Friday, March 09, 2007

Letter to Saskatoon City Council re: River Landing, Remai Ventures, the Legion Building and Mayor Don Atchison

March 9, 2007

His Worship the Mayor
And Members of City Council
222 Third Avenue North
Saskatoon, SK S7K 0J5

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of Council:

RE: F1) Reacquisition of Parcel “Y” River Landing Phase I

With the departure of Remai Ventures from the River Landing spa hotel scene City Council has been presented with a unique and valuable opportunity to step back and take a second look at its South Downtown Concept Plan 2004 and its Expressions of Interest/Request for Proposals process for Parcel “Y” on the former Gathercole site.

The South Downtown Concept Plan 2004 was prepared behind closed-doors by City Council with the help of $1,000/day consultant Gwyn Symmons. No meaningful citizen engagement took place. Council has been given the opportunity to rectify this to some degree. Is it too much to ask that Council take some time to find out what the people of Saskatoon want?

The City is in the process of reacquiring Parcel “Y” and has been given a rare second chance to ensure that it remains publicly owned. The City spent many years trying to obtain the land and when it finally did let it slip away at a fire sale price.

The historic Royal Canadian Legion, #Branch 63 building should be considered in any south downtown redevelopment plan. Now that Remai’s plans are off the table I feel it would be irresponsible to allow the Legion building to be demolished before all options are given fair consideration.

Mayor Don Atchison said he “expects” City Council will continue to pursue a hotel development on the former Gathercole site. Atchison also wants to sell the land again.

Atchison has been pushing for a spa hotel since before the October 2003 civic election – when he was first elected mayor. Why is his vision the only one that the City seems willing to accept?

Isn’t it time to take a sober second look at what is happening in the south downtown? Rushing through decisions in 2003 & 2004 is what got the City into this predicament in the first place. Why would Council want to go down that road again?

Lastly, below is a timeline of south downtown news items:

“I think the reason why nothing has happened in south downtown Saskatoon is the politicians…They have their own idea of what should be built down there, as opposed to leaving it to the private sector.”
– Coun. Don Atchison

(September 21, 2002, StarPhoenix New plan for south downtown)

“My vision [for the Gathercole site] is there to be a mineral water spa with condominiums surrounding it. The public land could be used for live theatre or whatever the case might be.”
– Coun. Don Atchison

(October 16, 2003, Planet S What’s Next For Gathercole?)

‘Heritage groups want to turn the [Gathercole] building into a riverfront market in the city's south downtown, but Mayor Don Atchison has other ideas.

Atchison says he would rather see a new spa hotel and condos there, and that would mean the whole Gathercole building should come down to clear the way.’

(February 9, 2004, CBC News Gathercole faces complete demolition)

‘The south downtown riverfront will welcome visitors with a City of Lights theme, attracting residents and tourists with housing, a hotel, interpretive centre, performance theatre and restaurant, according to a first-draft development wish list.

The confidential draft, obtained by The StarPhoenix, charts a course for the Gathercole and A.L. Cole sites, intending to kick-start public discussion. City-hired consultant Gwyn Symmons of CitySpaces wrote the draft, based on independent in-camera meetings he held with city council and Meewasin Valley Authority officials.’
(March 4, 2004, StarPhoenix Theme set for south downtown riverfront)

‘The city hired Gwyn Symmons of CitySpaces to put together a report, which will be unveiled at tonight’s meeting, to stimulate public discussion. If it appears council’s mind has already been made up, however, the April 27 and 28 public meetings at the Centennial Auditorium will be seen as hypocritical.’

(April 5, 2004, StarPhoenix Editorial – Council must strike balance)

‘City council endorsed a revised concept plan Monday…The plan closely mirrors the one presented at public open houses in April, featuring housing, restaurants, parks, a performance theatre and hotel.’

(June 22, 2004, StarPhoenix Council endorses concept plan for riverbank strip)

‘The opportunity to build a hotel-spa along with high-rise condominiums in the south downtown will be offered to investors across the continent.

City council has approved the idea of selecting a commercial real estate company with international marketing connections to sell the prime land opening up now that demolition of the former Gathercole centre is nearly complete.

“We’re hoping to get a mineral water spa and hotel, not a traditional hotel,” Mayor Don Atchison said Monday.’

(August 17, 2004, StarPhoenix City to market south downtown hotel-spa plan)

‘The city is set to call for expressions of interest in building a mineral spa, restaurant and condominiums on the northeastern quarter of the Gathercole site.

“This is the first step to make sure that we are on the right page together,” said Mayor Don Atchison. “We believe we will have a healthy response and will have different groups to choose from.”

City council approved a selection process Monday that puts much of its confidence in a private Realter, Colliers McClocklin Real Estate, to attract interest.’

