Edmonton Notes for 8/31/2014

Happy long weekend! Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

97 Street Night Market
97 Street Night Market

Upcoming Events

Symphony in the City
Symphony in the City, see more here

Daryl Katz finally reveals some information about the Edmonton Arena District

At a media briefing attended by a select few journalists on Thursday, Daryl Katz finally revealed some information about the Edmonton Arena District. The event was timed to coincide with the launch of the new district website that has lots of photos, videos, and other information about the project. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Downtown Arena Press Conference

He pitched the journalists on the scale of the project and the impact it’ll have on Edmonton, and judging by the words that were written, it sounds like he did a convincing job. But incredibly, Katz also talked about an apparent lack of knowledge about the district:

“We have a world-class sports and entertainment district under construction now in the city and nobody really knows about it.”

Surely he doesn’t think Edmontonians lack awareness about the district. There have been lots of opportunities to hear or read mention of it. For instance, the phrase “arena district” was mentioned in 251 Edmonton Journal articles since 2008. We just had a big flashy launch for the new Stantec tower. Before that there was the new City of Edmonton tower. People at least know that there’s this thing called the “arena district”.

So he must mean that no one knows about the specifics of the district. The overall design of the project, what it will include, that sort of thing. We still don’t know all that information. So the question is, why? Because Daryl Katz and his associates have never wanted to talk about it.

It’s not like the question was never asked. Despite it being critical for the CRL which will help to fund the arena, no one from the Katz Group has ever been willing to say much about the arena district. That’s why journalists couldn’t find anyone who was participating in the project. Whenever the question came up, the answer was always, “we’re not going to talk about the district today.” Only very recently did that become, “we will be providing details on [the district] soon.” If there’s a lack of knowledge about the project, that’s entirely because the Katz Group refused to share any information about it.

Daryl Katz

I understand that Daryl Katz wants to try to control the message as much as possible, and that’s his prerogative. But to lament that no one knows about it after intentionally keeping everyone in the dark? That’s rich.

Edmonton’s population rises to 877,926

Mayor Don Iveson announced the results of the 2014 Municipal Census this morning, revealing that Edmonton’s population has grown by 7.39% since 2012 to a total of 877,926. That means we’ve added a population the size of St. Albert over the last two years, which is incredibly significant growth for a city of our size.

Edmonton Municipal Census 2014

Edmonton has grown by nearly 100,000 people over the last five years, and is on track to reach the 1 million mark by the end of the decade.

“Edmonton’s population growth indicates that we are a city of opportunity,” says Mayor Don Iveson. “Significant growth in the working-age population puts Edmonton in a good position for the long term. While our economic stability, educational opportunities and quality of life attract newcomers to Edmonton, we face pressure to manage our growth responsibly and effectively.”

In the last ten years, Edmonton has grown by more than 175,000 people, and the pace of growth seems to be accelerating.

2014 census growth

Edmonton is one of the youngest cities in North America, with an average age of about 35, the same as our Mayor. The single largest age group is 20-25, followed closely by 30-34, which account for a combined 17.2% of Edmonton’s population. “This is a population profile that any city would envy,” said John Rose, the City of Edmonton’s Chief Economist.

2014 census gender and age

We’re an evenly split city in terms of gender, with 49.5% of the population identified as female and 50.5% identified as male. Unfortunately, the census does not offer any options for transgender individuals.

2014 census marital status

We’re also fairly evenly split between single and married and Edmontonians.

Edmonton’s population is growing all across the city, but nine of the top ten fastest growing neighbourhoods over the last five years are in the south. Summerside, The Hamptons, Windermere, Ambleside, and Tamarack are all examples of fast growing neighbourhoods. Sixty mature neighbourhoods and forty-seven established neighbourhoods gained in population. A total of forty-four established neighbourhoods and thirty-nine mature neighbourhoods experienced a population loss over the last five years. Every ward gained in population, with Ward 9 and Ward 12 showing the strongest growth.

2014 census neighbourhoods

The population of Downtown now stands at 13,148, an increase of 7.8%. That signals significantly faster growth than the neighbourhood was experiencing previously, as it grew just 5.4% between 2009 and 2012.

2014 census employment status

Edmonton continues to have low unemployment, with 54.2% of Edmontonians employed, 25.0% in some sort of schooling, and 12.2% retired. Just 3% reported being unemployed.

2014 census transportation

A smaller percentage of Edmontonians are driving to work than in 2012, with carpooling and transit use seeing modest increases. The caveat is that groups aged between 12 and 18 and over 65 were included in the 2014 census and were not included in the 2012 census, so the difference is probably smaller than the numbers would suggest. Edmontonians continue to primarily drive to work.

