The Stadium

FargoDome, Fargo North Dakota, the desired facility that’s stuck, like a volcanic island, in a sea of parking (Click photo for source)

The Stadium question is one I’ve been thinking for more than a year now, and in that time my opinion has softened on building a downtown stadium.  The feasibility report released nearly three weeks ago now has muddied the waters still further for me.  The stadium will cost in the range of $386.2 million and $431.2 million with 33 000 seats expandable to 45 000 (LP March 2).  I’ve read the report, and it doesn’t satisfy many of my questions and issues that are fundamental to this project.  It does, however, address a wide array of issues and concerns, the most important being making the site a year-round, everyday space.  A stadium on its own wont do this.  The FargoDome above demonstrates the worst of new American stadia and how such an arrangement cannot be tolerated.  Office for Urbanism (OfU) in their urban site design report (Appendix 3) suggest a second phase of mixed use development, and access infrastructure to make this more than a stadium.  While the desire for mixed-use is strong, most components of the report don’t include this second phase, and approval for the stadium isn’t necessarily going to result in a day-to-day development in the remaining space.  The powers that be are behind this project in principle and it is they who’ll make the final decision.

So if you like, follow my roving thought process of pro and con after the break.

*All of the citations are actual page numbers within the report and are available in PDF form here.

My main react to reading the report has been a pervasive doubt that this stadium can be stopped.  I was more or less certain the feasibility study would be as sad as the stadium recommendation review which was an executive summary without reports to back up ‘facts.’   But this study has reports, some piece are flawed (as you’ll see) for sure but there’s something there to discuss.

I was sure of what I thought about a year ago:  No Stadium.  Taylor Field is a historical use, developed over the decades, to facilitate a football team.  Cities in Canada our size or larger without football teams do not have outdoor stadia larger than about 10 000. In Canada cities like; St. Johns, Saskatoon, Halifax, Victoria, Quebec City, or any city in Ontario without a current or historical CFL franchise there aren’t large outdoor Stadia.

Building a new stadium is for football.  Of course a new stadium for the Riders (there’s no expectation they should build their own) is not viable enough governments thus the dome concept.  An indoor multi-purpose facility should allow more events and users; conventions, concerts, rodeo, monster trucks, home and garden shows, etc…  The issue then becomes scale and market: Does Regina have the clout, demographics and cash to attract new large-scale events?  Or would we be siphoning off users from our Centre of Arts, Agra-dome, Exhibition place and Saskatoon facilities?

Then there was the urban design question: is the middle of town where we want to put a stadium?  What I prefered to see built on the CP rail yard site were buildings of the warehouse district’s scale, 4-5 story, connecting to the downtown.  Buildings on the South side might be slightly taller, 8 or 9 stories, to meet the height of adjacent towers in the CBD.  The new district could have any number of purposes, from housing to commerce but should likely have as many roles as possible.  Placing a 10 story tall 2 city block long mother-ship in between the warehouse district and downtown, to my mind, limited the urban design possibilities.

Rue Prince Arthur Montreal, a good example of the urban street-scape I hope to see in the CP rail site (Click picture for source)

Fast forward a year and many of the above questions have been addressed with the report’s release.  So the following will be some observations from the report.

This is a sporting arena, first and foremost.  I like the layout and it has very good sight lines for football/soccer.  So what other sports could be accommodated with this layout?   The surface will be artificial fieldturf with CFL dimensions, 110 yards long X 65 wide and 40 yards for endzones, along with permanent football lines and soccer dimensions 105m long X 68m (78m total) wide (Appendix 6, Stadium Consultants International [SCI] p 117 ).  This field surface would be similar to what’s on Taylor Field.

Hockey formation renderings are shown in Appendix 6 SCI p 24 & 25 and for baseball on p 27.  There is no discussion of how cooling for hockey would occur, would it be done with natural conditions?  The baseball rendering clearly shows Major League Baseball dimensions aren’t accommodated by the design, although Little League dimensions do fit.

Appendix 6 SCI p 26 shows a 400m track barely fitting the field area, so track event may work, some field events are unlikely due to turf.  Note there wont be a track included, for example Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, in the design.

