Good projects if we can af­ford them

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - Gra­ham HICKS

henough of this pipe­line doom ‘n’ gloom!

‘Tis time to be a tad op­ti­mistic about Ed­mon­ton’s fu­ture. (I’ll try to be op­ti­mistic. In my heart of hearts, I am dead wor­ried about the fu­ture of my chil­dren in this prov­ince.)

Three ma­jor lan­duse projects are un­der­way in the down­town.

If prop­erly done, pru­dently funded, they should gen­tly con­trib­ute to the city’s eco­nomic well-be­ing and qual­ity of life.

The one I like best — the Cen­tral Ware­house Park

— is well un­der­way.

The City of Ed­mon­ton is cre­at­ing a big (1.4 acres — about a square city block) new, tra­di­tional city park in the down­town.

It’s north of Jasper Av­enue, from 106 Street to half­way be­tween 107 and 108 Streets. Think of the sur­face park­ing lots be­hind the big Bos­ton Pizza build­ing (at Jasper and 106 Street), be­hind Au­drey’s Book Store and Doan’s Restau­rant (at Jasper and 107 Street).

Three rep­utable de­vel­op­ers plan to build condo/apart­ment tow­ers around Cen­tral Park: Westrich Pa­cific (Ul­tima, En­core), Edgar (The Hen­drix, Ma­claren) and a Ma­clab/john Day/ Pang­man part­ner­ship.

The park is un­der­way. Land is be­ing as­sem­bled. It’s rel­a­tively cheap, and con­struc­tion fund­ing is se­cured from the down­town Com­mu­nity Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Levy.

Open­ing in 2022, Cen­tral Park will give the down­town needed green­ery, calm­ness and play space. Walk­ing from Jasper Av­enue to Mace­wan Univer­sity and the Ice Dis­trict will be more plea­sur­able.

The as­tound­ing thing about the Ice Dis­trict, around Rogers Place Arena, is its re­al­iza­tion as planned.

Af­ter decades of down­town stag­na­tion, few be­lieved Oil­ers owner Daryl Katz and his Ice Dis­trict vi­sion of sky­scrapers, high­rises, ho­tels, restau­rants, re­tail, recre­ational and com­mu­nity plazas would ever come true.

Danged if the Ice Dis­trict isn’t emerg­ing near ex­actly as en­vi­sioned. One of­fice tower is fin­ished (and sold), two enor­mous high­rise tow­ers are now near­ing com­ple­tion. The only glitch was the Cine­plex de­ci­sion to pull its movie-theatre com­plex out of the fourth tower be­ing built on the site of the old Grey­hound bus de­pot. That forced a re-de­sign, de­lay­ing con­struc­tion.

Other­wise, the Ice Dis­trict is de­vel­op­ing as promised. The only thing Katz and partners will lose sleep over is the slow­down in lux­ury condo sales on the up­per floors of the Mar­riott and Stan­tec tow­ers.

The at­trac­tion of the Ice Dis­trict has had a rip­ple ef­fect. The 19-floor HSBC Bank build­ing on 101 Street, snug­gled in be­side the ICE Dis­trict, is be­ing fully ren­o­vated. AIMCO (Al­berta In­vest­ment Man­age­ment Cor­po­ra­tion) has bought the build­ing and will be the lead ten­ant. Why is AIMCO mov­ing? To be close to the new heart of the down­town.

The river val­ley’s West Ross­dale Plan is in­spired by The Forks in Win­nipeg and The Hal­i­fax Water­front.

The idea is to make our river val­ley, di­rectly be­low the down­town, an at­trac­tive mix of park­land, river­side prom­e­nades, res­i­den­tial liv­ing and recre­ational pos­si­bil­ity.

The prob­lem is too many cooks, too many mov­ing parts. The Ross­dale plan has done lit­tle but spin its wheels since 2011.

No vi­sion (with fund­ing) has emerged for EPCOR’S enor­mous and long-empty Ross­dale Power Plant — the pro­ject’s key­stone. There’s the wa­ter-treat­ment plant, RE/MAX Field, Indige­nous peo­ple’s an­ces­tral grave­yards and gath­er­ing spots, the com­mu­nity of Ross­dale it­self, real-es­tate de­vel­op­ers sniff­ing around.

Plans have come and gone. Politi­cians keep chang­ing their minds. In­ter­est groups push dif­fer­ing agen­das. As al­ways, ur­ban plan­ners (who ab­hor cars and park­ing) say a gon­dola be­tween Old Strath­cona, Ross­dale and down­town will han­dle trans­porta­tion needs. Good luck with that.

Talk is the city’s road plan­ners — those lovers of mass tran­sit and bi­cy­cles, haters of the con­ve­nience of the pri­vate ve­hi­cle — want to blow up and re-engi­neer the per­fectly good traf­fic pat­terns feed­ing into the down­town from the beau­ti­ful, multi-lane, new Wal­terdale Bridge.

Mean­while, the one com­pleted piece of this puz­zle — the $24 mil­lion cityrun fu­nic­u­lar — is fre­quently closed be­cause of cold-weather is­sues (they didn’t know?) or (sur­prise, sur­prise) van­dal­ism.

Good projects, all. But any in­com­ing pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment with any sense of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity — given fall­ing revenue, sky­rock­et­ing debt and ever-in­creas­ing health and ed­u­ca­tion costs — will have to de­fer non-es­sen­tial spend­ing for years to come.

Squawk away, big-spend­ing, big-city may­ors Don Iveson and Na­heed Nen­shi. It will do no good. Some of these projects will just have to wait, be­cause the only so­lu­tion to Al­berta’s deep­en­ing fi­nan­cial straits is short-term pain for long-term gain.


The lat­est pro­posal for Ice Dis­trict is spe­cial light­ing for the tow­ers.

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