Rink, hotel in the plan for College Quarter

The U of S is requesting proposals for the next stage of development at the College Quarter that includes plans for a twin-pad ice rink, a hotel and retail space.

By Colleen MacPherson

With the first phase of the College Quarter Master Plan - the construction of student residences - nearing completion, the plan for the development of the northeast precinct on the corner of Preston Avenue and College Drive is progressing, said Judy Yungwirth, director of Corporate Administration.

"We are moving into the next priority which was driven by the demand for a new ice rink," explained Yungwirth. "The best place for a new rink is close to the Field House. There is also a possibility for a hotel and some commercial development related to health and wellness located close to the Field House, rink and fields."

A request for proposals (RFP) was issued at the end of October asking for ideas on how to develop the 31 acres of land. Yungwirth hopes a developer will be selected by summer 2012. How the project progresses after that, she said, depends on the level of financing the university receives for the twin-pad ice rink from the P3 Canada Fund (P3), a federal government program that provides funding to support sport infrastructure development through private and public partnerships.

"We submitted an application to P3 that covers the arena, parking facilities and the replacement of a couple playing fields that are currently being built upon," said James Cook, manager of business opportunities in Corporate Administration. "P3 could cover up to 25 per cent of the $30 million cost of the rink and playing fields."

The remaining capital costs associated with the rink, Cook said, could be covered by a land lease for a hotel. "The hotel will put equity into the rink. The RFP will let us know if it is a financially feasible proposal. The market timing for a hotel is quite positive in Saskatoon. We wanted to develop a hotel some time ago. Now there is a shortage of hotel space and the rates have gone up (so) it is optimal timing for this."

"It (a hotel) is also a service for the university," Yungwirth added. "Demand for hotel rooms has been growing on campus too. There is a need for space for visitors - whether parents of students, conference attendees or visiting researchers and sports teams."

The hotel could be a significant revenue driver for the U of S, she continued. "If you put the hotel together with the need for the rink and the commercial space, we're hoping that will create a financial plan where revenue from certain things like the hotel would support what's required for a rink." She added that, until now, the university has not had a financially viable plan to deliver a new rink.

"The business plan behind the rink is that the second rink will be rented out for revenue to subsidize the entire facility which will have a capacity in the range of 2,500 to 5,000 seats. Our studies show that the university can use one rink full time and the second could subsidize the operating costs," said Cook.

Further financial gains could be made by leveraging the value of the land through a lease. "This phase of the College Quarter development could be debt free for the university," Yungwirth said. "The university financed the construction of the residences, but we are not looking to do that with this development. We want this to be financing neutral for the university; debt-free development is our goal."

The university's model for a hotel would be arms length. "We are not looking to be involved in the operation of the hotel. If we are doing a land lease, we would not be involved in the financing of the hotel. It would be solely a service and a revenue generator, but we won't know until we get responses from the RFP."

The next steps for the university include getting changes to the city zoning of the land finalized, something Cook and Yungwirth hope will happen at the end of this year. "We have had our application in with the city, a concept plan, since last December," said Cook. "We are getting to the end of the review process and getting ready to take the report to city council."

While there is a lot to be determined, and a number of questions that need to be answered, Yungwirth said the project is moving at a fast pace. "The residence projects really jumpstarted everything. Having approximately 1,100 new students in the College Quarter is vital to this plan. It is really exciting to deliver projects that are really needed. This is the next step in realizing the College Quarter vision."