Monday, September 10, 2007

Lake Placid Investments Inc. RFP for River Landing Parcel Y in Saskatoon comes up short; public shortchanged as City rushes approval process

Released to great fanfare on September 5, 2007, was Lake Placid Investments Inc. proposal for River Landing Parcel Y in Saskatoon. For the second time in as many tries only one developer came forward with a proposal by the deadline for the chance to develop the 2.43-acre riverfront property. In May 2005, Remai Ventures Inc. was the lone developer to submit a proposal for the same land but its planned $40 million spa hotel was abandoned in February 2007 when it decided the project was not sustainable. Lake Placid’s plan is estimated to cost $125 million, not including the $4.8 million for the land.

The usual suspects have quickly lined up to give the plan the thumbs up: Mayor Don Atchison, Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority (SREDA), The Partnership, Tourism Saskatoon, The StarPhoenix and to some extent the Meewasin Valley Authority.

Saskatoon City Council is scheduled to consider Lake Placid’s proposal at its September 17, 2007, meeting. The following letter on the matter was submitted to City Council:

September 10, 2007

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of City Council:

I do not support the Lake Placid Investment Inc. proposal for River Landing Parcel Y and would like to submit the following comments for city council’s consideration.

1) The River Landing Parcel Y Request for Proposals (RFP) calls for a “destination attraction/gathering place.” City council considers this component a Priority 1 Essential Element.

Section 5.0 of the River Landing Parcel Y Expressions of Interest (EOI) defines a destination attraction:
“A destination attraction’s purpose is more clearly defined under “Permitted Uses” within the DCD1 guidelines: “to build on the Downtown’s role as the cultural heart of the city by the development of cultural facilities which can improve economic prospects and encourage tourism”. Suggested uses include, but are not limited to, publicly accessible interpretive centres, theatres, heritage facilities, museums, and art galleries.”
A “cultural facility” can be defined as any building or structure used for programs or activities involving the arts or other endeavors that encourage refinement or development of the mind.

Lake Placid describes the public component of its RFP as a “gathering space”, “meeting place” and “cultural destination.” It includes a water pond/wading pool, skating rink and an elevated water feature. How these activities will encourage the refinement or development of the mind is a mystery. What Lake Placid is proposing are amenities not a destination attraction – something that would build on the Downtown’s role as the cultural heart of the city by the development of cultural facilities. In fact, the term “destination attraction” does not even appear in the proposal.

2) Section 5.0 – Information to be Submitted of the EOI states:
“6. Development and Management Experience
Proponents are required to provide a description of projects the company has developed and/or managed over the past ten years. Experience in the type of development envisaged on the subject parcel (hotel, residential, retail, restaurant, destination attraction) is particularly important to note.”
What is Lake Placid’s previous experience in developing and/or managing destination attractions? Its RFP does not appear to provide the public with this kind of information. The city’s administrative committee apparently evaluated Lake Placid’s EOI and found it sufficient to proceed to the RFP stage but unfortunately the public has been denied access to that document.

Page twenty-six of the Lake Placid RFP provides a brief overview of prime consultant S2 Architecture’s “impressive client base made up of school boards, government bodies, institutions, corporations, and private developers.” The RFP also states that “S2 Architecture is involved in a variety of residential, commercial and hospitality projects across Alberta, BC, and California.”

As for Lake Placid the only information concerning their experience are two short paragraphs and two pictures showing their Centuria on the Park, Calgary, AB and Centuria Urban Village, Kelowna, BC developments – both upscale condominiums. Nowhere is Lake Placid – or S2 Architecture for that matter – experience in developing destination attractions detailed. Neither of their websites appears to contain this information. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether Lake Placid has experience developing and/or managing hotels.

In the newspaper article Developers line up (StarPhoenix, June 22, 2007), Lake Placid is described as “a relative newcomer to the property development game. Its first complex is slated for a February completion in Kelowna, B.C.” This is unsettling.

3) Lake Placid’s proposal does not appear to include First Nations history or culture. At present token acknowledgement by the city in the form of tree grates and a future statue in the middle of a traffic circle represent the only Aboriginal presence in the River Landing development.

