Soccer field

Tank: Saskatoon taxpayers urged to take risks for private soccer field

If a soccer stadium for a new professional league is a good investment, developers wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on public money.

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Five years ago, the fundraising group for a new arena for the University of Saskatchewan requested $3 million from the City of Saskatoon.

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The request proved divisive because proponents of the $41 million project had already received $1 million from city hall.

The board passed the extra funding by its patented margin of 6-5 because the two-pad facility would provide much-needed relief for a severe citywide ice shortage for minor hockey players, in addition to its role main as an arena for U of S hockey teams.

So when Prairieland Park and Regina’s Living Sky Sports and Entertainment highlight the money given to Merlis Belsher Place, it’s instructive to remember how controversial that decision was, despite the benefits to the community.

Prairieland and Living Sky are teaming up to try to bring a professional soccer franchise to the Canadian Premier League in Saskatoon. They want a new 5,500 seat stadium to house the team.

Developers appeared before a city council committee on Monday to tout the $28 million project, which will draw on a whopping $8 million from the city to try to convince the federal and provincial governments to inject similar amounts.

Prairieland and Living Sky will each contribute $2 million.

Steve Chisolm, the new chairman of Prairieland’s board of directors, compared the request for funding to those of Merlis Belsher Place and the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

But none of these non-profit facilities host a lucrative business like a private professional football team as their anchor tenant.

Both Merlis Belsher and Gordie Howe served the needs of amateur sports in Saskatoon. It’s hard to see how a stadium for a professional soccer team meets the same requirement.

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If there’s a shortage of soccer fields in Saskatoon, it’s pretty quiet. The city has two indoor soccer facilities.

Additionally, while soccer fans choose to compare the Canadian Premier League to the Canadian Football League, a more apt comparison is the elite Canadian Basketball League in which the Saskatchewan Rattlers play. Both minor professional leagues started play in 2019.

Does $8 million for the Rattlers sound like a wise investment of taxpayers’ money? And this team exists.

If you can’t name a single player or team in a league, as is undoubtedly the case for most of Saskatoon and this soccer league, that is a very questionable investment.

Still, the league is going to be “huge,” our wide-eyed politicians assured on Monday.

If football is really as popular as we heard on Monday, this company should be able to attract big private donations, like Merlis Belsher Place and the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, and not need as much government money.

The question that should have been asked is whether any of the league’s existing clubs have built new facilities to accommodate their teams. The answer is no – all eight play in existing or renovated stadiums.

Saskatoon would be the first city to invest so much money in this league. Prairieland wants to start construction next year, based on the city’s $1 million a year over eight years.

Interestingly, eight years ago Prairieland invested $400,000 to replace the dirt track at Marquis Downs because of its belief in the future of horse racing.

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Prairieland, or course, shocked the city when it announced last year that it was shutting down horse racing and throwing the related industry into uncertainty to sue a football team and facility.

So the entity that now wants a big load of taxpayers’ money – and that announced the horse races via press release – hasn’t exactly won good faith.

Prairieland has a shocking lack of transparency for a company that operates on city-owned land. Frankly, the Illuminati could rule Prairieland, for all we know of how it works. (But Illuminati could make for a pretty cool team name.)

Prairieland CEO Mark Regier is due to retire in December after 25 years of service, so there is some uncertainty hanging over this “membership-based” nonprofit.

Any council decision would have to wait until there is more private money raised – and less public money needed – for what looks like an extremely risky venture.

Phil Tank is the digital opinion editor at Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

[email protected]

  1. Marquis Downs at Prairieland Park is set to close permanently with plans to build a professional football stadium.  Photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Monday May 10, 2021.

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  2. The entrance to Prairieland Park is seen in this photo taken July 20, 2016.

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