This Week At City Hall: Parkade Disgrace, Infill Insanity

My daughter had me up at four a.m. this morning because she was hungry and wanted to bounce off the walls for four hours, so if this seems like an especially bitter and ranty TWACH, that’s why….

Monday, December 6
MUNICIPAL HERITAGE ADVISORY COMMITTEE (12:15 pm): City staff will be presenting an overview of the Statements of Significance on downtown buildings and the Historical Context Report on Regina’s Recent Past.

Tuesday, December 7
FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE (4 pm): So you guys know what I think about McCallum Hill Parkade at 1825 Cornwall Street, right? In short: it’s an eyesore. An embarrassment. Well, guess what. That piece of crap — which is owned by your friends at Harvard Property Management — has so far warranted 15 years worth of tax exemptions. And Harvard is applying for three more years. How much will that add up to once the tax exemptions expire in 2013?

$524,000.

Yep. Seems back in 1995, some pack of jokers the city council of the day decided to guarantee Harvard over half-a-million dollars in property tax exemptions and there’s still $69,000 to go on that agreement. We either forgo three more years of municipal revenue or buy Harvard out.

Now, I’m all for using tax exemptions to encourage the development of stuff the city needs — like, say, places for people to live. But what did we get for our half-a-million with this parkade? A place for people — many of them employees of the Hill Towers — to abandon their cars for a few hours a day.

When city hall was negotiating this deal back in ’95, couldn’t they have at least said, “We’re in effect handing you half-a-million dollars. Could you, you know, not make this parkade really fucking butt ugly?”

A side note: Back at the August 23 city council meeting, on the subject of another of Harvard’s downtown parkades — the one on Rose Street and 12th (which, I’ll add, looks a hell of a lot better than the one on Cornwall) — Councillor Clipsham asked Harvard’s vice-president of leasing if her company was thinking about doing something to enliven that building’s façade. The Harvard rep replied (and I’m paraphrasing here) that Harvard understands that façade renovation is something that the city is interested in and they’re looking into it. The implication was that all this concern about architectural aesthetics was some surprising new concern of the city’s and, gosh-by-golly, now that they’ve been informed of this, Harvard’ll do their jim-dandiest best to rise to that challenge.

No. This is not a new thing. People always want the city they live in to be lovely. They want streets that are attractive and interesting to walk down. They don’t want buildings that look like they were modeled after industrial chicken coops. People give a shit about what their city looks like.

It’s the builders of insults like the McCallum Hill Parkade who don’t seem to give a shit.

Of course, what am I saying? It could have been worse, right? At least it’s a parking garage and not more surface parking.

Ahem. So… as for the rest of the meeting…. The committee will be looking at extending Regina Public School’s lease for the building at 1915 Retallack. They’ll also be setting their meeting dates for 2011.

Wednesday, December 8
REGINA PLANNING COMMISSION (4 pm): A delegation submitted a brief to RPC this week that protests a housing development proposed for the Coronation Park neighbourhood.

Before I get into the substance of this, some graphic design tips for all delegations to city council or committees: In writing your brief, don’t set great swathes of text in bold. Also, DON’T SET GREAT SWATHES IN ALL CAPS. And for gods’ sake, whatever you do, DON’T SET GREAT SWATHES OF TEXT IN BOTH BOLD AND ALL CAPS. As Awesome Klassen, prairie dog designer extraordinaire says, “If you’re going to do all that, you may as well set the thing in Comic Sans.” Any brief that breaks all those rules is going to look like some crazed, end-times manifesto you find jammed under you windshield wiper. And it won’t help your case any if your “brief” comes in at a whopping 92 pages.

Look, I don’t want to be an asshole, but avoiding these traps — as SEDUCTIVE AS ALL-CAPS BOLD COMIC SANS CAN BE SOMETIMES — will keep you from looking like a raving lunatic.

As for the housing complex that has inspired so much criminal misuse of the Caps Lock, it’s being put together by a company called Silver Sage. They’re a First Nations company and the complex they’re planning is slated to go in at 4001 3rd Ave, next to The Gathering Place. The goal is to build affordable-rental townhouses that will cater to low-to-mid income First Nations’ families and a low-rise apartment complex for First Nations’ seniors.

