Friday, December 22, 2006

Merits of keeping downtown Legion building never debated by Saskatoon City Council; developer Remai Ventures wants to demolish historic hall

Criticism of heritage group in editorial lacks credibility

The StarPhoenix

Friday, December 22, 2006

In the editorial, Heritage group needs to choose targets wisely (SP, Dec. 11), The SP seems to think it knows what's best for everyone else regarding heritage matters in Saskatoon.

The Saskatoon Heritage Society was accused of picking the wrong targets to defend while it allows "true treasures to pass virtually unchallenged" but the editorial didn't identify what those treasures were.

I tend to trust the opinions of those with heritage backgrounds ahead of The SP, whose main interest is Saskatoon remaining business friendly at any cost.

Contrary to what The SP would like people to believe, there was no public debate on the merits of keeping the historic downtown Legion building. Council made sure of that two years ago when it decided behind closed-doors not to pursue establishing a Veterans' Museum within the hall and didn't tell anyone.

According to The SP, citizens should stick to worrying about Saskatoon's old castle school buildings and leave the downtown for developers to decide. This is disrespectful of heritage advocates and to local veterans who built the legion. It's an insult to imply that the building has "minor architectural value" and "stands in the way" of progress.

In the Dec. 6 Planet S, Terry Scaddan of The Partnership said: "I think everybody's catching on to the fact that heritage and cultural tourism is the fastest rising tourism market in North America," and that "people crave the authenticity" of old buildings in the downtown as opposed to big box power centres and the "faux storefronts that are made to look like heritage buildings."

If that's the case, then someone forgot to tell council and developer Remai Ventures, who are determined to destroy the last of our built heritage in the south downtown.

Jack W. Nankivell

┬ęThe StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006

Heritage group needs to choose targets wisely

The StarPhoenix

Monday, December 11, 2006

Across North America cities are belatedly realizing the value of protecting their heritage -- particularly when it comes to the architecture from critical periods of their development.

This is no less true in Saskatoon, where the loss of the Capitol Theatre more than a quarter century ago awakened citizens to the importance of preserving the city's legacy.

It's from that loss that the Saskatoon Heritage Society sprung, and for years it has struggled to bring a measure of reflection to any redevelopment in the city.

Too often, however, the organization has picked the wrong targets to defend while it allowed true treasures to pass virtually unchallenged. The latest of these is the society's defence of the old Northern Paints building on Broadway Avenue.

Despite pressures on Saskatoon's three central business districts (the downtown, Broadway and Riversdale), the city has done an admirable job of maintaining or restoring their viability. Much of that can be attributed to the determination of some to preserve the historic character of these three diverse areas.

But crucial to survival of these areas will be their ability to attract more residents. As with all North American cities, this is a major challenge for civic planners. Saskatoon is in the process of expanding out in three directions through four different suburban neighbourhoods.

City planners say the demand is caused by a two separate but simultaneous pressures. The first is Saskatoon's steady population growth. As senior planner Bill Holden says, it may not be as strong as Calgary's, but it's steady and growing faster now than it has in quite a while.

Getting a handle on exact population numbers is difficult because neither census figures nor health-card data include everyone. However, the planning department's best guess based on these sources is that Saskatoon's population is between 207,000 and 211,000.

The second factor is the trend for fewer people to live in each unit. Whereas a household may have had, on average, three or four people a few years ago, the estimated average now is only 2.4 or 2.5 people per home. With more than 90,000 housing units in Saskatoon, this could mean a population higher than 220,000, Holden said.

To accommodate this growth, the city must provide more units on the outskirts of town, have greater density in its core neighbourhoods, or a combination of the two.

If the character and historic values of those core neighbourhoods are to be preserved, they must provide real economic value as well. If a building with minor architectural value stands in the way of creating the population base needed to ensure the viability of a district, the city risks having its core crumble.

In the downtown, several former warehouses and retail stores are being converted to higher density residences. This is important if amenities such as the King George Hotel is to be saved.

But if a building is saved without a corresponding contribution to the economic viability of its neighbours, it can do more harm than good. Buildings whose reduced functionality outweighs their contribution must be treated differently from those whose reuse creates greater economic activity.

One hopes that is what will be done with the facade of the Legion building in River Landing -- a facility that is expected to be torn down to make room for a hotel-spa development along the riverfront. And one hopes something can be done to save, adapt or at least preserve aspects of the old castle school buildings.

Some of these facilities will need a lot of work if they are to be preserved in their current form, and some may stand in the way of socially responsible urban renewal programs.

These are facilities on which the heritage society and Saskatoon citizens should be concentrating their efforts.

By continually battling to save buildings of marginal value at the expense of maintaining the economic viability of Saskatoon's original business districts, the heritage group risks becoming marginalized in the debate.

If that happens, Saskatoon will be much poorer for it.

┬ęThe StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006


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