We continue to live primarily in single detached houses, with 59.8% of Edmontonians reporting that as their dwelling type. As for the primary language spoken in homes across the city? Overwhelmingly, it’s English. The next most common languages are French, Tagalog, Cantonese, and Punjabi.

2014 census language

The City also asked how households access information regarding City services. More than 25% use the City website, with newspapers, radio, and 311 as the next most popular methods.

2014 census resource access

This year, the census was conducted online as well as door-to-door. The City says about a third of respondents used the web-based option. Those individuals had the opportunity to answer one extra question, which was which additional sources or channels they’d like to use to receive information about City services. Overwhelming, email was the most popular response.

I’ll be digging into the results further over the next couple of days, and you can too – the City has made 58 datasets available in the Open Data Catalog. You can read my post about the 2012 Municipal Census here.

The next municipal census will take place in April 2016.

Stantec looks to the future with its new tower in downtown Edmonton

The story behind downtown Edmonton’s new Stantec tower isn’t just about the arena, it’s about an Edmonton success story making a bold bet on the future of our city. Stantec is the largest architecture company in Canada, and they build communities all around the world from right here in Edmonton. They’re an important part of both our city’s history and its future.

Keith Shillington

“People know Stantec, but they don’t know Stantec,” Keith Shillington told me over coffee at Credo on 104 Street, just a few blocks from where the new tower will rise. “This is an opportunity to tell the story.”

From Dr. Stanley to Stantec

Stantec began life in 1954 as Stanley Associates, founded by Dr. Don Stanley. The company grew very successfully until the National Energy Program in 1983 hit the firm hard, forcing major layoffs. But they weathered that storm and rebounded in a big way. By the 1990s, the company’s various assets were brought under the umbrella of Stanley Technology Group, and in 1994 the company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In 1998, Tony Franceshini became President and CEO and he launched the Stantec brand. He also articulated a goal for the company: to become a billion-dollar company by 2008. He retired that year having achieved his goal.

Today the company has about 14,000 staff working in more than 230 locations all around the world. The company is listed on both the TSX and NYSE and boasted revenue of more than $1.8 billion in 2013. And under current President & CEO Bob Gomes, Stantec has a new goal: to be a top 10 global design firm. His message on the website recognizes the firm’s rich history and its bright future:

“We take pride in a long history of being part of the communities we serve. We started in 1954 as a one-person firm founded in Edmonton by Dr. Don Stanley. Today we are a public company with a diverse portfolio of clients across many sectors and geographies, both in North America and internationally.”

You can learn much more about the evolution of Stantec on their website.

The search for a new home

Last year, Stantec began the search for a new home in Edmonton. The company currently has about 1,700 local employees spread across four different offices: Stantec Centre at 10160 112 Street, the Devonian office at 11160 Jasper Avenue, the Scotia Place office at 10060 Jasper Avenue, and the Bell Tower office at 10120 103 Avenue. Leases on all of those spaces come due by 2019, making it the ideal time to start thinking about consolidation.

Stantec Centre

The requirements Stantec outlined were vague. At least 300,000 square feet of space, good transit and transportation links, and good amenities. The location was not specified, with the company open to either downtown or suburban proposals, a position that led to great alarm among downtown supporters at the thought of losing one of our city’s major employers.

Keith led the team that undertook the search and ultimately selected the tower that was unveiled yesterday. He’s a Senior Vice President at Stantec, and in company parlance, Keith is a Geographic Leader of the Canadian Prairies and Regional Leader of Alberta North. He’s an Edmontonian, and a proud one.

“Imagine the statement it would have made if we had gone to the suburbs,” he said, saying that while the company stayed open to all possibilities throughout the search, their “hearts were downtown.” In all, Stantec looked at 15 proposals for a new space, 9 of which were located in the downtown area. “They really blew us away,” he said, noting the decision was not easy. “It was fun as an Edmontonian to see the possibilities.”

An iconic building?

When Stantec announced that the search for a new space was beginning, Keith spoke to the Journal about the company’s requirements. At the time, he made a surprising comment about the design of the new building:

“Again, it’s going to depend on what comes back and what developers are prepared to do to meet our needs, but to be honest, are we looking for the iconic ‘wow’”? he asked. “That’s actually not Stantec. That’s not our culture.”

He told me the comment caused quite a bit of discussion internally. “Boy did I hear about that from our design folks!” Still, he maintained that being iconic wasn’t the goal. “Iconic was not written into the RFP,” he said. “Height was not as important to us as having the right space for our staff.”

