Recreational Regina: A look at the city’s big promises, projects and ambitious dreams

Regina Leader Post

“Are all of these initiatives going to happen overnight? Absolutely not. Whether it’s an aquatic centre, whether it’s a replacement for Brandt, whether it’s a ball diamond — those need to be prioritized.”

From a new indoor aquatic centre promised by Mayor Sandra Masters and a new Wascana Pool on the way to a future rebuild of the Brandt Centre and dreams of a new baseball park, Regina’s list of recreation projects is long and expensive.

To fund it all will take creativity, vision, priority-setting and partnerships, says City Manager Chris Holden.

“Expectations around sport, recreation and culture have increased in the pandemic,” said Holden during an interview last week. “People have been at home. They’ve spent more time outside. They’ve spent more time in their community and the importance of park space, the importance of recreation facilities, seems on top of mind for a lot of folks.”

Here is a look at what projects have recently seen the light of day, what’s in the works and what is still in the dream phase as community members try to rally support — and cash — in order to change the recreational face of Regina.

Pools, pools, pools

During her mayoral campaign last year, Masters committed to the planning, financing, construction, commissioning and opening of a new leisure and competitive aquatic centre.

“It’s been on the list for 10 years,” said Masters in a recent interview. “In some respects you just can’t not start planning for them because you’re never sure when those infrastructure dollars from our other funding partners may be available.

“We have to commit to some of the work for the planning to be ready.”

Indoor aquatics facilities were listed as a priority in the city’s Recreation Master Plan, which was released in January 2019. Holden says a renewed Lawson Aquatic Centre is now in the planning stages, as the city undertakes a feasibility study and the creation of an advisory committee that will include aquatic groups and other stakeholders. One member of the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee will also be on the committee. The study is expected to be completed in the spring of 2022 and Masters hopes to see construction of the new facility happen within the next two to five years.

The transformation of Wascana Pool into an outdoor aquatic “destination” began this June. The total cost of the project is expected to be $15.75 million, with $12 million from the provincial government through the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program. Holden says the new pool should be open to the public in the summer of 2023.

In June 2021, the Maple Leaf Pool celebrated its grand reopening, the result of a passionate community which wasn’t willing to give it up, a council willing to change its mind on a planned closure, and administration finding a way to make it work. The pool was estimated to cost $5.3 million to rebuild. It was approved through the city’s 2020 capital budget and mostly funded through the one-time Gas Tax Grant. Council approved an additional $880,000 in February 2020.

What else is in the works?

In April 2021, Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL), which operates the city-owned facilities at Evraz Place, released the Brandt Centre 2.0 report through its Arena Planning Strategy Committee (APSC). It was the first phase “in a process to develop a strategy for the future of the 44-year-old Brandt Centre.”

According to the report, the cost of a new multi-purpose arena that would meet the needs of the Regina community for the next 50 years is estimated to be approximately $100 million.

The next phase, which was approved by council in April, will include a “comprehensive economic impact assessment,” along with the exploration of potential sites (on and off the grounds at Evraz Place) and the development of a capital and operational model.

“The Brandt Centre is either going to have tens of millions of dollars spent on it (for renovations) … or you’re going to look at a new arena,” said Masters. “If you’re going to look at a new arena — how do you finance it? How do you make it feasible? There’s no question you would need participation from multiple levels of government.”

As part of REAL 2.0, the plan is to turn Evraz Place into a vibrant district that combines city facilities with private investment. The strategy includes the construction of an outdoor multi-use synthetic turf field between AffinityPlex and Mosaic Stadium. Through a phased approach, 5,000 seats would be added to the field, as well as a heated dome structure to allow for year-round practices.

In July, Tim Reid, president and CEO of REAL, estimated that the field would require a $5-million investment, plus $1 million for the dome. At that time, REAL had not yet determined the cost of seating.

A renewal of the Regina Public Library’s central branch is also on the books.

