City Council endorses phased approach to Edmonton Galleria project, but many questions remain

The long-discussed Galleria project received a fresh injection of life today after Council threw its support behind a phased approach that would see the $1 billion project constructed through 2020. The item was up at Executive Committee again after last year’s request by Council to find a way to lower the risk to the City.

Galleria

The Galleria project consists of the same components today as it did then: four performing arts theatres (1600 seat theatre, 650 seat theatre/concert hall, 200 seat theatre, 200 seat recital hall); the relocation of the University of Alberta’s School of Music, Department of Art & Design, and one other department; construction of an office tower; development of a covered public galleria; and commercial and retail opportunities. The difference is that now it’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Today’s decision by Council to endorse a phased approach means the project backers can seek funding from the other orders of government. It also means in theory that certain triggers must be met before the City needs to spend any money, the first of which is agreeing to a memorandum of understanding in September and giving final approval to the City’s financial contribution.

So how much would the City be on the hook for?

“The total project costs outlined in this report that would be the responsibility of the City total $58.3 million. When factoring in interest charges on the amounts that are eligible to be borrowed for, the total expected cash expenditure for the City is estimated at $75.2 million.”

It sounds like any City money would come with strings attached too: “The release of city funds would be dependent on EDAC achieving certain milestones including the securing of a tenant in commercial/residential development with income sufficient to cover the capital and operating commitments of the Foundation.” That’s a much better approach than they took with the arena. For now they’ve approved $7.5 million for the pedway between Churchill LRT Station and the Royal Alberta Museum.

As I mentioned last year, I’m fine with the land acquisitions the City would be making. That’s probably a wise investment whether the Galleria project goes ahead or not. But there are still too many questions outstanding for me to support this project.

Provincial or Federal funding

The Galleria project is only going to move forward if funding from the other orders of government can be secured, and that’s far from guaranteed.

We saw absolutely zero interest from the PCs in supporting the project, even with Irv & Dianne Kipnes as donors, so I don’t see why the NDP would be any more likely to support it. The Provincial government has stuck to its hard line against funding the downtown arena, and I’d be surprised to see them all of a sudden come to the table on the Galleria.

On the federal side, Mayor Iveson has said that Council has received “mixed signals” and that he’d be surprised if the project could secure any federal funding at all. It has not been easy to get money out of Ottawa. Council had to agree to a P3 in order to get federal funding for the LRT, for instance.

Furthermore, the reality is that the City and specifically Council is going to have to go to bat for the project if the Province or the Feds are going to pony up anything at all. And that begs the question, is this really the project you want to burn important political capital on? Is this more important than the City Charter, LRT, poverty elimination, or any of the other significant priorities Edmonton has?

Lack of support from the Arts Community

Crickets. That’s what we’ve heard from most arts organizations about the Galleria project, at least publicly. Privately many have argued against the project, but the Kipnes are powerful enemies to attract.

A purpose-built opera house would undoubtedly be a good thing for the Edmonton Opera. It’s probably the most expensive art form in the world. For example, the Jubilee is effectively dark for about 90 nights a year to stage just 3 or 4 opera performances because of the construction and rehearsal time that each one takes. That’s a lot of lost revenue when you consider that events like “The Book of Mormon” can arrive and be setup in a day and will nearly always sell out.

Without hearing from other organizations, how can we be sure the proposed four theatres would meet the need that exists in the arts community? How much of the new Galleria space would be open and available to other arts organizations? How often would it be unavailable thanks to either opera or University of Alberta use? What costs or other requirements would go along with use?

Perhaps those details are yet to be finalized and that’s why it is difficult for arts organizations to decide whether or not to support the project. But it’s not a good sign that the arts community at large has been so quiet on the project.

Breaking up the University of Alberta

With MacEwan and NorQuest consolidating their campuses downtown, I can understand that perhaps the University of Alberta feels a little left out, but breaking up its own campus doesn’t seem like a wise move. For years it was pretty clear in all U of A long range plans that a downtown campus was not in the best interests of the university or its students. The South Campus vision was the preferred approach, allowing for a more connected campus.

There has been some vague lip service paid to the fact that being connected via the LRT to all other post secondary institutions would be a beneficial thing, but as soon as the Metro Line opens we’ll already have that. No need for a new campus.

Innovation doesn’t seem to be happening by segregation. The most interesting and powerful ideas that are changing the world are coming from interdisciplinary efforts. Why separate the arts from the science and engineering part of the university?

