Bon­nie Doon de­vel­op­ment scheme could be game changer

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID STA­PLES Com­men­tary dsta­ples@post­media.com

Which ma­jor trans­for­ma­tive project planned for Ed­mon­ton is most likely to suc­ceed?

The down­town arena district is the early leader. It will be hard to beat. But there’s a ma­jor new con­tender on the south side, a new vi­sion for a res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment where Bon­nie Doon Shop­ping Cen­tre now sits.

This project has a num­ber of things go­ing for it. At the top of the list is a sin­gle pri­vate owner with a clear, com­mu­nity-ori­ented and eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble vi­sion.

The con­cept in­cludes retail, gar­dens and park space, cafes, pa­tios, bike paths, newly cre­ated streets, rental and condo tow­ers with at least 1,000 units, all of it built off the hub of the com­ing Bon­nie Doon LRT sta­tion.

“This isn’t like any­thing you’ve seen in Ed­mon­ton yet,” says project plan­ner Brian Mur­ray of B&A Plan­ning Group. “It’s a com­plete neigh­bour­hood right here on the site, fully in­te­grated with the com­mu­nity, not cre­at­ing an is­land, but truly cre­at­ing a hub.”

Bon­nie Doon mall is owned by Morguard In­vest­ments, a Cana­dian firm that owns or man­ages $18 bil­lion in real es­tate. It has man­aged Bon­nie Doon mall since 1994, with the owner be­ing Morguard’s part­ner, Cana­dian Pen­sion Funds.

Ma­jor pen­sion funds are now look­ing at Tran­sit Ori­ented De­vel­op­ment (TOD) as a solid in­vest­ment, says Mar­garet Knowles, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of Morguard, who was in Ed­mon­ton re­cently for the un­veil­ing of the new LRT cars that will run from down­town to Mill Woods, with a stop at the mall.

When Bon­nie Doon mall lost two core ten­ants, Sears and Tar­get, it was ei­ther time to sell or come up with a new long-term vi­sion, Knowles says.

“If we weren’t do­ing this, there are 20 other or­ga­ni­za­tions in the back­ground that would see this site as so op­por­tune, so ready for re­de­vel­op­ment.”

TOD has been al­most nonex­is­tent in Ed­mon­ton, save for down­town, but Knowles says the Bon­nie Doon project is dif­fer­ent and will pro­ceed be­cause Morguard con­trols 12 con­tigu­ous hectares on a tran­sit line min­utes from down­town.

Old ten­ants can be repo­si­tioned into new com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment as it is built, Knowles says, adding re-zon­ing and se­cur­ing de­vel­op­ment per­mits will take a cou­ple of years. The ear­li­est date new con­struc­tion will hap­pen is 2020.

The mall, with its an­chor of a Safe­way gro­cery store, will stay open dur­ing the re­de­vel­op­ment, but park­ing lot space and pieces of the mall will slowly be re­done.

“This site will be re­de­vel­oped in phases, and the most log­i­cal place to start is close to the tran­sit lo­ca­tion, where you’re go­ing to look for your high­est den­sity un­der TOD guide­lines,” Knowles says.

It’s a com­plete neigh­bour­hood right here on the site ... not cre­at­ing an is­land, but truly cre­at­ing a hub.

City coun­cil re­jected a re­cent re­de­vel­op­ment plan for Holy­rood on the same LRT line be­cause of com­mu­nity con­cerns that the res­i­den­tial tow­ers were too tall, but Bon­nie Doon, es­pe­cially along the LRT tracks on 83 Street, has the ad­van­tage of be­ing set back two city blocks from the houses along 85 Street.

“Ob­vi­ously, 85th is not where you’re go­ing to put your su­per high­rises. You’re not go­ing to be look­ing to shadow that com­mu­nity. You’re go­ing to put lower rise type of de­vel­op­ment there,” Knowles says.

In the past, sev­eral Ed­mon­ton malls have been re­luc­tant to work with the city on LRT sta­tions, but Morguard is the op­po­site, see­ing the sta­tion as a crucial com­po­nent of the project. In Port Co­quit­lam, B.C., Morguard lob­bied hard to have a sta­tion put in at a ma­jor mall, both so the mall could get more cus­tomers and the mass tran­sit line could get more pas­sen­gers. To en­tice the city, Morguard of­fered free land and a sub­sidy to the lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

It’s key that the train is run­ning at ground level, Knowles says, as op­posed to be­ing el­e­vated, which would greatly limit ac­ces­si­bil­ity: “The feel of it would be to­tally dif­fer­ent.”

That vi­sion is be­ing worked on by both Morguard and the com­mu­nity, which is be­ing asked for in­put.

“We want to un­der­stand bet­ter how we fit in here and how we can be bet­ter con­nected ... be­cause then we’re go­ing to be able to at­tract lo­cal re­tail­ers, the lo­cal cafes and bak­eries and such to be part and par­cel of our de­vel­op­ment,” Knowles says.

If the Bon­nie Doon project takes off — and that’s my ex­pec­ta­tion — it will be a ma­jor boost for city coun­cil’s LRT am­bi­tions. Just maybe the $3.8-bil­lion in­vest­ment in the Val­ley Line will pay off in a denser, more liv­able city.

The pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment of the cur­rent Bon­nie Doon Shop­ping Cen­tre prop­erty would in­clude retail space, park space, and condo tow­ers, all built off the hub of the com­ing Bon­nie Doon LRT sta­tion. The ear­li­est date new con­struc­tion will hap­pen is 2020.

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