Proposed downtown Saskatoon grocery store clears first hurdle

The plan to bring a grocery store to downtown Saskatoon took a step forward on Monday.

The Standing Policy Committee on Transportation unanimously supported a development plan from Vancouver-based Arbutus Properties to build a Pitchfork Market + Kitchen store in the Midtown Plaza.

Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer celebrated the prospective development as a welcome solution to a longstanding problem in Saskatoon’s downtown.

“The problem we've had is a chicken and an egg scenario. Until you get a grocery store it's harder to put more density in downtown Saskatoon,” he said. “And until you get more density in downtown Saskatoon, it’s hard to make the investment to open a grocery store. So this will sort of push that argument to the side.”

Murray Totland, a former City of Saskatoon manager and current director of planning for Arbutus, said the developer’s desire to build a grocery store where many others have fled comes down to a belief from Arbutus president Jeff Drexel.

“It does harken a bit back to the old era of the neighborhood grocery store,” Totland said. “We build communities, one of the main attributes and requirements of any community is a grocery store. So we felt, you know, maybe there's an opportunity for us as a land developer to help bring grocery stores to the communities that we are involved with.”

Totland added that the idea of a downtown grocery store becomes even more attractive when it also includes a restaurant, something included in Arbutus’ proposal.

In her closing comments, Ward 6 Coun. Cynthia Block reminded the committee Saskatoon’s downtown doesn’t just reflect the inner core, but affects surrounding communities.

“It's for Dundurn and Henley and Kenaston and Davidson and Rosetown and Kindersley,” she said. “From far and wide, people around the province gather in Saskatoon for a great many things. And groceries will hopefully be another one.”

The store would be located in the space intended for Mountain Equipment Co-op before those plans changed following the sale of the co-op to an American investment firm last year.

The committee approved a recommendation from city administration to identify how much of the store must be built before the city will make significant improvements at the Idylwyld Drive and Auditorium Drive intersection for the added traffic Arbutus expects.

Construction costs for the proposed intersection improvements are estimated at $220,000.

Arbutus requested a tax abatement from the city for the space in Midtown Plaza, but dropped that request Monday after realizing tax abatement was already approved for the downtown mall.

Council still needs to approve the administration recommendation at a future meeting before any construction or lease agreements can be formalized.