2000 Residential Development
The Downtown Housing and Development Action Program
Saskatoon's Downtown Housing and Development Action Program (the Action Program) is a five-year initiative to stimulate residential development in the downtown area. This program includes developing new marketing initiatives, continuing investment in urban infrastructure improvement projects, revising regulations to reflect a "housing first" theme and offering financial and tax incentives.
Saskatoon is Saskatchewan's largest city with a population of over 212,000 people. As the primary service centre for smaller communities, Saskatoon faces pressure for retail development in its suburban and surrounding areas. The city has recognized that having more people living in and near downtown would attract retail businesses to the downtown area and revitalize the area. In 1998, downtown Saskatoon was home to only three per cent of the city's population. While Saskatoon's overall population increased by 51 per cent between 1971 and 2000, the downtown population increased by only 21 per cent, indicating that residents had a preference for housing in suburban and outlying areas. The downtown population was comprised of two main demographic groups: highly educated professionals and retirees.
The city's development plan, Plan Saskatoon, had established the downtown core as a priority focus and included plans for a Downtown Housing Study. The 1998 Housing Study documented previous patterns of housing, made projections for the future and identified motivators and barriers to living downtown. Based on the recommendations from that study and in partnership with the Downtown Business Improvement District organization ("the Partnership"), the city's Planning Branch started the five-year Action Program in 1999.
Two construction projects were stimulated by the Action Plan in 1999-2000, resulting in the creation of 108 new rental units: eight units in a former retail establishment and 100 units in a new multi-unit building on a vacant lot. Both projects benefited from the five-year phase-in tax abatement incentive and rebate on building permit fees. Demand for the multi-unit apartment building exceeded supply, with 300 applications for the 100 units.
Various land development proposals and an update of the Downtown Development Plan were also completed as a result of the program.
As a sign of its ongoing commitment, the city's ten-year Downtown Development Plan emphasized a residential component for the first time. In addition, the city conducted a survey in October and November 2000 to measure changes in public opinion about downtown living.
Financial/location incentives like the tax abatement program may not be enough to encourage developers to build in the downtown area where they had not previously considered building. However, these incentives were of prime importance and assistance to the first two projects that were developed. According to the city's housing facilitator, another obstacle is complacency, that is, the natural desire is just to let the housing market take its course, without concentrated intervention.
A key point about this process was the co-operative effort exhibited by the Partnership, city staff and council. Because all participants wanted it to happen, the program was able to move ahead.