4) Saskatoon already has a successful downtown outdoor skating rink. In 2006-07 the Meewasin Skating Rink had more than 10,230 skaters from all over the world use the rink. It was named best outdoor rink in Canada by Reader’s Digest magazine. Lake Placid’s proposed skating rink could have a negative impact on the Meewasin rink. This would be most unfortunate.

5) The Lake Placid proposal shows a festival stage and water pond/wading pool. The River Landing Riverfront Park Phase I will have an outdoor amphitheatre, a children’s water play feature and a small stage area. Does the riverbank need more of the same in such close proximity?

6) Lake Placid’s proposed hotel drop off on 2nd Avenue South could increase traffic congestion. The narrow roadway, paving stone surface, roundabout and angle parking will likely create enough traffic headaches as it is.

7) The combination boutique hotel, condominium tower and office building offers nothing unique or exciting. The development lacks something special, a draw that will rival other major centres. Lake Placid’s proposal may have local appeal and perhaps regional at best but it is difficult to imagine it attracting significant interest on a national level.

8) The proposed glass and metal buildings present a cold institutional feeling. They are reminiscent of 60s style apartment complexes. A 20-storey monstrosity does not belong on the riverbank.

9) Page twenty-one of the Lake Placid proposal states: “The tenants and retailers located in River Landing would be of a higher end nature…” The exclusive nature of the development will eliminate a large segment of the population who won’t be able to afford it. In fact, the word “affordable” does not appear in the proposal. The development could be perceived as elitist, a playground for the rich.

10) The Lake Placid plan shows the laneway located behind the former Royal Canadian Legion property on 19th Street East being used as a “parkade and service zone access.” The city assessor advised me on December 6, 2006, that the land is city-owned and comprises 5,881.38 square feet or 0.135 acres. According to a Nov. 14, 2004, e-mail from the city’s special projects manager the south downtown budget does not include costs associated with the laneway. Who will be paying the costs of bringing this area up to acceptable standards?

11) The Lake Placid proposal does not provide detailed measurements. The scale of some aspects of the development does not seem plausible. This is especially apparent on page nineteen: view of plaza looking southwest. The space surrounding the people that are pictured is unbelievably large.

12) The Lake Placid development will result in the loss of the mature American elm trees on the site. Their value as natural heritage cannot be replaced.


I am concerned that the city is rushing the Lake Placid proposal through the approval process. The city received the RFP on September 4, 2007. It was put on public display at city hall from September 5-10, 2007. A city administrative committee will evaluate the proposal and submit a report to city council for its Sept. 17 meeting where it is expected approval will be given for administration to enter into negotiations with Lake Placid. Total time of process: 15 days.

The Remai Ventures Inc. RFP, by comparison, was received May 25, 2005. It went on public display from May 27-June 7, 2005. City council received the RFP as information at its May 30, 2005, meeting. The proposal was evaluated by a committee comprised of civic staff and consultant resources and a report was submitted to council for its June 27, 2005, meeting where council approved the proposal and authorized administration to enter into negotiations with Remai. Total time of process: 33 days.

The public had 12 days to view the Remai proposal and provide feedback but will have only 6 days with Lake Placid’s. Why the big hurry?

At $40 million Remai Ventures said its proposal for Parcel Y was not sustainable yet the Lake Placid plan at $125 million, not including the $4.8 million for the land is? What kind of tax breaks and subsidies is it going to take to get this development off the ground? Twice the public was led to believe that there was significant interest in Parcel Y and twice only one developer came forward with a proposal. It might be worthwhile to figure out why this happened and whether it had anything to do with the city’s South Downtown Concept Plan 2004.

Perhaps the city should take time to reconsider its options, including keeping the land publicly owned, and begin a process that engages all citizens in a more positive, meaningful and inclusive way.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK

cc: Meewasin Valley Authority Board of Directors

[Photos: River Landing Parcel Y Request for Proposal (Sept. 2007), Lake Placid Investments Inc.]


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