The Seven-Year Bowl

Has Regina’s great stadium shuffle finally come to an end?

by Paul Dechene

stadium

city-tagNot sure what I expected to happen that May 22 morning when Mayor Michael Fougere and a small group of dignitaries pulled away the curtain to reveal the design for our new football stadium.

The Credit Union EventPlex was full of people who were clearly friendly to this megaproject. Beyond all the dozens of people there wearing the green and white, there were also a lot of people from city administration whom I recognized as having been involved in the project. I even spotted former-mayor Pat Fiacco, the man arguably responsible for kicking off all this stadium stuff.

That’s a lot of Rider Pride to cram into one EventPlex. Would some hooting and hollering have been too much to ask? A standing ovation?

We have audio of the unveiling on Dog Blog. I’m listening to it as I type this. Once the curtain hits the ground, there’s 17 seconds of polite applause, followed by 35 seconds of silence punctuated only by indistinct mumbling from the crowd and the rapid camera clicks from the media. Then, just at the moment I was starting to feel a little awkward about the reception, the mayor prompts the room with, “Now, there’s much more to come. So what do you think of the new design?”

More applause, slightly louder this time, a couple hoots, and then another long silence.

From where I was standing, that crowd response ranked as “subdued.”

But maybe it’s not the design. Maybe it’s Hollywood’s fault.

I think it’s safe to say that nearly everyone in that audience will have seen either Godzilla, The Avengers or something by a Michael Bay imitator within the last year. You can’t build up expectations the way Mayor Fougere did in his opening statement by saying of the new stadium design, “It’s going to be absolutely fantastic and it’s going to knock you out of your seat,” and then not literally knock everyone out of their seats.

We’ve seen entire cities smashed to bits in 3-D on an Imax screen, then complained about the CGI. That’s some hardcore competition for a CAD preview of an architectural drawing projected onto a square of Bristol board.

I guess I’m saying maybe I’d started to buy into the hype and felt a little let down. But then, after the unveiling, I biked home past the old Mosaic Stadium and I admit, the new design that HKS Sports & Entertainment has put together for PCL Construction is a big improvement.

The swooping partial-roof looks more likely to provide shelter from the elements than what’s currently there. Sinking the playing field into the ground and reorienting the stands so as to cut the prairie wind seems wise.

From there, the specs speak for themselves. The new stadium will be nearly double the square footage of the old. There will be nine elevators instead of one, 200 concessions instead of 123, wider seats, more space between rows, more parking in the surrounding lots and many, many more restrooms.

Plus, once again Brent Sjoberg, the executive lead on the project, assured us that we’re getting all of this fancy state-of-the-artness on a fixed-price contract — $278.2 million is all we’re going to spend.¹ If the project goes over budget or isn’t finished on time, PCL and its partners will have to eat the extra costs themselves.

And yet, much was made by the mayor² and others about how this will be an “iconic building” for Regina. But looking at it, I don’t see it ever supplanting the silhouette of Harvard’s two Hill Towers in the city’s branding. Maybe I lack imagination?

Or maybe the problem is that this new “Broken Bowl” design³, with its un-joined ends and translucent fabric half-roof, doesn’t seem quite as impressive as the closed-oval, honeycomb-roof concept sketch that London architect Dipesh Patel came up with back in the fall of 2012?

Or maybe the problem is that this stadium concept feels like it comes at the end of a long list of baits-and-switches.

First there were the stories in 2007 that Taylor Field would be getting a facelift. Then in 2008, the province said they’d rather see a complete rebuild. In 2009, the plan was to build a domed stadium with infrastructure money from the feds. In 2010, a group of Saskatchewan First Nations brought forward a Douglas Cardinal design and offered to build and run a domed stadium for us. That offer was declined, and in 2011, the province’s dome plans fell apart.

That’s when the city picked up the ball, started talking “Regina Revitalization Initiative,” and then-mayor Fiacco told us that “we don’t build stadiums anymore” and promised a “multipurpose entertainment facility” for the downtown.

In 2012, the downtown facility was out and we were back to building stadiums again. Oh, we’d still revitalize our downtown, by gum, even if it means building a new stadium further away from downtown than the old.

And here we are in 2014, with… what is it now? our fifth set of architectural mock-ups to ponder? Can you blame anybody if they’re reluctant to get attached?

In recent days, boosters for the new stadium design have flooded social media. They seem pretty happy with what they’re seeing. And assuming PCL hits their cast-in-stone completion date of the 2017 CFL season (with test events in the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2017), Rider Nation has reason to be feeling triumphant right now.

Personally, I think I’m just suffering from a serious case of historical announcement fatigue.

With files from Victoria Dinh, Bryn Hadubiak, Brady Knight and Taryn Riemer

FOOTNOTES

1. $278.2 million is all we’re going to spend on construction. There’s still maintenance and operations to consider, as well as 31 years of debt servicing. And while the city is proud to proclaim that $100 million of the money borrowed to cover the construction costs will be paid off by Rider Nation through an extra fee on tickets, that’s only the principal. City hall tends to gloss over the fact that the interest will be paid off by taxpayers through annual mill rate increases.

2. “This design is truly iconic,” said Fougere to the EventPlex audience. “It’s a bold statement of our city and our province. It’s a statement about our growing community. It is truly a landmark building. It’ll be the most recognizable building in Canada and I’m sure you will agree when you see this has been built you’ll know you’re in Regina, you’ll know you’re in the best province in Canada, you’ll know you have the best CFL team in Canada.”

3. The Broken Bowl is my suggestion for a nickname for the new stadium. I like it both because it describes the split design and because it honours Regina’s world-class ceramic arts community.

2014-05-29