Dear Conexus Board and Executive,
We are writing today because we are concerned with Conexus Credit Union’s plans to construct a new headquarters in Wascana Park, Regina, on Treaty 4 land.
Briarpatch Magazine has been a Conexus and Sherwood (Conexus’ predecessor) member since the 1970s. The democratic, member-based, non-profit nature of the credit union aligns with our mandate – as a national magazine of politics and activism – to support grassroots struggles. We believe credit unions often serve their communities far better than for-profit banks, which are increasingly predatory, divorced from the people they serve, and primarily operating in the interests of their investors.
But despite widespread community opposition since the construction plan was announced, Conexus has moved ahead with plans to raze a treed section of Wascana Park in order to build a massive new head office.
The University of Regina, which was given the land one year ago just west of Darke Hall on College Avenue, has agreed to lease the land to Conexus for 90 years for $3.25 million dollars. (That works out to $3,009 per month, or the revenue from 20 parking spots at $150 each per month.) Conexus has also committed to make a donation of $5 million to the University for overdue renovations to the College Avenue campus, a project with a price tag listed as anywhere from $60 to $100 million. The federal government has contributed $30 million to the College Avenue campus renovations.
Let us be clear that the primary villain here is the provincial government of Saskatchewan. Through chronically underfunding education for many years, the province has created an atmosphere of desperation. This, however, does not excuse the destructive behaviour of others.
We commend Conexus for making a donation of $5 million to the University in a time when the provincial government has shamefully slashed funding to education. But we, like many in the community, strongly oppose the idea that the donation be license for Conexus to build its headquarters in Wascana Park. The argument being made by both Conexus and the University is that Conexus needs to build in the park in order for Darke Hall to be saved. That there is no other way. A credit union that cares about its community would not use this type of ransom logic.
The Conexus development (built attached to Darke Hall) will do nothing to increase urban density in Regina, given the large amount of vacant commercial space in the city. In fact, it works counter to the City of Regina’s official master plan – in particular the sections on maintaining commercial density in the urban core.
Conexus, through the actions of its executives and board, is losing touch with its community, and abandoning core principles that distinguish it from the big banks. Old trees have now been felled, and pipes are being installed through deep gashes in the soil. A treasured green space is being destroyed, and a dangerous precedent of commercialization in Wascana Park is being set.
It does not need to be like this.
There are numerous downtown locations where Conexus’ new headquarters could be built. For example, Conexus could make just about everyone in the city happy by building in the Capital Pointe hole, directly across the street from your current main building.
The $8.6 million donation to the University could have been just that: a donation, with no strings attached. Conexus could have pointed out that the province was failing to invest in education, and played the hero, looking out for the community in a time of harsh austerity.
We write to you today to say: it is not too late. With construction having only just begun, there is time to call off this plan to build a headquarter in Wascana Park.
We acknowledge that, according to numbers provided by the University and Conexus, if Conexus did not build in Wascana Park, there would be a $10 million shortfall in the University’s construction budget. $10 million, according to the University’s VP of Administration, Dave Button, is what it would cost to build an atrium and entrance to Darke Hall. The entire exterior of Darke Hall has already been fixed up, and the University has set aside $10 million to fully renovate the interior of Darke Hall. That is all funded. The atrium, which will act as a new, accessible entrance to Dark Hall, was originally proposed for the east side, and now Conexus is proposing to build it themselves on the west, attached to their headquarters.
Why not just build the atrium as an accessible entrance to Darke Hall, without a massive commercial building attached to it? The atrium is going to be built either way, and Conexus is already picking up the tab for the atrium.
Conexus listed annual profits of $33.5 million in 2017 and $40.4 million in 2016. That’s pure profit. An additional few million dollars to the project, instead of building a headquarters in Wascana Park, would hardly be felt by Conexus. As admitted on a Conexus website, “Building a new corporate office to consolidate our corporate services employees will have little or no impact to our capital or earnings over the long-term.” If a massive move and construction project won’t have a noticeable financial impact, and profits are as high as they are, surely Conexus can pitch in to build the atrium for Darke Hall, along with other donors, especially if it means avoiding setting an awful precedent of commercialization in the park. (Two anonymous donors, for example, gave $1 million each for Darke Hall renovations since 2015.) This is the sort of role a credit union can play in the community; fixing a serious problem when others, like government, won’t. And perhaps, amid the controversy that has been stirred, the province can be pressured to make a contribution to atone for years of failure.
If Conexus remains intent on building in Wascana Park, against the wishes of the community, Briarpatch as an organization will need to consider whether we want to remain as members, or leave and seek out a credit union more aligned with our principles.
Briarpatch Staff and Board