Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark sat down with Global News’ Chris Carr to reflect on some important topics impacting residents in the city.
Clark looked back at the year and the work that’s been done, but also looked forward to 2024. This transcript has been slightly edited.
Carr: The Downtown Event and Entertainment District has captured the imagination of many as they visualize what the downtown area could look like one day. How did the city move that project forward in 2023?
Clark: It’s been a huge year of planning and now once the site was selected in 2022, this year has been all about now being able to quantify what we are going to be able to build at that site and then what will it cost and what revenue tools we have to pay for it. And also to become aspirational about the design and how we create a truly vibrant gathering place that helps create that sense of vitality and the real true urban prairie experience for the generations to come.
Carr: I think from what I hear, many are able to visualize what this could look like. There’s a lot of excitement about the opportunity it presents. There’s also quite a bit of apprehension over what it could mean when it comes to actually paying for this project. How will that conversation move forward in 2024?
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Clark: February is when we’re hoping to have our cost estimate in terms of what the different components would cost. And we have to again project forward into future dollars. And then what revenue tools can we use to pay for it so that we don’t have to rely on property taxes? And so we’ve had a series of reports about the potential use of things like an accommodation tax or a tax on incremental financing, ticket fees and levies. And also we’re only going to be able to get there if we get support from the provincial and federal government. So those will be reports early in the new year that will help us understand what can be done. And I understand very much the concerns about cost. It is not inexpensive to do projects like this.
Carr: Cost of living and affordability were high on the minds of many in 2023. How did that economic situation enter into and play into the decisions that City Council made in 2023?
Clark: It was a huge challenge to be faced with the $52-million funding gap and all the inflationary pressures for the city to keep providing our services. At the same time, we know residents and businesses are facing those pressures and so that’s why it was unprecedented, you know, with the equivalent of an 18 per cent property tax increase.
We had all the special meetings and all the work that was done to try to mitigate that, while at the same time, trying to make sure we can keep providing the services that people value at a time when we added 14,000 people to the city and just in 2022 alone, the city has continued to grow and some of the demands on the city have continued to increase around safety and trying to make sure we have safer transit systems and the amount of policing that’s needed, as well as supports for housing and some of those things. So, yes, there’s no question it’s been a challenging year.
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Carr: But what are you most excited about for the city in 2024?
Clark: Saskatoon is an incredible place in the world. If you look at the things that we have here, whether it’s the development of this Canadian Centre for Pandemic Research or the opportunities we have around critical minerals and food solutions to help feed the world. People are moving here because there are opportunities. We had 8,500 jobs created and the city’s actually been doing well. When you think about how river landing has come alive and some of the festivals and events and activities that we have, the city has become vibrant again since getting through COVID-19. And that’s a testament to the people and the organizations here.
We have a strong future. We have to keep working together. I’m concerned about some of the political polarization and some of the dynamics that we’re seeing out there. But our community has a strong history of working together and finding common ground. That’s going to be our biggest strength going forward.
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