Rugby is mentioned (Appendix 7, Global Spectrum p.3) as a possible sport.  Rugby Union would marginally fit within the field area   (Rugby Union requires a minimum of 124m length and 70m width plus any artificial surface system must receive certification [IRB Regulation 22]).  The field turf would have to accommodate posts which means four holes.  Holes that, in grass, can be drilled than filled but with carpet over concrete, it’s not that simple.

I think any court sports could be accommodated as long as the court comes too.  A curtain system to split the field in two might allow a comfortable       15 ooo – 20 ooo person area for a basketball, volleyball or tennis exhibition.  Plus probably close to 8 courts for tournaments.

There are a fair number of sporting options but I have serious doubts that any of these sports, other than football, can attract capacity crowds.

Hockey could work, but the technicalities would have to be explored.

The stadium has a secondary focus on soccer, however Regina’s a small soccer market and I can only envision one event that could bring out  large crowds.

Baseball is out as an exhibition due to stadium dimensions.

Football’s 10-12 games a year look to be the extent of the large sporting crowds  most years.  Beyond large crowd events, amateur users have less certainty that they’ll even have access to a new facility.  Here is a piece by LP’s Craig Slater from March 2nd about such concerns (link) and Stephen LaRose’s take from Prairie Dog.

Sports is only to be one part of the stadium’s mandate.  All events are considered in Appendix 7, page 4 of Global Spectrum’s report on the ‘conservative and upside pro forma’  outlining two costed scenarios of the stadium hosting 31 events and 71 events respectively.  These two scenarios both estimate surpluses over a million dollars a year – 31 events    $1 084 949 and 71 events $1 384 757.  The 71 events include 16 concerts with at least 10 000 people in attendance, one “large” concert of 20 000 plus people, 11 CFL and 4 junior sporting events, 14 meeting & banquet functions, 10 regional/local shows and 6 consumer shows, 4 religious conferences and 8 miscellaneous events (wrestling, motor sports etc…).

Taking a closer look at just one event group, junior sports. The report assumes (Appendix 7, p.14) a $28.18 ticket  for 11 000 users per event- 44 000 total- as the base attendance income.  Now, lets assume they mean the U of R Rams who’s tickets are $17.50/adult (+up to 4 children u 12) and $5/ student.  If you add an adult ticket to the facility fee $1.45 and per capita concession cost $7.64 =26.59.  The inclusion of a phoneWeb ticket sales equation, I’m not sure I understand, could push it $28.18 (Appendix 7, p.15).

I think this is representative of the kind of sums professed in the report for events and costing them.  I don’t see these Rams numbers as realistic, yet I can only wonder what junior sporting event could they mean if not college football?

Appendix 7, p.4 also concludes that the stadium wouldn’t compete with the Agra-dome although it is uncertain if the Credit Union Centre (Saskatoon) would be impacted.  I find it likely concert promoters could push for a          10 000 person gate for the likes of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Motley Crue, Tragically Hip or Nickleback who have played the Agra-Dome.  A reduction in ticket prices and hope more people will come and spend it back at the merch tables might make sense to some promoters.  Wrestling has also come to the Agra-Dome, a potential miscellaneous event.

There is also a kicker in the conclusion, that Conventions or Meetings maybe limited in size because of  a lack of hotel rooms and travel limitations (Appendix 7, p.4).  That makes sense from a regional market capacity perspective, we are in a minor part Canada demographically.  This fact should lead to questions like; where is Regina on the scale of cities?  What’s our capacity for an influx of people?  How connected are we and what kind of events will be successful with the people who can get here?  I don’t feel this report addresses these questions beyond a general positive framework of ‘Saskatchewan the growing province’.

Appendix 10, prepared by Robert J Giberson addresses the potential economic impact of a proposed stadium.  I don’t have the specific expertise to question the people years of work estimates or get into the subtleties of  GDP measurements.  You may want to consider the LP editorial from March 2nd and John Conway’s piece in the last Prairie Dog as the poles of opinion on this subject.

Giberson’s report is positive, suggesting an economic boost with construction.  There is an important caveat placed on the proposal on page 23 stating a requirement that any facility would have to meet, is that it provides events of value for the population at prices within Saskatchewan norms.  Further, the conclusion claims that a stadium could create a critical mass, in the sense of spin-off business opportunities  nearby(Appendix 10 R. Giberson p.25) Such spinoffs would hopefully solidify the demand for urban infill because, again, such businesses likely require more than an upside estimate of 290+ days of inactivity.

