Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne is calling for the city’s next mayor to investigate replacing the downtown Centre Square Mall with a university campus.

A recent report prepared for the territorial government recommended creating a polytechnic university based in Yellowknife, while closing down Aurora College.

The report says that should be possible by 2024 if the territory moves quickly. The territorial government’s official response is due this fall – Fort Smith, where Aurora College is headquartered, has opposed the report’s conclusions, and no price tag for the university has been made public.

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“There’s a lot of things to be excited about there,” Vanthuyne told Cabin Radio. “That could be the cornerstone for the revitalization of downtown.

“You don’t have to go and build a new bricks-and-mortar campus. Why? Half of downtown is empty.

“You could take whomever is going to be the next mayor and have a mandate for them to go to the head office of the two property REITs that own the Centre Square, and say: ‘This hasn’t been the greatest thing for your properties. Yellowknifers want new economy, new life, new change, and your buildings could actually be the campus.’

“We could turn the whole bottom floor into a multi-use facility that might involve a reinvention of the library – a creative arts centre, space for conferencing is always an issue – and I envision the five floors where WSCC is right now becoming the classroom environment.”

‘Turn the light on’

Vanthuyne conceded finding the hundreds of students required to make a Yellowknife university viable will be an obstacle to overcome if the territory goes ahead with the scheme, regardless of its precise location.

“All universities are really scraping to keep and attract students – and fighting to keep tuition low enough so they can attract them, but there has got to be enough money to keep the lights on,” he said.

“I appreciate that conversation and that’s something that would be a factor we have to consider.”

Vanthuyne acknowledged the concerns of Fort Smith residents regarding the report’s methodology and findings, but said: “The fact is, Fort Smith was not necessarily the most desirable location for students to go because of various reasons.

“I think that there will be some genuine heart-to-heart discussion about what the future of education would look like in Fort Smith.

“They are trying to do what they can to advocate, but I think it’s going to require them not just saying that the report was bad and kind-of slamming their fist on the table and saying this is all no good.

“I think they need to accept there’s an opportunity here. We’ve got to turn the light on, shine some light on the situation, and come up with inventive ideas on what the future of post-secondary could look like in Fort Smith.”

Yellowknife will elect a new mayor during a municipal election this fall. So far, the only two people to have confirmed they intend running for office are Rebecca Alty and Adrian Bell.