How will Saskatoon pay for a downtown arena and convention centre?
SASKATOON -- Saskatoon’s Governance and Priorities Committee is to consider ways to raise money for a downtown arena and convention centre project estimated to cost $375 million.
User fees and taxes on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals, vehicle rental fees and tax-increment financing are a few options listed in a report by the city’s administration.
“Exploration and implementation of non-traditional funding sources will be key to achieving the vision of Saskatoon’s future in a way that minimizes reliance on property tax," the city said in a news release.
Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce CEO Jason Aebig said those ideas are being used in other North American cities.
“Levies on visitors and guests in the hospitality space is not new and it actually is a tool that is used in almost every major jurisdiction that has an entertainment district like this,” Aebig said.
He wrote a letter to the committee meeting on Monday voicing the chamber’s support for the project.
However, he worries the opportunity to receive funding from other levels of government will come and go if Saskatoon doesn’t have a solid plan in place for an entertainment district.
“What I worry about is, the world is going to pass us by here, COVID, no-COVID, these two facilities were already aging in place, they were unable to compete effectively and every day we’re losing more and more ground,” he said, referring to SaskTel Centre and TCU Place.
He expects the federal budget coming Monday to include some big spending to help the Canadian economy recover.
“There’s going to be some significant infrastructure dollars flowing across this country.”
The city’s report examines the City of Winnipeg’s legislative authority to charge a five per cent accommodation tax, with the intent of generating revenue to support Destination Winnipeg and its convention centre, special events and project to encourage tourism.
On average, the tax generates about $10 million per year in a pre-COVID-19 environment, according to the city.
One major challenge in today’s environment is predicting how the demand for tourism, entertainment, and conventions will respond in a post-COVID-19 pandemic, the report said.
Aebig said it’ll likely take two to three years before new revenue streams are implemented to let the hospitality and tourism industry recover from the pandemic.
“Given the fragile state of the economy, I would say let’s kickstart the conversation and then talk about when these measures would be implemented,” he said.
Stephanie Clovechok, CEO of Tourism Saskatoon, isn’t in favour of taxes or user fees on tourist-centric amenities to raise cash for the project.
“I can understand why city administration looked at user fees because other jurisdictions have already done that,” she said, adding this move could put up barriers for the tourism sector.
“It could jeopardize the future of our economy and the work that has been done by the Saskatoon Destination Hotel Marketing Partnership.”
Clovechok wants to see a mandate to find a funding solution without dipping into taxpayer dollars.
The city’s long-term vision for a downtown entertainment district includes replacing SaskTel Centre and TCU Place with a combination downtown arena and convention centre, accompanied by a bus-rapid-transit system.