The greatest concerns come with the site itself; the how and what of construction and design.  The site needs rehabilitation as all brownfields do, removing laid pipes, contaminated soil etc… (Appendix 5 Clifton Associates Ltd. p.44).  In fact, the capital costs of this, along with some costs like GST and legal fees are not included in the capital cost assessment  (Appendix 11 PCL p.11).  Add that to the total.

Parking is a major concern for many.  Appendix 4 discusses parking and it suggests most parking will be spread throughout the neighbourhoods around the stadium with parking near the stadium very limited (Aecom p.5).  Interestingly in their study of parking patterns at Taylor Field, Aecom finds near stadium parking is last to fill because people want to get away quickly after the game (Appendix 4 p.6).  That culture of driving away from the stadium, quick as, obviously will have to change to meet the facility’s vision.

There is an emphasis on transit options estimating 15% from the current 6% would take public transit  (Appendix 4, Aecom p.6).  This would require  75-100 buses before and after the game (Appendix 4, Aecom p.26) and the infrastructure for moving these people, side walks, routing and dedicated bus lanes for example, is uncertain with five options considered (Appendix 4, Aecom p.22, 23 & 24).

Traffic is the most dire problem facing the new stadium. Broad, Albert, Dewdney and Sask Dr. are all near or at capacity (Appendix 4, Aecom p.14).  Traffic being so poor puts the advantage with a walkable design. While this is good for traffic calming, bus capacity needs to increase and the comfort of those who despise big city driving, some out-of-town ticket holders, is uncertain.

The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium Madrid, a Mecca of world soccer located among the grand avenues and walkable side streets of Spain’s capital. Is this the common ground we should seek? (Click picture for source)

Wind direction may not be a great concern with an enclosed facility, but if the retractable option is considered than the orientation of the stadium puts the dominant wind direction going across the field.  Look at Regina in Google maps and you’ll notice that the main airport run way and Taylor Field have a  common NW-SE orientation.  Architects Brisbin Brook Beynon have a wind study in Appendix 6 around p.280.  They do not discuss any wind factors but rather provide data on dominant directions.  It maybe the case that on days where the wind could cause mischief to an event, the dome will be closed.  Could this orientation create difficult playing conditions even at lower wind speeds? What’s the open/shut roof wind value; 20kph, 30kph?  How many “nice” days could the stadium be closed on with wind issues?

The stadium also has a problem of scale the top of the dome is going to be 45m above grade (Appendix 6, SCI p.40).  That is a similar height as the Motherwell Building according Emporis.com (link).  The building mass is very significant within the context of the adjacent built environment.  Some of the positive attributes of the building could help to mitigate against the grand scale:  The main entrance will be a 3 story atrium that is much more in-tune with the size of warehouse district buildings across Dewdney Ave(Appendix 6, SCI p.14).  The form and design of the exterior will aspire to emulate the grand, open architecture of a European rail station (Appendix 6, SCI p.66).  To the design’s credit, the outside will have some sort of masonry treatment, again to about 3 or 4 stories in height, reflecting the materials used in the warehouse district (Ibid).

Another exciting part of the stadium proposal is that it intends to achieve LEED Silver status (Appendix 6, SCI p.122).   Certification would be nice to add some additional ‘green’ varnish to the whole venture.  Surprisingly, though, it may cost $1 950 000 to apply for LEED Certification (Appendix 11, PCL p.16).  For penny counting public authorities who are likely to be heavily involved in financing any project, that 2 million could become exactly the expenses to cut.

What I’m left with after looking at the report and finding my issues addressed, although not often satisfying, is a level of uncertainty regarding what’s genuine and what’s optics.  There is a stadium proposal here which in theory could have a second phase of development which could be very exciting:  OfU’s urban design review looks great.  It pulls public pedestrian connections across the tracks at Scarth Street (p.18) (although the main connection to this would be through the private space of the Cornwall Centre), not all reports have public crossings.   They include Dewdeny street cross-sections with dedicated bike lanes (p.21).  Even Aecom’s transportation report suggests vehicle rates are high enough (from Transportation Association of Canada measure) for separate cycle lanes and inclusion, therefore, of cycle infrastructure at the stadium (Appendix 4, p.33).