In February 2020, RPL board chair Sean Quinlan said the branch was experiencing several challenges, including a patched roof, boilers on the brink of breakdown, staff working out of the basement and a constant need for more space.

A 2011 feasibility study pegged renewal costs at somewhere between $60 and $70 million. Part of that study explored the idea of an expanded library building combined with several community and commercial partners — including potentially a hotel.

According to a statement on the RPL’s website, work on the renewal slowed down in 2020, as many projects did, due to the pandemic, but it was “starting to pick up speed once again” as of March 2021.

While the pandemic has had an impact on the city’s $100-million loan repayment for Mosaic Stadium, Holden says they are still on track and don’t expect it to directly limit movement on other major projects like those mentioned above.

Field of dreams

In April 2021, the Regina Red Sox and Living Sky Sports revealed concept plans for a new baseball stadium on the Dewdney Avenue rail-yard lands.

For some, the announcement and hype around the proposed diamond might make it seem like a sure thing. While the excitement over the idea is very real, the city says it has made no commitments.

In terms of recreation projects, it’s low on the priority list.

“This is a $20-25 million project,” Holden said. “It’s not a project that right now is in alignment with our Recreation Facility Plan and it’s not a project that would really fit in our recreation partnership program either.”

That’s not to say it isn’t important, he added, and wouldn’t drive economic activity in the city. But many questions remain, like how much money could the city afford to pitch in and where could it actually be built?

The city has had preliminary conversations with the Red Sox and Living Sky and is drafting a letter of intent to be presented to council in September or early October. The letter sets the stage for exploration into the idea, but makes no formal commitments, said Holden.

“We talk(ed) to the Red Sox and kinda (said): ‘Let’s be a little cautious that we’re not getting too far ahead of the process to determine whether we need it, where it will actually be located and what it will cost,’ ” said Holden.

The Red Sox currently have a petition posted on their website asking for signatures in support of a baseball diamond at the rail yards. The organization is also asking residents to show their support by recording a short video or selfie and posting it on social media with the hashtag #stadiumattherailyards, tagging the mayor, city councillors, friends and family.

Show me the money $$$

“Are all of these initiatives going to happen overnight? Absolutely not,” said Holden. “Whether it’s an aquatic centre, whether it’s a replacement for Brandt, whether it’s a ball diamond — those need to be prioritized.”

While some of those projects are moving forward, he said others are realistically going to take five to 10 years to come to fruition.

Timing and creativity are key.

The city is embracing sponsorship, naming rights and advertising more than it ever has and the opportunity to explore private investment to help fund major projects is always there, added Holden.

In 2019, the city undertook a management review which saved $3 million annually after some restructuring. That money now goes into a Recreation/Culture Capital Program every year.

The city also established a five-year dedicated mill rate increase to help fund recreation infrastructure, which Holden says helps the city start to make investments or put funds aside for important projects.

Regina could look at taking on more debt to fund some of the projects, but Holden says administration would caution council not to jeopardize the city’s current AAA debt rating.

“When you look at the useful life left on these (facilities), if we don’t come up with a plan, we will be spending millions to try and keep them open,” said Masters. “Proper planning, proper sequencing of the investment, proper placement and then those partnerships we’re going to look to, all those things have to be worked on over the course of time and so I’m excited about planning for them.”

While the list of projects is an exciting one, Masters said Regina is still playing catchup when it comes to recreational infrastructure. The city hasn’t invested substantially in the Lawson, the Brandt Centre, the library or a ball diamond since the ’70s, she said, making all these projects due at the same time.

The city is also not in a position to be all things to all people, emphasized Holden. But the list of recreation projects — or their priority order — is subject to change if the will of council does. Council could have a different perspective on Regina’s recreational needs since its members are the ones talking to residents.

“Fundamentally, at the end of the day, if we don’t get help on it, then that’s going to be a matter of, ‘Well, it’s probably not within the city’s means to do on our own,’ ” said Masters. “But to do proper planning and to do proper sequencing of infrastructure investment that would allow us to get ready for those projects, that’s important. That’s our job.”