrators have formed no consensus on how the money should be spent.’ In the same article Councillor Hnatyshyn said she was not aware of any decision either.

If no decision was made on where to spend the $10 million in federal centennial funds then who approved the April 14 letter to WD saying that the City favoured the River Landing Destination Complex as the project in Saskatoon? Will the City be releasing its April 14 letter to WD to the public?

4) WD, in its July 19, 2005 briefing note outlining a possible RFP approach to River Landing, listed examples of candidate projects in Saskatoon. Among them were: Saskatoon Prairieland Exhibition, Mendel Art Gallery, Western Development Museum, Saskatoon Soccer Centre, River Landing Riverbank Park, Olympic scale swimming pool, and South Downtown landmark. Who compiled this list? Was a new downtown main library considered? If not, why?

At its October 3, 2005 meeting City Council approved the construction of an Olympic size pool as part of the West Sector Integrated Multi-District Park. The source of funding (up to $18.9-million) for this and other elements of the development will be through borrowing with repayment from the reallocation of the dedicated assessment growth.

The near seventeen page report on the matter does not mention the $10 million in federal centennial money as a possible source of funding, even though it appears WD was willing to consider it. Why?

In fact, the City has never provided the public with any detailed information on the $10 million federal centennial dollars available to Saskatoon.

At the public portion of its January 24, 2005 meeting the City’s Executive Committee discussed the federal centennial funding issue. The Committee resolved ‘that the matter be referred to the Administration for a report at the next meeting listing all potential projects for the Centennial Funding, and including a suggested process to choose a project.’

To date no such report, if one even exists, has been made public. Why?

Why must it take Access to Information requests for the public to get details on this and other aspects of the City’s River Landing redevelopment project? Why are the City and other levels of government withholding so much information regarding this development? As an example, my most recent ATI request to Infrastructure Canada resulted in some 250 pages of information being denied, not to mention those pages that were released but heavily censored in some areas.

This problem is not just confined to the three levels of government. The Meewasin Valley Authority has denied a request for copies of its administrative reports on the South Downtown. Tourism Saskatoon and Persephone Theatre – recipients of considerable public money like the MVA – have advised me that the minutes of their board meetings are not available to the public. The same appears to be true of The Partnership as well. The City’s Executive Committee has held about twenty special closed-door meetings since the October 2003 civic election. The public has little to no access to information from these meetings. Where is the transparency in all this?

5) It’s no surprise that the Mendel Art Gallery is now being mentioned as a potential River Landing tenant. According to WD a possible federal RFP process for Saskatchewan Centenary Funds would ‘Determine the scope of possible stakeholders to be targeted for the RFP. This could be the same as eligible applicants (especially if the eligible group is very limited). It could be limited to the two civic governments, or expanded to include community groups that are known to be undertaking desirable projects like Persephone and the Mendel Art Gallery. Alternatively a broad public call for proposals could be made. This latter option would minimize controversy in terms of having to justify why eligibility is limited to particular groups, but maximize the administrative burden created by large potential number of applications.’

It seems, though, that eligibility and discussions are indeed being limited to particular groups.

6) On December 10, 2004 the federal government announced its contribution to the A.L. Cole site restoration project through the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF). A ribbon joining ceremony took place in Saskatoon at the Farmers’ Market Building. Infrastructure Canada released to me documents related to that event. One is called ‘Questions and Answers – Government of Canada’s Contribution to the A.L. Cole Site Restoration Project’.

Question #6: Will the federal government play a role in the development or funding of the Gathercole project adjacent to this site?

Answer: No, the Gathercole site development project will be funded entirely by the City of Saskatoon. The federal government is not a funding partner in the Gathercole project.

The federal government’s message appears to be consistent with that made by the City of Saskatoon in its April 13, 2004 CSIF submission to Infrastructure Canada. Both it and Mayor Don Atchison’s April 14 cover letter make it clear that the Gathercole site would be developed entirely at the City’s expense. INFC Minister John Godfrey’s signed November 1, 2004 memorandum suggests that as well.

On December 20, 2004, just ten days after the ribbon joining ceremony in Saskatoon, WD announced its Canada Celebrates Saskatchewan initiative and indicated that $10 million would be available to Saskatoon towards a capital legacy project. It appears it didn’t take long for the Gathercole site to be identified as a possible candidate for the money. When exactly did the City and federal government decide that Saskatoon would not be entirely responsible for developing and funding the Gathercole project? How does the decision affect the message that was conveyed to the public in December 2004 or the documents signed by the respective parties? Why has the public not been asked where it would like to see the $10 million in federal centennial funds spent?

Thank you very much for taking the time to receive my correspondence.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK



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