Furthermore, what impact would a downtown arts campus for the U of A have on MacEwan’s new Centre for Arts and Culture? Does it make sense to have two arts campuses so close to one another?

More empty space left behind

Look up and you see cranes. Look around on ground level and you’ll see a bunch of empty space.

We’re coming up on four years since the EPCOR Tower opened, the first new office tower built downtown since 1990. Originally known as “Station Lands Tower A”, the building still to this day has empty, unused space (such as the entire 16th floor where the recent downtown event was held). The other buildings that were slated to be part of the Station Lands development have never materialized.

The old EPCOR tower, rebranded First & Jasper, still has plenty of empty space, such as most of the ground level commercial. Even Edmonton’s premier downtown street, 104 Street, is home to its share of vacancies. The old Carbon space near 102 Avenue remains empty as does the old Sobey’s on the corner of Jasper Avenue, one of the most visible – and in theory attractive – locations in all of Edmonton.

All of this space is empty today, before development has really gotten underway. What will happen when the City of Edmonton offices consolidate into the new tower? Scotia Place, HSBC, Century Place, and other buildings are going to have a lot of vacancies. What about when Stantec consolidates into its new tower? All of its existing offices will need new tenants. What happens to City Centre when the new hotel and theatre open in the arena district? It’s already struggling to keep retailers.

In fact, a Cushman and Wakefield report suggests that by the end of 2017, Edmonton’s office vacancy rate could reach 17%, the highest in the country.

I’m all for getting rid of additional parking lots, but where’s the demand for yet another office tower? Especially one that needs to generate revenue to help fund the project.

Competition with the Edmonton Arena District

So far the Katz Group has been publicly supportive of the Galleria but I have no doubt that would change if their significant real estate investments came under threat. There’s simply too much money at stake.

The arena deal is done and for better or worse the Downtown CRL depends on it. So as taxpayers, we need that project to be successful. Does it really make sense to build a competitive project right next door? Another office tower to fill, with additional retail spaces that need to attract patrons? Proponents of the Galleria would argue that the project will drive significant additional traffic to the area but I find their estimates unrealistic and I’ve not see any new data that would change my mind.

Plus we’d have yet another big, open public space to program or have sit empty. Is there really a need for Churchill Square, the EAD square, and a public galleria?

A holistic decision needs to be made

I completely understand that when someone comes forward with $50 million as the philanthropists behind the Galleria project have, there’s a desire on the part of Council to leverage that money. Acquiring funding for projects is hard and having private money brought to the table is a huge help and doesn’t happen every day. But just because you come to the table with money doesn’t mean that your project should go ahead.

Galleria

Council needs to decide not only if the Galleria itself is a good project, but whether it is going to bring a positive, net benefit to downtown and to Edmonton as a whole. Does Edmonton need the Galleria right now? Will it have a positive impact, without negatively impacting the other major projects we have underway?

With so many big questions still unanswered, I remain unconvinced that Edmonton should support the Galleria project.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #156

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Swearing-in ceremony 4310
Check out all the cameras!

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 5/24/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

SwearingIn25
Swearing In, by Premier of Alberta

Upcoming Events

We had a great kickoff to our 2015 What the Truck?! season yesterday in Churchill Square! Couldn’t have asked for better weather. We’ll have a recap up tomorrow but in the meantime, here’s one from Cindy. Thank you to the thousands of Edmontonians who came! Our next event will take place on June 14 on Capital Boulevard.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square
What the Truck?! at Churchill Square, more here

Your Guide to Summer Festivals & Events in Edmonton: 2015 Edition!

It looks like summer is here to stay, and that means it’s time for my listing of summer festivals & events, powered by ShareEdmonton. Below you’ll find dozens of events with a website, dates, and links to social media for each. You’ll also find a link to the event at ShareEdmonton and a link to an iCal for the event. I hope you find this listing as useful as I do.

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What the Truck?! by @DaveFeltham

Festivals

Here’s my list of 50+ festivals and events you can look forward to this summer in and around Edmonton!

