Catalyst Committee consultations end in suspicion, confusion
City Hall | Paul Dechene | Oct. 27, 2022
The four-day Catalyst Committee Consultation wrapped on Thursday, Oct. 20. If you were trying to follow the whole thing while also living a life, it made for a gruelling week.
I only made it to two of the eight sessions but tried my best to stay current on all of them and by Thursday night my brain was fried. But, despite all the many presentations and pdfs and Q&A sessions I’ve watched and puzzled over, I’m frankly not even sure I can explain what it was that we all went through.
I feel less enlightened. Not more.
I can only say this with certainty: “Something” is happening.
So let’s go through the week, one day at a time, and I’ll lay out some fraction of what I’ve gleaned and see if maybe you can make more sense of it.
JUST ANOTHER MULTIPURPOSE MONDAY
If you had any doubts about what exactly was bringing everybody together to watch power-point presentations in Mosaic Stadium’s AGT Lounge, you had only to take note of which mega-project was setting the stage for the week: a new multi-purpose event-plex that would replace the Brandt Centre.
It’s the Catalyst catalyst.
In fact, until the Arena Planning Strategy Committee — the precursor to the Catalyst Committee — had swerved out of their lane and started plotting a course for the whole of central Regina, no one had ever used the word “catalyst” in reference to a city project before.
Monday’s specific issue, though, was to test the notion of putting this multi-purpose arena in the downtown.
And the response was less than enthusiastic.
The people who took to the mic used their time to point out, among other things, the callousness of discussing $100 million-plus recreation facilities at a time when people are dying in Regina for lack of adequate housing and care.
Also raised was the fact that we still haven’t paid off our last mega-project misadventure: the very stadium in which the consultation was being conducted.
It didn’t ease people’s concerns that the Catalyst Committee wouldn’t reveal where exactly they wanted the arena situated. The three possible downtown locations were being kept confidential to protect the city’s ability to secure the necessary land (i.e., to avoid real estate speculation).
It’s hard to endorse or even critique an idea when you don’t know what is arguably the most important detail about it.
Incidentally, multiple sources have told me that the Arena Planning Strategy Committee’s preferred downtown location for the new arena is the block between 11th and 12th Avenues and Lorne and Smith Streets. That’s the block directly north of the central library. I reported on this in an online-only article on Prairie Dog’s website.
In a scrum with media, REAL CEO and Catalyst Committee co-chair Tim Reid was asked if my reporting was right. He said that no, it was not.
I am, however, standing by my report.
But whether the location my sources identified is the right one or not, it is relevant to what was discussed in the catalyst consultation a few days later…
TUESDAY POOL DAY
The second day of consultation was dedicated to a new indoor aquatic facility that would replace the Lawson Aquatic Centre.
This should not be a surprise, as a new indoor aquatic centre was identified by the 2019 Recreation Master Plan as the number one, tippity-top recreation-facility priority for the city.
What might be a surprise is that the Catalyst Committee is pondering whether or not to keep this facility at its current Sportsplex location or to move it — our main aquatic facility — to the Yards site.
I suspect putting the pool where a good chunk of Regina’s kids will learn how to swim directly across the street from our nightclub district was not on anybody’s radar.
It certainly wasn’t being considered by the team within city administration who’d spent the last two years holding their own consultations and conducting their own studies on how best to either expand or replace the Lawson.
E-mails posted to the city’s Open Data site reveal that by May of this year, their indoor aquatic facility feasibility study was effectively complete, and not only did they not consider the Yards a possible location, they had done extensive work on how best to site a new facility at the Lawson’s current spot.
But by June, the aquatic facility team had received direction from someone to take any mention of location out of the feasibility study that would be presented to council. And thus, all their work on the Sportsplex site was disappeared.
And by Catalyst Consultation Tuesday, these two locations were being weighed as though they were roughly equal. And the fact that the Yards site had been seemingly thrown in as a last-minute “rAdiCaL notion” — one that extended an already complete feasibility study by months — was never mentioned.
HUNH? DAY (*AN AWKWARD PLAY ON HUMPDAY)
Day three was dedicated to two projects, those being… <checks notes> a new artificial-turf outdoor soccer field and a new baseball facility?
How did these get on the list?
Tim Reid reiterated after day four that he has heard there is a clear need for these facilities. And, yes, there are evidently communities in the city who are enthusiastic about them getting built. But the collective shrug offered by Regina more generally is evident in that almost no major news outlets bothered to slouch their gear over to Mosaic to cover Wednesday’s proceedings.
If the Catalyst Committee Consultation were a talent contest a la The Masked Singer, then local media definitely cast their vote for which project should have to take off its foam head and exit the show.
NOTHING RUINS A FRIDAY LIKE REALIZING IT’S THURSDAY
The final day of consultations was given to the Regina Public Library’s downtown branch.
Most of the concerns raised by the attendees focused on preserving the current central branch building. While the RPL board representatives argued the building was beyond saving, most who took the mic believed it was an important part of Regina’s architectural heritage and should be preserved.
However, the question of whether or not to save the central branch building does not interest me.
What I’m obsessing over is how the Catalyst Committee seems to be trying to stitch Thursday’s library project onto Monday’s arena project.
This is evident from a question posed in the online survey covering all the catalyst projects. Question number 31 points out, “The working scenario is that the proposed Multi-Purpose Event centre (arena) and the Modernized Central Library would be located in the downtown…” while question number 32 goes, “On a scale of one to four, please rate your support for locating the multi-purpose event centre and the library next to each other.” [emphasis mine]
Clearly then, the Powers That Be who are driving the catalyst ship are contemplating co-locating the arena and library. But if the library is to remain where it is, then the only feasible site for the arena is the one to the north between Lorne and Smith — the one my sources have indicated. (Meaning my report is not wrong.)
Alternately, if the preferred arena location is some other confidential downtown location, that means the Catalyst Committee is seriously considering moving the downtown library.
And moving it to an unrevealed location that they’ve already earmarked.
Which means, the public is being asked to consult not just on an arena in a secret location but also a library in a secret location!
Makes you wonder what we’re even doing here.
Throughout this process, we’ve been assured that no decisions have been made and that public input will guide the Catalyst Committee’s recommendations.
But, damn, everything else they’ve done — the brevity of the consultation, the order of the presentations, the content of the online survey — it all comes together to give the impression that all the important decisions are in the bag and that this isn’t so much a consultation as a public test of their ideas to gauge if they can get them through without too much pushback.
The Catalyst Committee will be meeting to consider feedback from the consultation sessions, and the next we’ll hear from them is when they release the results of the online survey.
After that, they spend the next two months conducting some kind of process that will result in a list of recommendations to be presented to executive committee and then to council in January.
I guess that’s when we find out if any of this meant anything. ■