City council’s catalyst committee has filed its final report, setting the stage for a series of debates and decisions that could help shape Regina’s downtown core for decades to come
All of these projects are supposed to be examined through a decision-making matrix that still needs be developed by Community and Social Impact Regina (CSIR), the municipal corporation that operates at arm’s length from city council.
The timeline for when that matrix might be ready remains unclear. An executive director for the organization has not been announced and city council currently does not have a representative on CSIR’s board of directors.
The top recommendation from the committee is the creation of a non-vehicular trail system that would join parts of the city centre where significant attractions already exist or where proposed catalyst committee projects could be built.
However, the committee’s report says its analysis has found that current options are either limited or lacking, and that the construction of a trail system would help support the City of Regina’s goal of becoming a 15-minute city, in which each local neighbourhood contains all the basic social functions for living and working.
Comprising 16 members, the catalyst committee — which draws its name from the idea that the projects would be catalysts for growth, development and private funding in Regina — has been tasked by city council with overseeing five potential major projects that could shape the city’s downtown core:
A new aquatic facility.
A replacement for the Brandt Centre.
A possible baseball stadium.
An outdoor soccer field.
Modernization of the central library.
The second project that should be considered, according to the catalyst committee, is the development of a new aquatic centre as a replacement for the Lawson Aquatic Centre.
While the committee recommends that the new aquatic centre be built at the existing site of the Lawson, it does leave the door open to potentially using the location of the former rail yards north of Casino Regina near Dewdney Avenue, known as The Yards.
A feasibility study presented to council and adapted by the catalyst committee recommended an aquatic centre that would include would include a 10-lane, 50-metre competition pool and a 10-lane, 50-metre dive pool.
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That option is projected to cost approximately $172 million.
Council has already voted to try to use the $128 million allocated to the City of Regina in the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) to help fund the aquatic centre project.
ICIP was originally meant to fund transit infrastructure, and while questions remain whether the federal government will permit the funding to be used for the city’s aquatic facility, the co-chairs of the catalyst committee have previously indicated they believed the city would ultimately receive permission.
The catalyst committee’s final recommendation outlines that $108 million of the ICIP funding should go to the new aquatic centre, while the remaining $20 million will go toward a geothermal heating facility at the Lawson site.
While the costs of any of the catalyst projects is subject to change, the city will need to find at least $64 million to cover the rest of the construction costs.
That highlights one of the major problems facing the city as it starts to determine what it wants built — debt and funding for these projects.
Funding problems ahead
The city’s finances are worth considering as the city is projected to carry $371.5 million in debt by the end of 2023. Most of that comes from construction of Taylor Field.
Any increase to the city’s current $450 million debt limit would require the Saskatchewan Municipal Board’s approval.
While committee members and city councillors have expressed the belief that they want the city to be the sole owner of many of these projects, the catalyst committee says that goal “is simply not sustainable.”
“As such, project advancement will depend upon the ability to secure funding from alternative sources, private entities, or other public levels of government,” the report reads.
A possible solution proposed by the catalyst committee is for Regina city council and city administration to develop a long-term strategy covering the next 20 years or more) that sequences the committee’s recommendation in consideration with competing investment priorities.
The third priority recommended by the catalyst committee is the development of a new Central Library branch in the downtown core.
While the preference would be for the existing central library location, other locations should be explored, the committee’s report reads.
A new central library, projected to cost $125 million, would require the city to tear down the current library and a build the new facility in its place.
The current central library is in desperate need of repair, is out of date and was built to serve a population that is less than half of Regina’s current population, according to officials with the Regina Public Library.
The construction of a new aquatic centre and a new central library were the top priorities for the majority of those who responded to the catalyst committee’s online survey.
The fourth recommendation from the catalyst committee is the development of a new multi-purpose event centre that would function as a replacement for the Brandt Centre. Its cost is pegged at $156 million.
While a specific location is not recommended at this time, the catalyst committee does broadly identify the potential locations as being on 12th Avenue., Sask Drive, Broad Street, The Yards and the REAL district.
A location should be chosen after examining each of the location through the decision making matrix drawn up by CSIR.
While the catalyst committee was asked to consider an outdoor baseball centre and a synthetic baseball centre as catalyst projects, the final report comes to a different conclusion.
It considers each of those projects to be rolled into a multi-purpose outdoor event centre, which it recommends constructing at the site around or near the existing Taylor Field site or somewhere else in the city.
However, that outdoor event centre is not a priority of the catalyst committee as “the seasonal nature of the space does not support a true Catalyst Project.”
The document detailing the committee’s recommendations totals roughly 700 pages and is so large that it will be the only thing up for discussion at Wednesday’s executive committee.