Event Dates Links
NUOVA Opera & Music Theatre Festival May 22 – July 4 SE     
What the Truck?! May 23 & more! SE    
International Children’s Festival May 26-30 SE    
Edmonton International Cat Festival May 30 SE   
Oliver Community Festival May 30 SE  
eek! Comic & Pop Culture Fest May 30-31 SE   
Bikeology Festival (Bike Month) June 1-30 SE    
NextGen Month June 1-30 SE   
Creative Age Festival June 4-6 SE   
Mercer Summer Super Party June 5 SE 
Edmonton Craft Beer Festival June 5-6 SE    
Nextfest June 5-15 SE  
Edmonton Pride Festival June 5-14 SE   
Edmonton Pride Parade June 6 @ 11am SE   
Bonnie Fest June 6 SE   
Heart of the City Festival June 6-7 SE    
Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids June 6-7 SE 
Improvaganza June 17-27 SE   
Summer Solstice Festival June 18-21 SE    
Beaumont Blues & Roots Festival June 19-21 SE   
Porkapalooza BBQ Festival June 19-21 SE    
Edmonton International Jazz Festival June 19-28 SE   
The Works Art & Design Festival June 19 – July 1 SE  
Highlandia Festival June 20 SE   
Freewill Shakespeare Festival June 23 – July 19 SE    
Street Jam Festival June 25 SE  
Found Festival June 25-28 SE   
Kick It Up in Little Italy! June 27 SE   
Pets in the Park June 28 SE 
BaconFestYEG June 30 SE   
Canada Day July 1 SE 
Feats Festival of Dance July 1-12 SE    
Edmonton International Street Performers Festival July 3-12 SE   
Seven Music Festival July 4 SE   
Historic Festival & Doors Open Edmonton July 5-12 SE   
Taste of Edmonton July 16-25 SE    
K-Days July 17-26 SE     
K-Days Parade July 17 @ 10am SE     
Interstellar Rodeo July 24-26 SE   
Servus Heritage Festival August 1-3 SE   
Rock’n August August 4-8 SE  
Edmonton Folk Music Festival August 6-9 SE    
Animethon August 7-9 SE     
Cariwest August 7-9 SE   
Cariwest Parade August 8 @ 12pm SE   
Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival August 13-23 SE    
Edmonton Rock Music Festival August 14-15 SE  
Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival August 14-16 SE  
Edmonton Latin Festival August 15-16 SE  
Edmonton Blues Festival August 21-23 SE 
Edmonton Airshow August 22-23 SE     
Symphony Under the Sky August 27-30 SE    
Symphony in the City September 4-5 SE    
SONiC BOOM September 5-6 SE    
Ignite Edmonton Festival September 9-10 SE   
Kaleido Family Arts Festival September 11-13 SE   

You can check out a calendar view of festivals here or you can download the iCal feed for your own apps.

FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015

Edmonton is always a great place for summer sports, but this year is special. Edmonton is one of the official host cities for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. We’ll host 11 matches this summer from June 6 through July 5, including the kickoff match between Canada and China. There’s a Team Canada Fan March taking place before the game too, from Borden Park to Commonwealth Stadium. In addition to the group matches, we’re hosting two Round of 16 matches, one quarter-final match, one semi-final match, and the third place match. You can see all of the matches on ShareEdmonton.

The City of Edmonton will be showing some of the games on a huge outdoor screen in Centennial Plaza (behind the Stanley Milner Library downtown). Ticket prices range from $20 to $115 and include bus, LRT, or park & ride service to and from the game. There are a few contests you can enter too. For example, Edmonton Tourism is giving away 60 tickets.

Happy Summer in Edmonton

There are of course many more events listed in the ShareEdmonton calendar, so check it out! Have I missed something that should be included? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.

Happy summer!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #155

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

pro hockey day
Photo by Lincoln Ho

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 5/17/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Marbleopolis
Marbleopolis, photo by Grempz

Upcoming Events

City Hall Express
The new City Hall Express van

Coming up at City Council: May 18-22, 2015

With the provincial election and other things on the go, I haven’t posted a Council update in a couple weeks! Below I’ll cover what’s coming up next week, plus a few notes about what Council has been up to over the last couple of weeks. You can find my previous roundups here.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

May 4-8, 2015

Council started the week with a Community Services Committee meeting. Here are the highlights:

On Tuesday they held an Executive Committee meeting. Here are the highlights:

And finally on Wednesday they held a Transportation Committee meeting. Here are the highlights:

May 11-15, 2015

This was a fairly light week in terms of meetings. There was an LRT Governance Board meeting on Monday which focused on private updates for the Valley Line LRT project. And on Wednesday there was an Executive Committee meeting that focused on two 2016-2018 business plans: Office of the City Manager, and Sustainable Development.

