Saskatchewan

CNIB still planning for 'general office' tenants and restaurants in Wascana Park building

The CNIB says it's still planning to have commercial tenants occupying most of its proposed office building in Wascana Park, despite the yearlong controversy that's raged about the issue.

Province refuses to say whether it will approve commercial businesses in controversial Brandt/CNIB building

This is an artist's conception of what the proposed Brandt/CNIB building would look like. (CNIB)

The CNIB says it's still planning to have commercial tenants occupying most of its proposed office building in Wascana Park, despite the yearlong controversy that's raged about the issue.

On its new website, CNIBinthepark.ca, the organization says tenants in the 77,000-square-foot building could include "government, medical, research, educational and charitable organizations, as well as general office uses and supporting services." 

In an interview, CNIB executive director Christall Beaudry confirmed that restaurants and retail stores are also possible. In addition, she said CNIB won't be holding any public consultations about the project because "consultation was completed" years ago.  

She made the comments on a day when the Provincial Capital Commission, which runs Wascana Park, announced CNIB and its partner Brandt Developments will be allowed to proceed through the approval process. 

A critic of the project, Regina City Coun. Bob Hawkins, says it was halted 11 months ago because of concerns about the commercial tenants and a lack of consultation.

Anyone with eyes to see or a heart that loves the park will know that that building is too big, too commercial and too ugly to fit in the park.- Bob Hawkins, Regina city councillor

That things are right back where they started 11 months ago makes him wonder what's been going on. 

"If what we're seeing is a sham, I think that you'll have a huge public outcry about this. There's an election coming and this will be a major issue in the election," said Hawkins. 

Controversy over proposed tenants

The project was put on hold in March after controversy erupted because Brandt/CNIB were planning to welcome commercial tenants that appeared to violate Wascana Park rules: tenants like restaurants, retail outlets and general office use.

The park's master plan says all developments must conform with five key pillars of the park: education, recreation, culture, environment and the seat of government.

Regina's Wascana Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. (Daniella Ponticelli/CBC)

In addition, Brandt/CNIB were criticized for a lack of public consultation. 

The provincial auditor was called in to review. She concluded that public consultation was inadequate and she found that the PCC failed to document how the proposed building is consistent with the master plan governing the park — something it's required to do. 

The PCC said it has accepted the auditor's recommendations and has implemented many of them. 

And it said the Brandt/CNIB project can go ahead provided there's "additional public communications and engagement" and the project adheres to the "five pillars" of the park. 

But on examination, those conditions seem murky. 

The auditor criticized the project's public consultation process, but the province's news release doesn't mention the word consultation. Rather it says it requires more communication. 

That's precisely how Beaudry understands the province's requirement.

She says "we did complete the public consultation piece in 2016" and in her mind "engagement is what we're looking at right now." 

In other words, CNIB plans to educate the public about the building plans using a website and social media. There will be no public meetings. 

The minister responsible for the PCC, Lori Carr, won't say whether the province will approve commercial tenants in the Brandt/CNIB building. (CBC)

Carr seems perfectly fine with that, noting that Brandt and CNIB are "going to decide what that communication engagement is going to look like." 

When the minister was asked if the PCC would approve a project that included commercial aspects such as office space and restaurants, she wouldn't give a direct answer. 

"Those are answers that are going to be answered as they go through the detailed design phase depending on what kind of operation it is," said Carr.

Later in the day, the premier's office offered an additional statement on the matter. 

"There has always been commercial development in the park to some degree," the statement said. "The board will review the proposal and determine the level of commercial development allowed and to what degree it supports the master plan, while being transparent with those decisions." 

Regina Coun. Bob Hawkins says it's clear that the Brandt/CNIB building does not conform to park rules. (CBC News)

Hawkins says he's shocked and disappointed at the results of this yearlong process. 

"I think that anyone with eyes to see or a heart that loves the park will know that that building is too big, too commercial and too ugly to fit in the park," he said. 

The PCC says the Brandt/CNIB project is on step 23 of a new 38-step process, so it's a long way from being finally approved. 

Beaudry said she knows there's still a long way to go but she's hopeful construction may begin before the end of the year. 

About the Author

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.

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