Keith talked a lot about meeting the needs of staff. For three years straight, Stantec has been named one of Alberta’s Top Employers, and it shows. The new building includes enough space not only for the roughly 1,700 current employees, but also includes room for growth. “It shows confidence in our future,” Keith said. They’re not ready to talk about the interiors yet, but there’s no doubt the design will be geared toward ensuring Stantec has a healthy, happy workforce.

Connected to the community

The new building needed to meet the needs of Stantec and its staff of course, but the company also wanted it to have an impact on the community. “It had to have meaning,” Keith told me. “It couldn’t be just another building.”

I asked him to elaborate on that in the context of Stantec’s culture. “Connected,” is the word he used. “Our connection with the community is strongest when we’re downtown.” He pointed to the existing office on 112 Street as an example. “It’s about the street,” he said, noting the company has programmed 112 Street for all sorts of events for staff. They’ve hosted extremely popular food truck gatherings, for instance. That connection to the street is one of the things that attracted Stantec to the arena district. “The plaza allows us to continue that tradition,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Another interesting aspect of the new tower is the residential component, which will fill the top 33 floors. “It wasn’t originally in the plan,” Keith told me, “but we were open to the possibilities.” It’s another way for Stantec to be connected with the community they’re located in. They’ve done something similar with their new offices in Winnipeg (which features a hotel instead of residential units).

The downtown advantage

Stantec is a major supporter of downtown already, with its existing offices and through its people. For instance, both Keith and Stantec VP Simon O’Byrne are members of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force. But the company knew a tower provided an opportunity to do more.

Keith said there were many reasons that being downtown made sense for Stantec. “LRT was a big factor,” Keith said, and admitted it was why some of the other downtown proposals were ultimately ruled out. Being located close to multiple LRT connections was just too appealing. “Cycling routes are also very important,” he said.

Many of the firm’s clients are located downtown and many staff already live there. “Over 50% of our staff are under the age of 35,” he said, noting that increasingly they want to live in the middle of the action. He said being downtown was “a big factor” in thinking about retaining and attracting staff. The trend in cities like Toronto has been for companies to move their offices back into the core from the suburbs, specifically to better tap into the large pool of young, highly educated workers that want to live centrally.

Then of course, there’s the arena district. With the new City of Edmonton tower, a rumored hotel, the arena itself, and potentially more announcements on the way, it’s shaping up to be an exciting area for years to come. If we can pay for it, that is. Keith and the team at Stantec knew they could have a major positive impact by building their tower within the boundary of the CRL, which is a key part of the financing for the arena. “It’s another way for us to support downtown,” he said.

A lasting impact on Edmonton

There’s no question the new building will have a visible impact on Edmonton, dramatically altering the skyline for years to come. But Keith wants the building to change more than just the skyline. “I hope we can inspire others to do more,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunities in front of us.”

“We love what’s going on here in Edmonton, and we want to be part of it.”

Edmonton will officially join the skyscraper club with Stantec’s new tower

Stantec today unveiled their new headquarters, a 62-storey tower that will be built on the corner of 102 Street and 103 Avenue right in the heart of the Edmonton Arena District. Along with the Katz Group, WAM Development Group, and City of Edmonton, Stantec shared details on the new building which will be the tallest in Edmonton and one of the tallest in western Canada.

Stantec Tower

As expected, the new building will open directly into the public plaza in the Edmonton Arena District, and is being considered the “anchor” project. Construction on the $500 million project will begin this fall, with the new building slated to open in the summer of 2018.

It was back in June that City Council officially removed the Airport Protection Overlay, clearing the way for buildings higher than 150 meters to be possible. That height is significant. A building is generally considered a “high-rise” until it reaches 150m, at which point it becomes a skyscraper, at least according to most definitions. As of April 2013, there were 90 such buildings in Canada: Toronto has 56, Calgary has 16, Montreal has 9, Vancouver has 4, Mississauga has 2, and Niagara Falls and Burnaby each have 1. With the new Stantec tower, Edmonton will officially become a member of the skyscraper club!

Stantec Tower

The new tower will rise to 224 meters (or 746 feet), though officials today clarified that it could still rise higher. The design features 26 floors of offices and could accommodate another 2 floors if the market demand makes adding them feasible. The building will also include approximately 320 residential units taking up 33 residential floors. Another 2 floors are mechanical, and the first floor will feature retail.

“This new building will revolutionize the downtown landscape in Edmonton and will set expectations for future buildings in the city,” said Darren Durstling, President and CEO of WAM Development Group. “This tower is being designed, engineered and project managed entirely by Stantec, showcasing their vast capabilities and experience.”