Wednesday May 18, 2015

With Monday, May 18 being Victoria Day and thus a long weekend, Council has an abbreviated week coming up with just two meetings, both scheduled for Wednesday. Council will start with a special Community Services meeting in the morning, followed by a City Council meeting in the afternoon. The agendas are both short, with just three items total.

2016-2018 Edmonton Police Service Business Plan

This draft business plan is another step on the way to finalizing the 2016-2018 Operating Budget. The City says it serves three objectives:

  • It is a decision-making tool designed to assist the Edmonton Police Commission and City Council with the 2016-2018 Operating Budget.
  • It is a high level business planning tool for the Edmonton Police Service to focus on future critical resource planning and allocation.
  • This plan sets out for each Bureau the major activities planned, their alignment to the strategic goals of the Edmonton Police Service and the expected performance measures.

The document is 92 pages long and outlines goals, measures, risks, and financial impacts for the entire service and for each of its bureaus. Here is what the organizational structure looks like:

Here are some of the performance measures identified:

  • Reduce Edmonton’s Crime Severity Index (CSI) by 2.0 points annually from a benchmark of 93.34 in 2013.
  • Achieve annual reductions in the four violent crime indicators (homicide, sexual assault, assault, robbery).
  • Achieve annual reductions in social disorder incidents, which are composed of 17 specific disorder-type events like mischief or prostitution.
  • Achieve 5% annual increase in Domestic Offender Management Checks from 2014 levels.
  • Achieve 2% annual increase in Domestic Violence Victim Interventions from 2014 levels.
  • Achieve annual reductions in the four property crime indicators (break & enter, theft from vehicle, theft of vehicle, theft over $5,000).
  • Achieve 2% annual decrease in traffic corridor/intersection collisions.
  • Achieve annual increases in gang disruptions from 2015 levels.
  • Achieve 43% weighted clearance rate or greater.
  • Respond to 80% or more of priority 1 events within 7 minutes.
  • Dedicate 25% or more of patrol shift work to prevention, intervention, or suppression based activities.
  • Conclude 75% or more of public complaints investigations within 6 months.

For the 2016-2018 period, EPS has identified the following major challenges:

  • Violence Reduction – “As detailed in the Violence Reduction Strategy, this goal is directly related to reducing crime and victimization and promoting investigative excellence through prevention, intervention or suppression activities.”
  • General Growth of Edmonton – “Continuing growth in all areas of the city is expected with the approval of three new area structure plans (Horse Hill, Riverview and Decoteau), the development of other new neighbourhoods and mature neighbourhood redevelopment.”
  • Revitalization of Downtown Edmonton – “Significant projects in the Downtown area are attracting people to live, work and play downtown. A safe, secure place for the public to interact and enjoy these new amenities is important.”
  • Potential Annexation – “The EPS will take on significant new responsibilities and challenges including policing highways 2 and 19 and the international airport. To police these adequately, the EPS will need to increase overall sworn member strength and begin recruitment approximately 20 months prior to annexation. Information provided to the EPS from City Administration is that annexation is now anticipated to occur as early as 2018. An initial ask for 60 sworn resources is therefore anticipated for 2018.”

While the business plan does highlight that “the current fiscal situation of the Province of Alberta is sub-optimal” it doesn’t say enough about the downloading of responsibilities from other orders of government onto EPS, in my opinion. Aside from a few bullet points, there’s just this:

“Decisions made by other orders of government on social policy and funding social programs have a direct and measurable effect on police resources. Of note are program changes or cuts related to mental illness, addictions, homelessness and other vulnerable populations.”

I wish they would have quantified that to some degree. It’s often mentioned by Council as a challenge, but there’s rarely any data presented to back it up.

In terms of financials, EPS anticipates growing from 2419.5 FTEs in 2015 to 2517.0 FTEs in 2018. The net operating requirement is expected to grow from about $280 million in 2015 to $302.6 million in 2018.

City Charter

This item is a private report, so there’s nothing I can point you to for further reading. That said, we know that city charters will be a big topic of discussion for our new provincial NDP government. They committed to incorporating charters as an option in the MGA by the end of 2016. “Alberta’s NDP will support charters as a new legislative framework within the Municipal Government Act to provide greater responsibilities for those municipalities wishing to choose such responsibilities for themselves and their citizens.”

