'Why 17 floors?' vs. 'Let's not fear the change': Broadway tower divides

"This is one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen at a development meeting like this," says one of the aspiring builders.

Polarized audience shows up to hear developers defend big-scale plans

The project calls for 17 storeys, 122 underground parking spots and 117 condos. (Urban Capital/Victory Majors)

The developers behind a proposed 17-storey highrise on Broadway Avenue defended their vision to a starkly divided audience Wednesday night in Saskatoon.

While many residents praised the building's design and welcomed an influx of 117 new condo owners, an equal number of people seated inside the Nutana Collegiate gym voiced fears about the tower's scale and its potential to ruin the character of the Broadway area.

"The only question you haven't answered tonight is, why 17 floors?" said Norm Dray, sounding the first discordant note of the meeting.

"Exactly!" exalted one man in the crowd, followed by a quiet ripple of applause.

All the seating was taken Wednesday night at the public meeting. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

David Wex, the founder of Urban Capital — one of the two companies partnering on the project — took to the mic soon after.

His answer was a mix of economies-of-scale and architectural philosophy.

"We thought it was defensible and reasonable. I know some of you disagree," Wex said of the 17 floors decided on by Urban Capital and its partner, Victory Majors.

"But in order to achieve what we're tying to do in this building and the quality and materiality, we need to have something to sell to be able to afford it."

One of the project's co-developers said the design was partly inspired by the Broadway Bridge. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Wex also pointed to the hotel-and-condo highrise in the downtown core at River Landing, which Urban Capital is also developing.

"Our River Landing building and this building, they're almost like — they speak to each other," he said.

Dray, with the Broadway Development Corporation, wasn't buying it.

"The downtown character is quite different from the Broadway character," said Dray. "Whereas there are quite a few tall buildings downtown already, the Broadway area has had a limited height restriction and we believe that should continue."

'We are not Toronto'

Another skeptic, Linda Epstein, put it more bluntly.

"We are not Toronto, we are not Montreal, we are not Halifax," she said.  

"I don't want other another enveloping, foreboding entryway off the Broadway Bridge," she added, referring to the midsized mixed-use building that would face the development from the other side of the avenue.

The narrower side of the building will face Broadway Avenue. (Urban Capitl/Victory Majors)

The new tower, including three levels of underground parking, would replace a parking lot next door the Broadway Roastery.

"It beats the heck out of a dusty parking lot," said Andy Hanna after taking in some of the display boards arrayed in the gym.

But Hanna then immediately touched on a concern repeated by many Wednesday night: the increased traffic the highrise might bring to the neighborhood.

A city spokesperson said that the project would create 50 to 75 new car trips during the busiest part of the day. That's compared to the 20 to 25 trips taken during the same time of day by people using the current parking lot.

"It's not a lot of traffic," said the city spokesperson.

Andy Hanna says the proposal is better than what the space is now: a dusty parking lot. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Others wondered if the building's 122 underground parking spots will be adequate. One woman asked whether the six-metre-wide lane behind the proposed tower would be big enough to accommodate two-way traffic going in and out of the garage.

"Slowly," said Brent McAdam, a city planner.

'Let's not fear the change'

Still, the night often turned back to the central question of what the tower would or wouldn't do to the character of Broadway.

Jay Brown, a self-described twenty-something consultant who sometimes commutes by bike to Broadway from the city's northeast suburban fringe, held the audience's attention, sans mic, for about two minutes as he spoke passionately against those fears.

"Let's not let 17 storeys or 15 storeys or glass or wood, whatever it is, get in the way," he said. "What makes a community is the people. It's not the buildings. The more people that come into your community, the more electric it's going to be."

"Let's not fear the change," he concluded, drawing the most sustained burst of applause of the night.

Next steps

The City of Saskatoon is expected to make a recommendation about the project to its municipal planning commission in the next few months.

City councillors will then decide whether to grant the zoning change needed to make the project possible.

The Meewasin Valley Authority is expected to weigh in formally too. 

Another proposed tower, at the head of University Bridge, has touched off similar concerns about parking and traffic flow.


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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