Sunday, July 16, 2006

Letter to Publisher and General Manager of The StarPhoenix concerning downtown Legion Building - April 10, 2006

April 10, 2006

Mr. Dale Brin, Publisher and General Manager
The StarPhoenix
204 Fifth Avenue North
Saskatoon, SK S7K 2P1

Dear Mr. Brin:

RE: Royal Canadian Legion Building #63

As a StarPhoenix (SP) subscriber I am concerned with the newspaper’s lack of coverage regarding city council’s actions surrounding a Veterans’ Museum that was proposed for the downtown Royal Canadian Legion Building.

On April 5, 2004, city council unanimously resolved that Mayor Don Atchison meet with Veterans’ groups to discuss the possibility of establishing a museum within the historic 1929 building. The matter did not come back before a public meeting of city council again.

In Remai looks at Legion (Dec. 21, 2005) the SP reported that Remai Ventures Inc. had been speaking with Legion officials to purchase the hall. More than a year earlier Councillor Elaine Hnatyshyn had “floated the idea of turning the hall into a veteran’s museum.” The idea was pitched to Legion officials who Hnatyshyn said, “were going to think about it and get back to us, which they never did.”

In City culture underfunded (Dec. 21, 2005) SP city affairs columnist Gerry Klein wrote, “…Saskatoon should be mustering its resources to save and enhance amenities such as the King George Hotel or the downtown Legion building,” and “the Legion Building is not only physically attractive, it is a monument to the great suffering of Saskatchewan people who risked everything to serve their country.”

On February 1, 2006, Remai Ventures Inc. announced that the Legion Building, which they now owned, would be demolished next year.

I wrote to Mayor Don Atchison on February 4, 2006, requesting details of the city’s discussions with the Legion, specifically what the city had proposed or offered. I also wrote a similar letter to the Legion branch president.

The February 13, 2006, response from the Mayor’s office was short and did not provide any meaningful information other than, “the City and Legion were unable to come to a mutually suitable arrangement for the suggested veterans museum.”

The Legion’s March 4, 2006, response was more forthcoming with details. Branch President John Davidson informed me that the Legion’s building review committee received approval from its membership on May 27, 2004, to continue discussions with the city regarding the museum.

Davidson wrote, “On May 28, 2004 a letter was delivered to the Mayor’s office. The letter stated that a museum could be established but the Branch would not be responsible for renovations, upgrades, or it’s day to day operations. The letter also stated there would need to be compensation for loss of revenue for the hall.”

The City of Saskatoon did not respond to the letter and no other discussions between the two parties took place.

This correspondence completely contradicted what the public had been led to believe, that the Legion was responsible for the failure of discussions to establish a museum within its building. It was, in fact, the city that walked away from talks – without explanation.

I submitted a package of information to city council for its March 27, 2006, meeting along with copies to two SP reporters.

On March 28, 2006, I contacted the city clerk’s office enquiring about the Legion’s May 28, 2004, letter to the city. I was subsequently advised that the Executive Committee had considered it during an “in-camera” meeting.

In a March 14, 2006, letter to the Royal Canadian Legion, Councillor Elaine Hnatyshyn offered an apology “for any comments I made that incorrectly conveyed a lack of interest of your part for a Veterans’ Museum.”

Hnatsyhyn’s letter is important in that it identifies which closed-door Executive Committee meeting the Legion’s May 28, 2004, correspondence was dealt with – June 14, 2004. It also reveals that the committee resolved, “the conditions outlined in the letter were not acceptable.”

Among those listed as receiving a copy of Hnatyshyn’s letter were The StarPhoenix.

The SP, however, has not reported on any of these recent developments concerning the downtown Legion Building. Can you please explain why?

If Saskatoon is to lose another historic building downtown I think residents have a right to know the reasons behind it. I feel it is incumbent upon the SP to investigate and report on important civic issues such as this.

On several occasions the city has said that final decisions cannot be made at closed meetings. It appears though on June 14, 2004, that’s more or less what happened. The matter was buried.

Absolutely no public debate on the merits of establishing a Veterans’ Museum within the downtown Legion Building had taken place. It was dealt with behind closed-doors. Why?

Why did the city not respond to the Legion’s letter? Why did the city shut the process down and walk away?

If the Legion’s terms were unacceptable to the city, then exactly what terms was the city willing to accept?

What other alternatives, if any, did the city explore? Why did the Executive Committee not report back to city council?

How can the Mayor’s office say, “that the City and Legion were unable to come to a mutually suitable arrangement” when clearly the Legion was willing to continue discussions but it was the city that chose to end the process without explanation? How can a mutually suitable arrangement possibly be negotiated under such circumstances? Did the city even care?

Might the pending Request for Proposals for a spa hotel have had anything to do with the city’s decision not to get involved with establishing a Veterans’ Museum – since it would likely have meant that the Legion Building would remain standing?

History shows that there has been no shortage of developer interest in the Legion land.

In Speakers offer varied visions for building (Dec. 9, 2003) the SP reported Lawrence Rychjohn of P.R. Hotels Ltd. as saying they would make the Royal Canadian Legion “an offer they can’t refuse” for its land in order to accommodate the Marriott Hotel and condominium complex it was proposing for the nearby Gathercole site.

In a June 12, 2003 letter to City Council, The Blairmore Group outlined a spa hotel proposal for the Gathercole site that included the Legion land – but not the building.

Most recently, in Hotel deal ‘not dead’ (Nov. 18, 2005) Mayor Don Atchison admitted to having met with Ellen Remai, president of Remai Ventures Inc. on more than one occasion to discuss the spa hotel project.

As it turned out on December 12, 2005, city council approved the Sale Agreement and Incentive Agreement with Remai Ventures Inc. for a proposed spa hotel. On December 14, 2005, Legion members, in a hastily called meeting, voted to accept a reported $1M offer from Remai for its land, which the latest property tax assessment valued the building at $250,400. The Legion apparently had until noon the next day to accept the offer.

The Saskatchewan Land Titles Registry shows that the Title for Parcel “Y” on the Gathercole site (2.43 acres) was issued to Remai Ventures Inc. on February 1, 2006, while the Title for the Legion land (0.25 acres) was issued on February 2, 2006. The value of these lands is $1.6M and $1M respectively. It is difficult to believe that these simultaneous land activities were simply a coincidence.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to receiving your reply.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK



Gerry Klein, City Affairs, The StarPhoenix
Victoria Neufeldt, President, Saskatoon Heritage Society
Saskatoon City Council


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