The new building will have a dramatic effect on Edmonton’s skyline when it opens. The current tallest building in the city is EPCOR Tower, which rises to 149 meters (490 feet). Manulife Place, which was the tallest structure in Edmonton for 28 years, rises to 146 meters (480 feet). Down in Calgary, the iconic Bow tower rises to 236 meters (774 feet).

Stantec unveils new tower

Daryl Katz said the new tower will “set the tone for new buildings in Edmonton for years to come.” He called it “an extraordinary addition” to Edmonton’s skyline. Mayor Don Iveson joked, “I’m a tall guy, but I am intimidated by this!” He highlighted the building’s impact on Edmonton, saying it will transform our city’s image across the country. “This is an indication of what the power of investment in our downtown can do,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Stantec is taking about 450,000 square feet of the new building, or approximately 19 floors. They have signed a 15 year lease which of course includes naming rights (the official name is yet to be revealed). Today’s announcement was hosted at Stantec’s head office on 112 Street, one of four local offices that will be consolidated into the new building. Dozens of Stantec staffers were on hand to witness the unveiling.

“We are proud to have both our people and our designer’s work play a role in enhancing the vibrancy of the Edmonton Arena District,” said Bob Gomes, president and CEO of Stantec.

You can see Gomes and WAM President & CEO Darren Durstling literally press a button to reveal the new building with this GIF. Stantec Senior VP Keith Shillington said “our hearts were downtown” while acknowledging the proposal received some stiff competition.

Stantec unveils new tower

I am very excited about this building. Stantec, one of Edmonton’s biggest success stories, is making a significant commitment to the future of our downtown. On top of that, this building is the first major private project in the Edmonton Arena District. During the press conference, Mayor Iveson did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to suggest that if Manulife Place currently contributes about $3 million in annual tax revenue, the new Stantec tower could contribute $4-5 million into the CRL. That’s extremely significant. Just as the Bow tower “paid for” the Rivers CRL in Calgary, the Stantec tower makes the success of the downtown CRL much more likely. And hopefully it’ll allow us to attract even more private investment. For me, the “district” just became real.

Stantec Tower

If you look closely in the renderings, you’ll see a building directly to the north that features the word “hotel” across the top. I understand that the next big announcement for the Edmonton Arena District will include details on the hotel. It’s a very exciting time for downtown Edmonton!

You can see more photos from today’s announcement here.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #124

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

bt block party
BT Edmonton’s Block Party! Photo courtesy Lincoln Ho Yegventures. See more photos of the Block Party here.

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 8/24/2014

Well that was a busy weekend! Both the 97 Street Night Market and the ImMACulate Garden Party were fun, thanks to everyone who attended! For Sharon and I, there’s now just one big What the Truck?! event before our September wedding. Check out some engagement photos we took with Moments in Digital Photography here.

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Edmonton City Centre
Edmonton City Centre, photo by IQRemix

Upcoming Events

2014 Fringe Performers Parade
2014 Fringe Performers Parade, photo by Robert

Edmonton should eliminate the RF1 zone to advance infill development

City Council should eliminate the RF1 zone and rezone all of those areas to RF3. Such a move would raise the base zoning for residential neighbourhoods across the city, moving the discussion around accommodating Edmonton’s growth from “how does infill fit in” to “infill is a key part of our entire city’s future, let’s make it work.” Such a decision would make it clear that the entire city needs to evolve together as we grow.

This is not a new idea. It has been proposed before, such as by the Infill Development Edmonton Association. More recently, Councillor Michael Walters has been in the news, making the case for increasing density throughout the city rather than just in specific neighbourhoods:

“We’ve created this sense of entitlement that my neighbourhood is a single-family neighbourhood. No infill should be permitted here,” said Walters. “I don’t think that any neighbourhood is entitled to have low density.”

As long as the majority of our mature neighbourhoods are zoned RF1, we’ll always have an “us vs. them” problem. I mean, just look at what one Kenilworth resident told The Journal:

“Duplexes? No, we don’t want that,” added June Lunn, who moved in five years ago. “Those kind of things are low income. I think older neighbourhoods should just be left how they are. That’s why we live here. If you can’t afford it, go elsewhere,” she added. “I’m not trying to be rude, but we work hard for where we live.”

