Downtown Density

Recently City Council approved a zoning change (really just a variation by agreement) to the proposed City Centre Tower on 22nd street between 3rd and 4th avenue. The proposed development will have two towers, one of which will be an office tower, the other, residential and commercial.

According to the report to council, this development “supports the City’s long-range goal of increasing the population of Downtown to 15,000 people by providing approximately 290 residential units.” The mayor often talks about increasing the number of people living in the downtown, sometimes the goal is 10,000, sometimes it’s 30,000. As I touched on in The Transit Option, and as OurYXE touched on, neither the mayor, or the City administration really seem to understand what a population increase of that magnitude will take.

According to the City’s neighbourhood profiles, there are about 2800 people living downtown. With 1,974 dwellings (1600 apartments in buildings 5 stories or higher), means you have about 1.42 people per dwelling on average. To get to 10,000 people you need to get another 7,200 people living downtown.

The City Centre Tower project will have 290 dwelling units. So in order to get to a downtown population of 10,000 another 18 projects of similar magnitude will have to be built. That’s just to house people. That doesn’t include sufficient space for enough employers so those people (or most of them) have employment.

Unless, of course, you expect them all to jump in their cars and commute to areas outside the downtown everyday. Which is probably pretty likely. Based on the neighbourhood profile, 1150 of the current downtown residents commute to work. 540 of them drive their cars. That’s 46%. Granted, that’s a lot lower than the city as a whole. But if those relative numbers hold true as the population increases, that’s another 3,300 cars that will need storage (aka parking) space downtown, and added to our roads as they commute to work every day.

Do we need higher density downtown? Absolutely. Across the city as a whole? Absolutely. I just don’t think the Mayor, Council, or the City administration really understand the magnitude of their “plans”. Is there enough land to build another 18 similarly sized projects? Maybe. How about another 30? That’s what it would take to get 15,000 people living downtown.

Considering how long we’ve all been waiting for the south downtown “parcel Y” etc. project to break ground, how long will it take for the City Centre Tower project to be completed? Especially since there is no time requirement for the developer to start or complete the project. Contrast that to someone who buys a residential lot from the City. They have to have their house completed and pass final building inspection within three years. If they don’t there’s a $50,000 penalty.

Given the current double digit vacancy rate for office space in downtown Saskatoon, there really is no motivation for the developer to even begin construction, not on the office tower portion anyway. I’m not really up on current high rise construction costs but if I had to WAG I’d put the residential tower in the $70,000,000 range. With 290 units you’re looking at about $250,000 per unit for construction costs. Obviously the developer is going to want to turn a profit so I don’t see these units selling for much less than $300,000.

Is there enough demand in Saskatoon for 290 units like this? Probably. How about 5000 units to get the downtown population into the five figures? I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime. My three year old daughter might. She’ll be retired by then, probably riding one of the buses City council authorized Saskatoon Transit to purchase last September that are expected to be delivered in spring of 2015.

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