OfU’s report is so easy on the eye it’s tempting to compromise on the stadium in order to get the goodies I would like to see in the area.  “A stadium, well it might be a White Elephant but we got dedicated bike lanes down Albert and Dewdney so who cares” or “They have awesome new restaurants that are great on a Tuesday night, just don’t bother going on game day, it’s a gong show.”

As much as the summary report emphasises a year round place, I still wonder if these two projects, indoor stadium and mixed use development can work together.  Why would people want to live near the stadium? Dewdney will be loony bins any Friday or Saturday night after a Rider game until the bars shut down.  Is that the sort of place you want to live next to?  Why are other new stadiums around the world largely built outside of urban contexts?  How can you limit parking so, there’s so much space? Since when are stadiums drivers of real-estate, Taylor Field never attracted great development dollars.  If the CP yards is a chance to add density to the centre city, to create a critical mass of people living downtown this report DOES look to address that desire but doesn’t really take hold of the opportunity.

What’s still more concerning is the unknown prospect of no plan going forward.  There is no certainty that the land would be developed by someone else with an urban plan half as useful as OfU.  There is no downtown master plan here, there are no guarantees of quality urban places being built. Add to that the fact CP doesn’t have to sell anytime soon.    The OfU plan is the best hope right now, for any kind of reasonable mix use to be on offer.  The gambit that a failed stadium development would lead to other, more desirable, urban development offers is not so clear.

In the end money and resources dictate development.  Even if the stadium is a dud concept, if the power is behind it, it’s the first option.  Public opinion seems more or less on side, so that’s not likely to deter politicians.  The stadium has such possibilities, it’s the sexy choice.  It’s the bold move for a province and a city not currently associated with boldness.  It’s a statement of intent, to the rest of Canada.

Add to the pot the second proposal from a group of aboriginal investors with Starchitect Douglas Cardinal on board with his a awesome stadium design.  I very much like the reflection of the prairie landscape into the structure and think that if a national-international statement is a requirement, this is the best option so far.

For people with grandiose visions for Saskatchewan, a statement project is required.  The project would include a Vegas style hotel and looks to purchase the Casino from the government (LP article March 5).

I don’t think this group has as good of a chance to be accepted for two reasons.  The first is the money the government makes from gambling.  There is a classic fiscal conservative argument which could put the idealogues in Regina into a quandary, namely what’s  government doing running casinos?  It seems like a hard question for the ruling members of all three levels of government to answer.

The second is basically racism.  Maybe it’s not popular to mention racism in Saskatchewan especially in a capitalist business context where economic determinism trumps all.  In this case I think the racism is the public’s to bear rather than the politicians.  I have heard the coffee row-esk conclusion already: “Well if they can’t run FNUC, how are they going to build a stadium.”  Yes, that’s really quite racist, but I imagine not exactly a unique conversation at diner tables or during work place coffee-breaks.  That sort of quiet public consensus can filled in what politicians should feel but never admit to being reality.

For me the stadium design is much more favourable than that presented in the feasibility study renderings but with a casino and hotel in instead of urban neighbourhood extension, means this proposal  isn’t something I favour.

The conclusion then.  There is a proposal now, with the public and more important all the power brokers backing  a 33 000 seat domed stadium in Regina with the possibility of a mixed use development to fill out the rest of the site.  I don’t believe the stadium will be as well utilized as the report hopes.  The reports are slightly contrary in places, with different visions which could mean the difference between for example public access over the rail tracks or only private access.

I think then that working with the devil we know, trying to pry as many carrots out of them as possible is the way to go.  Let the people have their stadium.  I’m for local determination and at some level railing against people for wanting something grand, new and fanciful is sort of sour.  But, expend any energy making sure, there are public connections over the tracks, that bike lanes and transit infrastructure happens where road construction occurs.  Demand infill and a well designed walkable development or re-development of the area.  There wont be much time for debate the projected start date is for October 1, 2010 (Appendix 11 PCL, p.3).  Take some time and think about what’s important to you and your concept of Regina.  Be sure this is the hill you want to die on.

The proposed stadium will be debated Tuesday at 11:30am in Campion Auditorium by students and the public.