Entitlement and NIMBYism at its finest. But this isn’t just about building an inclusive city. This is about accommodating the amazing growth Edmonton is experiencing and is projected to continue experiencing. Suburban neighbourhoods alone just aren’t going to cut it. Mayor Iveson wrote about this today:

“We simply can’t continue to build our city and accommodate our growth by developing new neighbourhoods alone. Our suburban neighbourhoods provide great homes, communities and amenities for Edmontonians, but they can’t be the only place where Edmonton’s growth and change occurs. The way we’ll continue to be able to grow a great city in a strong region is by enabling diverse housing options across our entire city. Infill is a crucial piece in building up our established neighbourhoods and further embracing the urban shift that is already underway in Edmonton.”

Infill

The fact is, Edmonton is behind on one of the key goals set forth in The Way We Grow, Edmonton’s municipal development plan. The plan targets that “a minimum of 25 percent of city-wide housing unit growth locate in the Downtown and mature neighbourhoods” and near LRT and transit centres. That’s infill, and while it is happening, it isn’t happening quickly enough. We’re no where close to 25% and without some sort of bold action, we’ll never get there.

As a result, the City has now published its first major report on the topic. Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is “a two year work plan to advance infill.” Many speakers today described the roadmap as “a good start” and felt it adequately captured the public consultation that went on during its development. But the sentiment was clearly that it doesn’t go far enough.

The roadmap identifies 23 actions, including 8 that the City considers priority actions to begin immediately. “They are key activities that are needed to remove barriers to the development of more new housing and to proactively manage growth,” the roadmap says. The actions are broadly categorized into communication, collaboration, knowledge, rules, and process. As is typical with these kinds of reports, the actions are mostly baby steps, especially those in the rules category.

Action 15 says, “change the RF1 (single detached) zone to allow the subdivision of properties into narrower lots that are half the average width of the other lots on the block (but not less than 25 feet wide).” Action 16 says, “create more opportunities for row housing in the RF3 (small scale infill development) zone by removing location restrictions and changing the site regulations that currently limit this form of infill on RF3 lots.”

Council could just let the roadmap run its course, and maybe learn from that to agree on the next set of actions in two years. And eventually, after many years, we’d have transformed the RF1 zone into something that better enables infill. But I think Council needs to be bolder. The time for baby steps is over.

rf3 zones

There are just 16 neighbourhoods that currently feature predominately RF3 zoning. The vast majority of our neighbourhoods are zoned RF1. But as Administration readily admitted today, RF1 is no longer relevant. It’s just not how we develop neighbourhoods anymore. New areas of the city feature greater diversity than just single detached homes, and have higher density than mature, RF1 neighbourhoods as a result. If the RF1 zone is no longer relevant, then why keep it around?

Moving the baseline to RF3 is not a silver bullet. It also doesn’t mean that every new home built is going to be a townhouse. But it does remove a key barrier to infill, and it does make the desired mix of housing possible. It would allow land prices to stabilize, making infill more affordable.

Ambleside
Medium density housing in Ambleside

Council repeatedly asked the two panels of speakers today for advice on how to get the public onside with more infill and any potential zoning changes. They talked about “social acceptance” and noted they’re the ones that field the angry calls.

Here’s the thing: some people are going to complain no matter what you do. There will always be the June Lunn’s of the world. As was pointed out in response to Council’s questions, waiting to get everyone on board prevents action. You’ll never get everyone on board. It’s important to keep the dialogue ongoing of course, and to give Edmontonians an opportunity to be heard. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep pressing pause. Take action, and clearly inform citizens about why that decision was made and what it means. Council was elected to make the best decisions on behalf of citizens for our city’s future, and if that means infill throughout the city, then let’s get on with it already.

Today, Executive Committee passed a couple of motions to move this work forward. First, they asked for a report “outlining options to overhaul our suite of low density zones (RF1-RF4)” which could include consolidation, changes to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, and information about incentives that could be offered to support increased densification. We should hear back on that in January. Second, they voted to allow garage and garden suites and to change RF1 to allow narrower lots not less than 25 feet wide. A public hearing on the changes will take place by January. Furthermore, they asked for an update on progress with the Edmonton Infill Roadmap by March 2015.

That’s all good, and as we head into a very busy capital budget season, it’s probably enough for now. But I’d like to see Council go further when they pick this back up in the new year. Let’s get rid of the RF1 zone, either by rezoning those areas to RF3, or by coming up with a new consolidated zone to achieve our infill objectives. Let’s take a bold step forward.

For more on today’s discussion, check out this post from Elise Stolte.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #123

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 8/17/2014

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Edmonton Latin Festival
Edmonton Latin Festival, photo by IQRemix

Upcoming Events

2014 FIFA U20 Women's World Cup: Canada vs. Germany
2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup: Canada vs. Germany, photo by Andrew Bates