Some of the community concerns meticulously detailed in their 92-PAGE BRIEF include the way the city seems to be concentrating its affordable housing in a few, inner-city neighbourhoods — they wonder why developments like this aren’t going up in Harbour Landing. A legitimate question. But one has to wonder if demanding a good-looking affordable housing project get scrapped for this reason isn’t a little like cutting off a desperately-needed housing nose to spite an obnoxiously-pretty suburban face.

Other concerns include the fact that their neighbourhood already has a crime problem and this project will only exacerbate it. The city points out that based on a CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) analysis, replacing a dark, unpatrolled vacant lot with housing tends to reduce crime in an area.

Anyway, watch the next print issue for more on this development.

Also up at RPC this week are some parks that need renaming, offices proposed for the Tuxedo subdivision and the Warehouse District, a rezoning to accommodate the new Arcola School, a proposed condo development for 2300-2314 Broad Street, a report about the condition of the Davin Fountain, and the meeting dates for 2011.

That’s it for this week. For complete agendas and reports, go to the city’s website.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

11 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: Parkade Disgrace, Infill Insanity”

  1. $524,000 in tax breaks!?!?!? How much did the damn thing cost to build in the first place? The City should have bought them out and then got the last 15 years worth of monthly parking income. At least they would be further ahead even if they had to borrow the money to buy it.

    Also isn’t there a five year limit on tax breaks? Or is that just one of those, yes we have the rule, but ignore it at will. *sigh*

    Ok, rant done. I feel better, for now.

  2. More than appearances are ugly about this deal; ask the school boards and public library board about the loss of tax revenue in years past. Oh, and then there was a certain downtown business that was established with the aid of a 5-year tax exemption, and then pulled the plug just as that exemption was about to run out. This happened not all that long before the last civic election, but oddly, it never arose as an issue.

  3. Seriously – I think Harvard could afford to give up the $14,000 in property taxes/year for the next 5 years… they aren’t hurting and they’ve already gotten 15 years worth of exemption.

    Barb – my brain is drawing a blank right now. Can you offer a clue on the business that pulled out of the downtown?

  4. Harvard aside, you know the single most ugly blight on downtown Regina I’ve only recently started to notice?

    That big ass WALL of venting at Lorne and 11th, in the Sask Power or SaskTel whatever building there. It’s like 45-feet high, orange, industrial and fugly as fug. WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT THING AND CAN SOMEONE TEAR IT DOWN???

  5. ** oops, noticed my miss-calculation, it would be $23,000/year (3 years left instead of 5) – still, I am sure they could afford it.

    Also – Garth L.G. – I totally agree. When that corner was being re-developed I had some hope that it would at least visually fill in that space and be even remotely interesting or blend in with the urban fabric, but alas…

    Barb – thanks for the reminder!

  6. TS: Oh, but in 1995, there was a five-year limit on their tax exemption. And another five-year limit on their tax exemption in 2000. Another in 2005 and now here we are in 2010 awaiting another tax exemption.

  7. I worked at that call centre and got out a few months before they shut down. The whole time I worked there I was unaware of the tax exemption (never found out about it until after they closed), and I’m the kind of guy who tries to pay attention to stuff like that. So I would guess that very few of the couple-hundred or so people left there at the end had any clue about it. Not surprising that it never came up as an issue. I am willing to bet that the tax exemption run-out wasn’t the only reason they closed though — with the changes that occurred in the company they were contracting for, they seemed to be fighting an uphill battle to maintain that business relationship. I remember that one of the things you MUST do on any call that could have been prevented by the customer using a self-service option was to tell them about the self-service option. And it was working… call volume was dropping like crazy, and in-house and contracted jobs with it.

  8. Certainly I’ll defer to Jerrel for the insider’s view of the closure of his former workplace, but the timing couldn’t have been better for confirming people in their cynicism about the (ab)use of tax exemptions.

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