River landing project: not 2014: Developer, mayor confident in progress

By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix, March 19, 2014 - Construction of Saskatoon's signature riverbank development at River Landing likely won't begin this year.

"I can't get you a definite date on the start of construction. To be safe, I will say not 2014," said John Nasser, president of Victory Majors Investment Corp.

The site of the landmark $250 million River Landing hotel-condo-office project has sat idle for years. When the company took over the project in 2010, Karim Nasser - John's father - said construction would be complete by 2013.

Now, after years of delays, at least one city councillor wonders if the project is too ambitious.

"Perhaps it was always unrealistic to think that we would build a project that is that ambitious," Coun. Pat Lorje said.

The project is a cornerstone of the ongoing riverfront development in the city's downtown. While other private investment in the area, including the River Centre office building and construction on The Banks residential-commercial development, has been robust, the centrepiece is still missing.

The megaproject is to be located on Saskatoon's riverfront Parcel Y, considered one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the city.

When Victory Majors took over the project from the embattled Lake Placid Developments in 2010, hopes were high that something would be built on the riverbank site.

When city council approved the new plans in July 2012, it did not put any deadlines on when construction would have to begin.

Nearly two years later, Lorje and other observers believe it may be time to rethink the entire project. "I think we need to get back to the drawing board and sit down with the Nassers and see what is achievable," Lorje said.

However, Nasser said the project is progressing and the company is looking for tenants for both the condos and the office complex. Building it without securing tenants is too risky, he said.

"When those are all in place, we will be ready to start. Until they are solidified, it would not be prudent to start."

Mayor Don Atchison, who was critical of the delays last July, said he has not heard from Nasser and therefore did not want to speculate on the future of the project.

"It's unfortunate that they haven't been able to get a plan off the ground yet, but it doesn't mean there isn't going to be one. I'm certainly confident there is going to be something," Atchison said.

Without deadlines imposed by city council, the timing of the project is firmly in the hands of the company. Victory Majors owns the land and the city can't force it to start construction.

Coun. Darren Hill said the business plan for the project is sound, but he is open to any discussion with the developer that might help the project move ahead. If the city needs to amend any zoning or requirements, he said council will be open to that.

The plans include a 95-metre, 27-storey condominium building, a hotel and office complex and a public plaza. The project's architects have blended the design with the $84-million Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan project across Second Avenue from the site.


November 2010: Victory Majors Investments Corp., led by local businessman Kay Nasser, takes over the $250 million hotel-office-condo project from Lake Placid Developments. The company passes an audit and buys the land at River Landing for $5 million. Nasser said at the time that it would take three years to complete.

April 2011: Parcel Y becomes a temporary parking lot. The proceeds from parking revenue are donated to charity.

August 2011: Victory Majors gets council approval for greater building height and density. The changes decrease the size of the parking structure underground and increase the height of the building. The plans also change the public plaza portion of the project.

May 2012: Victory Majors says the landmark project will be under construction by late summer if the development is approved by city council in July.

July 2012: Council passes detailed plans submitted by Victory Majors. The plans show the residential tower is taller and a larger public plaza is now open to the riverbank and connects to Second Avenue. A concept drawing shows the public plaza at street level instead of raised three metres.

July 2013: Mayor Don Atchison expresses concerns about the megaproject's delays.

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