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The Stadium

3 thoughts on “The Stadium

  1. Hey Martin,

    This is the first encouraging bit of writing I’ve read where the stadium is concerned. Still, while I hope you’re right about the public good that can come out of this project, I have to say I’m not at all optimistic.

    I worry that any progressive, public measures attached to the stadium will be the first to be dropped once the actual costs start to edge over the half-a-billion-dollar mark. (And I have to say, I think we’ll be very lucky if we come away from this having only spent half-a-billion. I think the over-a-billion-once-everything-is-counted number is more likely.)

    As for the GDP boost we can expect, what little research I’ve done on the subject (from when I was doing a piece on the Fargodome) suggests that stadiums, once they’re running, don’t create much in the way of new money for a city and mainly poach dollars off other entertainment and recreation facilities.

    And while on the subject of poaching dollars, I worry about what this project will do to the downtown. I don’t see it as a big win, frankly. The downtown revitalization is so fresh and so little has been committed to it so far. This half-a-billion dollar investment to the north dwarfs the paltry handful of millions we’ll see go into the city’s core. And once you’ve sunk so much into the stadium, there is going to be a lot of motivation behind making sure it succeeds. That, I worry, will overshadow our commitment to downtown revitalization. Sure, there’ll be flurries of activity for downtown business on game days (assuming we get the promised north-south connectivity). But outside of that, the stadium complex will be this massive black hole sucking up the attention of citizens, business and city hall.

    Meanwhile, as for the restaurants and businesses that are going to be going into this stadium complex (if that’s the way the final project goes), I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying they’ll be multinational chains. I don’t think you’ll be seeing as the stadium’s anchor restaurant a Freehouse 2, an Other Abbey or a Novia North. So much for helping the local economy thrive.

    Finally, I think my biggest concern is over the lack of public input into this whole project. Your call out for people to demand things like bike lanes and transit improvements is good, but I don’t see how or where they can do this. So far, there hasn’t been much in the way of public consultation — not like there was for the downtown plan, say, even though this could conceivably involve a MUCH larger commitment of public funds than the downtown plan will. (And I don’t think anyone would count the comments section on the Leader Post website as credible consultation.) As long as this process remains largely closed to the public, I fear the only interests it will serve are private ones.

    1. wourliem says:

      Thanks for the comments Paul, here I was thinking I had a negative view…well I guess not.

      I can’t disagree with anything you’ve added. I think some alterations to roads will be required, wider sidewalks and alike if they want as much transit access as their hoping for. Again, this will be investment added to the $450m+ for the stadium.

      I’ve got to say, I am surprised in some ways the stadium is so expensive. If you take the Stockholmsarenan, a new 30 000 seater in Sweden it’s going to be about $385m (2.7b kronor) with retractable roof. Their estimate has gone up quite a bit since the last time I visited the site, but that’s about the estimated cost of the land cheaper than the Regina Dome. (http://www.stockholmsarenan.se/arenan/)

      You’ve put the final cost at a billion and I can’t disagree, but it’d have to be a whole lot of stuff we’d get for that. I suppose my argument would be fine, blow a billion, but for people to try to weasel in wider sidewalks, or public spaces with that investment.

      I take your point that we will not be involved in these decisions and that’s possible. But, I still hope against hope that the Dome will require 365 days of use, meaning something other than a parking lot. Even with OfU’s plan the likely uses we’ll find are high-end condos, hotels and ‘trendy’ restaurants. I stayed at the Marriot in Calgary and they had this Milestones place off Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, that’s the kind of place that’ll show up. One hope is that older buildings further north could be made into interesting places; venues and so on while nearby spaces are gentrified.

      Lastly, I hope that, what ever happens with the CP yards, in time there wont be a distinction between downtown and this area. This is a real chance to, best case, blend the warehouse and downtown. I don’t see investment here being less valuable than downtown, because in my mind there will be less distinction between the two. I might be wrong about that.

      I hope I’m wrong about the yards being a for-gone conclusion. There are great possibilities there to extend the urban form in the city and really transform the city. Finish off the north – south orientation of the city to an inside-outside or centre periphery.

  2. […] following this process, with less and less interest, over the last three years (see my posts: The Stadium (March 21, 2010), Regina Urban Revitalization Initiative (June 1, 2011) and Stadium (December […]

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