Saturday, April 14, 2007

River Landing hotel spa debacle continues; Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison insists one is still needed

At its April 16, 2007, meeting Saskatoon City Council will consider a recommendation from its Administration “that the redevelopment of Parcel “Y” on River Landing Phase I continue to employ a mixed-use strategy incorporating a hotel, residential housing, restaurant(s), retail, and spa/destination attraction; that City Council approve a two-stage process outlined in this report for the disposition of Parcel “Y”; and, that the Request for Expressions of Interest document (Attachment 1) be approved for distribution.”

This comes as no surprise since at the March 12, 2007, City Council meeting the city manager said that Administration still supports the “vision” that Council adopted for the South Downtown i.e. the concept plan. Mayor Don Atchison has always wanted a hotel spa on the former Gathercole site and continues to believe the idea is viable.

The following letter was submitted to City Council for the April 16, 2007, meeting:

April 13, 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: Agenda Item F2 – River Landing Hotel/Residential Site

At its March 12, 2007, meeting City Council resolved “that Administration report to City Council on a strategy and options for continuing the development of Parcel “Y”, River Landing Phase I.”

I feel City Administration has not complied with Council’s resolution. The report submitted by the city manager contains just one option – a variation of the Expressions of Interest (EOI) that was issued in 2004. The report leaves Council with nothing to choose from.

At Council’s March 12 meeting some council members asked about keeping the land public and opportunities for meaningful citizen engagement – something that was absent last time around. Administration said these things would be addressed but the report that was submitted does not.

I feel the matter should be referred back to Administration for a report that reflects what Council resolved on March 12, 2007.


Section 1 'Introduction' of the proposed EOI states:
“The City of Saskatoon requests Expressions of Interest (EOI) from qualified companies to purchase and develop a parcel of land known as Parcel Y, located in the prestigious River Landing redevelopment area.”
Approving the EOI essentially commits to selling the land – again. No options are presented for keeping it publicly owned.

Section 5 'Concept Summary' of the proposed EOI states:
City Council considers the hotel and publicly accessible spa/destination attraction as essential,” and;

“Proponents should be aware that City Council’s preference is for a publicly accessible spa.”

“A destination attraction is suggested as a potential alternative and will be evaluated accordingly.”
Section 13 'Evaluation Criteria' shows that 60 points of a possible 100 will be allotted for the Development Concept Summary.

The City makes it quite clear that it prefers and considers a hotel spa as essential. EOI’s submitted without these components risk receiving a lower score than those that do. This restricts options and ties developer’s hands almost forcing them to ensure that a hotel and spa are included in their submissions.

In Market to shape River Landing (SP Apr. 13, 2007) it was reported that:
“People seem to have latched onto the idea of a large hotel with 150 to 250 rooms anchoring the River Landing site, “and perhaps that's not what it is,” Mayor Don Atchison said in an interview Thursday.

“Only the marketplace will tell us in the end.””
It should be noted that as far back as September 2003, Don Atchison has been pushing for a hotel spa and condominiums on the former Gathercole site. The process initiated by the previous City Council was clearly designed to ensure that outcome.

What is before Council now is simply a continuation of the heavy-handed top-down driven approach to the South Downtown that has been employed since the fall of 2003.

In his letter to the City consultant Gwyn Symmons states: “We have not analysed the hotel market in Saskatoon …” Instead it is to be left up to the “development industry” to decide.

Would it not be a good idea to analyze the hotel market before rushing into a decision to seek proposals for another one? How about asking the citizens of Saskatoon what they want to see instead of relying solely on what the market dictates?

Regarding the two open houses held in April 2004 the city manager’s report states: “The concept of a hotel/restaurant/retail/residential component on River Landing Phase I was part of the proposed “mix of land uses” which received an approval rating of 87%.”

It should be noted that the public input form that was distributed by Administration did not say “hotel/restaurant/retail/residential.” It merely said “Mix of Land Uses – Please circle the word that best reflects your opinion: strongly support, support, neutral, oppose, strongly oppose.” A box was provided for “comments or suggestions.”

The input form certainly did not say that “approval” was being sought by the City for a “hotel/restaurant/retail/residential” development.

Furthermore, the public input form did not ask whether the public thought the land should be sold or remain publicly owned. City Council decided that on its own at its August 16, 2004, meeting.

By the time the public open houses were held on April 27 & 28, 2004, the question of roadway design, demolition of a potential heritage building and land uses had already been determined. The public input forms were clearly designed to evoke the positive feedback that Council was seeking. The results were then used to justify Council’s actions. The open houses were hypocritical to say the least. And yet the City continues to cite them to push its decisions through.

It is difficult to understand how the City can expect the public to buy into a plan, to feel a sense of ownership and pride in one when it has been excluded from the outset in participating in any meaningful way. This is one crucial element that is missing from the 12 planning principles Council lists in its concept plan.

On March 17, 2007, I attended a public input meeting at the SIAST Kelsey Campus concerning the future use of the 50-metre pool at the Harry Bailey Aquatic Centre. Although not perfect this type of meeting format is something Council might wish to consider as a starting point to involve the public in a more meaningful and sincere way before any decisions on the EOI/RFP process is made. Given the importance of River Landing such meetings could be held downtown and in the east, west and north parts of the city. Community Assocations and other stakeholders might also like to be consulted.

Thank you for your time.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK


Post a Comment

<< Home