A new plan to transform Saskatoon's downtown has won approval from the executive committee of city council.

The City Centre Plan aims to make downtown a better place to live, work and play. The concept includes ideas for more public spaces, reduced lanes for vehicle traffic and heated sidewalks.

A consulting firm, Stantec Limited, worked on the plan along with city officials. They noted 25 per cent of the existing downtown is made up of surface parking lots and there are few places for citizens to gather. 

Pedestrian-friendly measures

The report found a pattern of demolishing small buildings to make room for surface parking.

"This trend could continue if further protection of existing heritage buildings and new design guidelines are not established," the report said.

Consultants noted Saskatoon has wider, 30-metre streets, than most typical downtown streets in other Canadian cities. 

"For pedestrians, the long crossing points are less than ideal and are proving challenging as levels of vehicular traffic increase," they wrote. "There are several roads which experience conflict between vehicles, pedestrians and bikes."

'Many areas of the City Centre have neutral ground floor frontages which are inactive or have few windows or entrances'- City Centre Plan

It also pushes the city to adopt building design rules that make the downtown more welcoming for foot traffic.

"Many areas of the City Centre have neutral ground floor frontages which are inactive or have few windows or entrances," the report noted. "They present a challenge to a vital and active urban street."

The report also said the bus mall on 23rd Street is "not highly regarded" and stressed a need to improve transit options.

Plan will take 15 years to implement

The plan's 15-year vision is to make downtown a destination for the region, as Saskatoon grows to an expected population of half a million people.

No dollar amounts have been included to date. City officials will be asked to implement the plan in three five-year stages and include budgetary impacts if it's approved. 

On Monday, the city's executive committee met and approved the plan. Final approval will be up to a full meeting of council, although the executive committee is composed of all council members.

Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison said much of the plan could be achieved by private sector investment.

He also said improving the downtown will improve the city's economic fortunes.

"The more buildings and density of buildings, and higher buildings we have, the higher the assessment will be," Atchison said. "And the higher the assessment is, the more revenue will come to the city. Which in fact will help to minimize taxes for the rest of the community as a whole."