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Cultural centre concept unveiled Print-ready version

by Julie Saccone
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
September 16, 2005

Design proposal will go before city council next week

Joni Mitchell, Meewasin Valley Authority and Tourism Saskatoon visitor centres are being proposed in a preliminary design of River Landing's multimillion-dollar cultural centre.

While those three groups are in the proposal, five others have been edged out, including a children's museum.

City administration is recommending council approve the design in principle next week.

The short-listed winners are the MVA River Landing Centre, the Tourism Saskatoon Visitor Centre and the Joni Mitchell Centre for Creativity, which are slated to join Persephone Theatre in the $31.3-million project.

But the recommendation downsizes proposals by the MVA and Tourism Saskatoon.

"Both of those organizations, the MVA and Tourism Saskatoon, came with proposals that included very large spaces for their respective destination attractions as well as their offices," said Chris Dekker, manager of public and intergovernmental affairs for the city. "When we looked at how much of a footprint that would be and the cost of that, it was just simply not acceptable to all the levels of different governments that would be funding this."

The centre, which the city dubs a destination complex, is part of a cultural block on the south downtown riverfront known as River Landing. The proposed centre would sit on the site of the former Gathercole building, just east of the Idylwyld Freeway.

The recommendations ask city council to approve, in principle, the draft footprint, uses and design of the complex.

Tapping the federal and provincial governments and the private sector for capital funding, and approval of $1 million reserved for a theatre group to be directed to Persephone Theatre based on several conditions, are also part of the recommendations.

Square footage available for the proposals was reduced to 10,764 square feet within the building. Leased retail space accounts for 8,611 square feet.

The MVA was asking for 21,200 square feet for its site and Tourism Saskatoon, 4,540 square feet.

The city will now look to the organizations to determine if they are still interested in being housed in the centre. City administration has recommended hiring a consultant to report back on an operational budget, information related to visitors that could be attracted to the site and the value of the attraction.

Mayor Don Atchison said the city now has to look at how viable the options are, along with approaching the federal and provincial governments for funding.

"The fact is that we don't have a lot of funding available right now so council is going to have to debate this on Monday night and see where we are going to be headed from here," he said.

Atchison said he wants to hear from the committee charged with making the recommendations before making his decision, cautioning the city is only in the preliminary stages of the plan.

The city's architect and independent cost analyst has estimated the capital cost of the core building, which would house the three cultural centres, at $21.8 million -- $15.5 million for the building and $6.3 million for underground parking. Persephone Theatre's complex would cost an estimated $9.5 million.

Prior to downsizing, the amount for the core building was $30 million, according to city administration.

Of the total funding including Persephone ($31.3 million), administration is looking at $10 million to come from the federal government, $5 million from the provincial government, $5 million from the city, $6.3 million from self-funded parking and $5 million from fundraising.

The city's contribution will include $1 million currently held in reserve, with the remaining $4 million yet to be finalized.

Should federal and provincial funding fall through, city manager Phil Richards said the deal could collapse.

"If you take a look at the funding, if the building is $21 million, you take $6 million off that for the underground parking, which we hope will be self-sufficient, you have about $15 million left.

"If the province and the feds don't come in I don't think the city could pick up the $15-million shortfall," he said.

As part of the smaller blueprint, offices for the MVA and Tourism Saskatoon are excluded. Reasons behind the decision include space and cost considerations as well as the primary intent of the building, said Richards.

"The intent was it be a place for the public and the people," he said.

But Richards said administration remains somewhat flexible when it comes to space considerations.

Todd Brandt, president and CEO of Tourism Saskatoon, said he was not discouraged with the news but glad the organization was recommended to be part of the plan by administration.

"We are pleased that we are still in the mix for potential involvement in the cultural complex," he said. "We really feel we can help to add to the tourism infrastructure of the whole River Landing area and add to the critical mass of tourism amenities down there."

But the loss of office space would have to be considered by the board of directors, he said.

"At the end of the day we know that by intercepting new people, that our front end can generate new economic development opportunities for Saskatoon," he said. "We get people to stay here longer, people spend more when they're here, they're aware of other attractions and things in the city. That was the driving interest behind doing this. Quite frankly, we have no additional operating dollars," he said, adding Tourism Saskatoon would have to look at how the centre could work with its existing operating budget.

MVA CEO Susan Lamb remained optimistic about the tentative plan despite the changes.

The River Landing area is something MVA has been interested and supportive of for years, she said. The MVA would have to assess the recommendations before determining how the possible downsizing could affect the organization, she said.

In the proposal, the most northerly portion of building would be anchored by Persephone Theatre, and the remainder to include a public galleria, a retail area, the Joni Mitchell centre and Meewasin Valley Authority River Landing and Saskatoon Tourism visitor centres.

The Joni Mitchell centre would include a small performing stage, interactive displays celebrating 100 years of Saskatchewan creative accomplishments, among other activities, and a small section of the centre would be dedicated to Mitchell artifacts such as photos, posters, awards and paintings. The MVA centre would house a number of interactive and audio-visual displays and a tiered relief model of the river valley.

Five other organizations, including Children's Discovery Museum on the Saskatchewan Inc., Aikido: The Way of Peace, Saskatoon Bus Stop Refreshments, Turtle Island Art Gallery and Science West Inc., pitched proposals as part of the centre.

Marigold Bribb, co-president of the Children's Discovery Museum, said although she was disappointed with the news, she understands why the organizations were included in the proposal.

"We have not got any existing proof of our qualifications," she said. "We have given one-day events but we do not have an ongoing children's museum in place so it's hard for people to understand how great it would be."

The museum will continue its bid to find a place in the city, she said, noting it will not likely continue to pursue the River Landing site.

WHO'S IN
- Persephone Theatre
- Meewasin Valley Authority River Landing Centre
- Saskatoon Tourism Visitor Centre
- Joni Mitchell Centre for Creativity

WHO'S OUT
- Children's Discovery Museum on the Saskatchewan Inc.
- Aikido: The Way of Peace
- Saskatoon Bus Stop Refreshments
- Turtle Island Art Gallery
- Science West Inc.

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