Saskatchewan

Wascana Park protest group calls for changes following auditor's 'damning' report

A group of Regina residents who have held nearly weekly protests of business development in Wascana Park say they are invigorated by last week's provincial auditor's report and are calling for changes to developments in the park.

Group wants permanent stop of Brandt/CNIB project, Conexus building 'repurposed'

Lorraine Weidner was one of a dozen protesters who stood outside the Conexus development in Wascana Park on Wednesday. Weidner's group says changes should be made given the recent report from Saskatchewan's auditor.

A group of Regina residents who have held nearly weekly protests of business development in Wascana Park say they are invigorated by last week's provincial auditor's report and are calling for changes to developments in the park.

The group, which calls itself "No Business in the Park," called the auditor's report "damning."

It said provincial auditor Judy Ferguson's report showed projects led by Conexus and Brandt were approved by the Provincial Capital Commission without indication the projects conformed to the Wascana Centre Master Plan.

Over the noon hour on Wednesday, about a dozen people stood on the corner of College Avenue and Lorne Street in front of the still-under-construction Conexus building.

Last week, Ferguson critiqued the PCC for its handling of two recently approved and controversial projects in Wascana Park: the Conexus building and the Brandt/CNIB building. 

She said the Conexus building was approved by the PCC board despite the fact it "knew the project did not conform to the plan when it approved it at the conceptual design stage." 

As for the Brandt/CNIB project, which has not yet received final approval, Ferguson said the province also failed. 

She said the PCC is required by law to either receive formal recommendations from an advisory committee approving the project or to document how the proposed building is consistent with the master Plan governing the park. 

She said the province failed to do so for both the Brandt/CNIB project and the Conexus building. 

This is our park it was set aside many, many years ago. This park is not for businesses.- Protester Evanna Simpson​​​​​​

Regina city councillor Bob Hawkins called the approvals of the buildings "illegal."

Regina NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer called for the Brandt/CNIB project to be scrapped. 

Last week, the minister responsible for the PCC, Lori Carr, said the Brandt/CNIB project will remain on hold while the PCC board reviews the auditor's report. 

She said that PCC report will take "weeks not months" and will be made public. 

Lorraine Weidner has been taking part in the protest since February 2017. 

Weidner said her group believes Regina citizens should be a part of a revamped Provincial Capital Commission board. Since 2017, the board has consisted of three provincial government representatives and one from the city and the University of Regina, respectively.

The group calls for that and four additional "next steps":

  • Putting a permanent stop to the Brandt project in Wascana Park.
  • Requiring Conexus to relinquish its 90-year lease on 2.6 acres of land in Wascana Park.
  • Arranging for the almost completed Conexus building to be repurposed, with 4,000 square feet reserved for CNIB and the remaining space used for purposes that conform to the Wascana Centre Master Plan.
  • Fining Conexus and the University Regina $500,000 each for the damage they have done to Wascana Park.
  • Dissolving the PCC and replacing it with a body that includes equal representation from the city, the province and the University of Regina, plus representation from Regina citizens.
Demolition of the original CNIB building in Wascana Park began last January. (CBC)

Ferguson noted in her report that the Wascana Centre Master Plan lays out specific rules about what sorts of projects can be built in the park. They have to conform to the five pillars: education, environment, recreation, culture or the seat of government. 

Ferguson found Conexus "did a good job" of consultation which "included numerous forums to allow for public input," while the Brandt/CNIB project held, "a one hour public consultation … with about 50 people in attendance." 

Weidner said the Brandt project should "go back to square one and to follow all of the regulations of the master plan. They have not done that to date."

"This is our park it was set aside many, many years ago. This park is not for businesses," said protester Evanna Simpson.

She said Conexus "has lost a lot of goodwill in this community" and suggested Brandt will, too, if its project is given the go-ahead by the provincial government.

According to the University of Regina, Conexus Credit Union has paid $3.25 million plus GST to lease the Wascana Park land where the financial institution is constructing its head office.

By comparison, CNIB is being charged $1 a year for 99 years to lease the Wascana Park land where Brandt Developments is planning to build its four-storey commercial office building.

"It's unconscionable that you would give away public property to business to build an office building in a park for any amount of money, let alone $1," Simpson said.

with files from Geoff Leo

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