The waiting is the hardest part
Saskatoon stadium proposal creeps forward
In a year where a CanPL team was lost, it stands to reason that fans would be looking for positive developments that they can distract themselves with. No one wants to look too hard at the factors that lead to FC Edmonton’s demise, after all.
While I do hope that the actual business leaders in the league are trying to learn from that fiasco, I can accept that a fan may want to keep things positive.
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So, I’ll try. To a point. Let’s talk about Saskatchewan.
A bit of a milestone was passed this week when the public engagement phase for the proposed Prairieland Park soccer stadium concluded. Following a public meeting on Dec 1 of last year, the public was given to Jan 2 to submit written comments.
For the truly dedicated, you can listen to the full meeting here. Since I am a maniac, I have watched the meeting for you, in case you have better things to do with your time than watch public town meetings.
If you prefer to read municipal documents, the proposal is outlined here.
Before we get into the meeting, some background for those just coming to this story now.
Back in 2021, a CanPL “expansion team” was granted to Saskatchewan. Well, sort of. What the league granted to the Saskatchewan group (Living Sky Sports & Entertainment) was exclusive right to negotiate with local authorities to get approvals for the infrastructure needed for a franchise. A stadium, basically.
So, it’s more accurate to say that a conditional franchise was granted to LSSE. If they don’t get the stadium built, they don’t get a team.
That’s never been a straightforward situation. The stadium plan they came up with was to renovate an existing structure on the Saskatoon Exhibition grounds that was being used for horseracing as well as the occasional one-off event, such as Demolition Derby.
If you’ve been in a small-to-mid size Canadian city, you know exactly what kind of structure we are talking about. An old school grandstands with bench seating. This obviously is going to need work. Expensive work.
Aside: I should also note that there was another group associated with Saskatoon (the group that put on the Saskatchewan Summer Soccer Series back pre-pandemic) and that the way that LSSE emerged out of their shadow is not entirely clear. Nor is it entirely accepted by everyone involved. We shall leave it at that.
Herein lies the biggest obstacle. LSSE either doesn’t have the money or, if it does, it doesn’t want to spend the money. It’s asking two levels of government to kick in for the project. In total, LSSE says it will pay about $8-million, but wants the rest of the estimated $30-million covered by public money.
Thus, the public meeting. It’s also where my criticism towards the CanPL calling these things “expansion announcements” (the Windsor “team” is the same thing) comes from, but I won’t belabour that now because I said I was going to be positive.
Also positive was the public meeting. Generally, you tend to get a lot of angry old dudes yelling about their “tax dollars being wasted” when you try to get sports infrastructure built. When it’s soccer infrastructure you can also probably add a couple homophobic slurs to those rants.
There wasn’t any of that in the meeting. It was mostly soccer fans offering their support in the Q&A.
Now, that doesn’t mean this project won’t face opposition yet. This is closer to a break ground point, but the biggest obstacle is still in front of it – it has to be approved by Saskatoon city council.
That’s when the crackpots will truly come out.
But, first there will be a committee report written, which will either recommend that council vote to approve the project (which is when money will start to get talked about), or to say no.
Although I have not covered Saskatoon municipal politics before and therefore can’t really predict how that report will shake out, I’d suggest that there’s a good chance that they give it the green light. The political voices in the meeting seemed positive. There was lots of work done to answer questions about parking, transit, traffic flow and all the boring stuff that most of you don’t care about, but are vital to get right if you want a stadium approved.
Importantly, there seems to be an understanding by the Prairieland Park folks that to get public approval for this stadium plan they would need to make the stadium truly a public asset. There were plans for community use, including a baseball diamond and additional soccer field built on the site. And, lots of parking (too much for this urbanist’s liking, but I’ll also spare you my ranting about the evils of car culture today too).
Overall, it was a promising meeting.
I’m still not going to call this a real expansion team until I see ground broke on the project (which they hope to do this spring), but if you are a fan in Saskatchewan, it’s probably ok to start dreaming a bit.
You should also get ready for the hardest part of the fight.
I will be covering this story as it progresses.
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