Mayor Iveson said last week that having Rachel Notley and the NDP leading the Province provides “a great opportunity to move ahead” with initiatives like the city charter.

Northlands Update

I’m not sure exactly what this update is about, but I suspect it’s related to the recent news that the Northlands Board of Directors has accepted the recommendations of the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (NASC). City Council will need to be involved and supportive of whatever plan the Northlands management team ultimately puts in place before September 2016, and with the acceptance of the NASC report, Council will now have clarity about what’s on the table.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Recap: 2014 Yeggies

On Saturday night at La Cité francophone the 2014 Edmonton New Media Awards, better known as the Yeggies, were handed out. This was our third annual event and with over 300 nominations across 16 categories, there was a lot of really excellent work to highlight! About 200 Edmontonians filled the room to help celebrate some of our city’s best online content creators.

If you’re reading this blog I’d say it’s a safe bet that you know what the Yeggies are about, but just in case:

“The Edmonton New Media Awards, or the Yeggies, is an annual awards show created to recognize and celebrate outstanding social media content creators in the capital region. It’s an awards show to highlight some of the amazing talent we have here in Edmonton — from people who code websites themselves, to those who write, speak, draw, all on their own time. Yeggies recipients inspire, evoke, inform, educate and entertain us, and they do it because they have a passion for it.”

As you may have heard, Edmonton has a vibrant and strong social media community. The Yeggies are an opportunity to highlight the work being done and to say thanks for providing interesting content for us to enjoy. Not to mention it’s a fun evening of networking, catching up with friends, and putting faces to the Twitter names!

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Adam and Trent were our emcees for the evening and I thought they did a great job. You might say they crossed the line once or twice, but I thought they were hilarious and kept the show running at a great pace! We went with a Back to the Future theme this year, given that 2015 is a very special year in the trilogy. Sadly no one dressed up in Doc Brown’s white radiation suit or Marty McFly’s orange vest, but as has become custom at the Yeggies, most people embraced the “cocktail comfy” dress code. It was a good looking crowd!

We had a very funny standup performance by local comedian Liam Creswick to start the second half of the show. DJ Polyesterday provided the perfect ambiance to the evening. There was food from Cafe Bicyclette, and the bar featured a special “#iheartyeg” cocktail.

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From the full list of nominees, 90 were shortlisted. Our panel of judges then had the difficult task of choosing the winners, based on the quality of their work, their impact on Edmonton, and their ability to build community, among other factors.

Here are the winners for 2014, in order of awarding:

It was great to see so many of the winners in attendance this year. Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners!

I thought Phil Wilson, aka Baconhound, had two great speeches. He acknowledged the loss of BT Edmonton, noting that many people in the room had probably been given a leg up thanks to that show and the great people behind it. And in accepting his award for Best Twitter Persona, Phil recognized the huge impact that Marty Chan has had on Twitter over the last few months, especially during the hashtag election.

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We’ve often joked about having a special lifetime achievement award, but this year it actually made sense to hand one out. Dave Cournoyer has been blogging for more than ten years now at Daveberta.ca, an incredible milestone, and without question he has had a huge impact on Edmonton and Alberta. He’s the go-to source for political news and analysis and for good reason. Dave talked about how he almost gave up on blogging until the Ed Stelmach domain name debacle launched him into the spotlight. I’m glad he kept it up!

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I want to thank the volunteers who helped us out during the show, including Carol, Julie, Lindsey, and Sharon. We couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you also to our sponsors for helping to make the evening a success: TELUS, EEDC, Kiwi Productions, Northlands, EIA, Copy City, All About Flowers, Oodle Noodle, Focus Communications, and ACME Meat Market.

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You can see the full set of photos from the evening here. Thank you Nanc Price for the incredible photos!

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to find out when nominations for the 2015 Yeggies open and for details about the 2016 event!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #154

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Bloggers Week on BT Edmonton!
Ryan & Bridget on BT Edmonton in 2012

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 5/10/2015

Happy Mother’s Day! Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

AE3R0457
Photo by Don Voaklander

Upcoming Events

Just in case you forgot that we live in Edmonton, Alberta:

Edmonton arena district May 6 2015
Photo by Jason Woodhead on May 6

Edmonton arena district may 9 2015
Photo by Jason Woodhead on May 9