(November 16, 2004, StarPhoenix City goes to private-sector well for spa project)

‘Four developers have stepped forward to build a mineral spa hotel at River Landing, but they’re as shy as they are ambitious.

As the city promised in the terms of its call for expressions of interest, the city is keeping identities and proposal details internal. An administrative committee will grade the submissions and forward some or all of the names to city council in March.’

(February 12, 2005, StarPhoenix Spa plan attracts four bids)

‘City council officially narrowed the field of competing developers to build a downtown mineral spa down to two Monday.

Remai Ventures Inc. and VPMI Hotel Group will now draft detailed proposals to build the spa hotel, residences and restaurant south of the 19th Street Legion.’

(March 8, 2005, StarPhoenix City council narrows spa developers to two)

‘One of two firms chosen earlier by the city to draft detailed plans pulled out before Wednesday’s deadline, likely leaving Remai Ventures Inc. as the spa developer by default.

VPMI Hotel Group failed to convince lenders to finance its $12.5-million to $14-million plan for the first phase of its spa hotel. Major lenders aren’t convinced of the viability of building another major hotel downtown with so many already operating, said Shaun Ng, VPMI vice-president of development.’

(May 26, 2005, StarPhoenix One spa bid remains)

‘Mayor Don Atchison said he’s not inclined to issue another call for proposals just to provide the city with options.

“[Remai Ventures] are the only ones left now so I think we have to deal with them in good faith and see where this is going to lead us.”’

(May 27, 2005, StarPhoenix Spa bid seeks tax deal)

‘A chorus of criticism from hoteliers and residents wasn’t enough to drain city council’s hopes of a $30-million mineral spa in south downtown.

Council authorized a city committee to negotiate with Remai Ventures Inc. the sale of municipal land for a spa hotel, albeit with strong reservations.’

(June 28, 2005, StarPhoenix Council gives go ahead to spa site negotiations)

‘Months after formal negotiations began, a proposal to build a hotel and mineral spa at River Landing is still sitting on the table -- but that doesn't mean the project is in jeopardy, says Mayor Don Atchison.

Atchison said he's not directly involved in the negotiations, though he admitted he's met with Remai Ventures president Ellen Remai more than once to discuss the project.’

(November 18, 2005, StarPhoenix Hotel deal 'not dead'; Paulsen: Remai Ventures president won't talk publicly about situation)

‘The City of Saskatoon has worked out a tentative deal clearing the way for a hotel and spa complex at River Landing.

“It's going to be a great contribution not only to downtown but for the entire city, and it will be a great landmark for us all,” Mayor Don Atchison said Thursday. “It's something that we're all going to be proud of.”

“They're good corporate citizens,” Atchison said of Remai Ventures.

Since the deal has already been approved by council's executive committee -- which consists of the mayor and all councillors -- behind closed doors, it's unlikely to be defeated when council votes on it Monday night.’

(December 9, 2005, StarPhoenix City OKs hotel/spa land deal)

‘City councillors voted Monday night to approve a sales agreement clearing the way for Remai Ventures to erect the new hotel on one of the last pieces of prime urban riverfront real estate in the country.’

(December 13, 2005, StarPhoenix River Landing spa gets council OK)

‘The only private-sector investor involved with Saskatoon's River Landing is pulling out of the project.

Remai Ventures Inc. will not build…a $40-million hotel and mineral spa.

“The rising cost of construction and difficulty in obtaining skilled labour has made this project cost prohibitive,” wrote Ellen Remai, president and CEO of Remai Ventures Inc., in a letter to the city administrator responsible for River Landing.

Remai also raised concerns about the costs and risks of developing the spa.

“Based on these factors, it is no longer economically viable to proceed with this project at this time,” she wrote.

While Mayor Don Atchison was surprised to read Remai's letter…he continues to be optimistic about the future of River Landing.

“We'll go out to the private sector once again and, hopefully, we'll be able to have someone build us a wonderful facility there,” he said in an interview.

Atchison expects council will direct its administration to follow a previous consultant's recommendation that a hotel complex be built rather than offices.

“Condominiums would be very nice there as well.”

But Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce executive director Kent Smith-Windsor says the reality is the Saskatoon market can't support another hotel complex as hotels struggle to get room rental rates near the national or even Prairie region average.’

(March 8, 2007, StarPhoenix Remai backs out: Investor pulls plug on hotel, spa project)

Thank you for your time.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK


At 8:27 AM, Blogger Sandy said...

Hi Joe. Well done. I can only hope that those councillors who voted in favor of the hotel/spa idea the first time take a second to think this thing through and reconsider. If the biggest name in the hotel business doesn't think it is viable, what more would it take to convince council.


Post a Comment

<< Home