Coming up at City Council: March 14-18, 2016

It looks like Council has a busy week ahead! They’ll be looking at Northlands and the question of what to do with Rexall Place, a topic that is sure to dominate the headlines early in the week. The other contentious issue on the agenda is the District Energy System for Blatchford. Council is also receiving a big financial update this week.

Moe Banga Swearing In Ceremony

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Northlands Vision 2020

The first item of business for Council is to discuss the Northlands Vision 2020 proposal. The plan has been called a fantasy, and it has been suggested that Northlands itself “has no particularly strong reason for carrying on.” But in the absence of an alternative vision for what to do with the site, there’s a real chance that Council will support the plan, at least tentatively. The City hasn’t brought any leadership to the table on this issue (only very minor adjustments have been made to the Coliseum Station ARP that was approved in 1983).

An economic impact assessment conducted by NICHOLS Applied Management suggested that Vision 2020 could result in an overall positive impact to the provincial GDP of between $680 million and just over $1 billion, with about a third of that directed within Edmonton.

Rexall Place

Does turning Rexall Place into the Ice Coliseum, a facility with seven sheets of ice, at a cost of between $76 million and $94 million make sense? Is there actually a need for the proposed Urban Festival Site that would replace the racetrack? Should we really sink another $40 million into Hall D when Northlands already owes more than $40 million for the last Expo Centre expansion? These are some of the questions that Council will have to explore.

It seems unlikely that anything will happen unless Council agrees to forgive the debt on the Edmonton Expo Centre. And I don’t think Council is likely to do that without seeking some major governance change at Northlands. Could this be the opportunity to redraw the lines between Northlands and EEDC and come up with a more sensible deployment of limited resources?

Council will also be looking at the 2016 Northlands Capital Budget. Northlands is planning to spend $3.8 million this year on capital improvements, including $641,243 in the Edmonton Expo Centre, $880,121 on “technology and telephony”, and $815,358 on asphalt repair.

There is also Bylaw 17607 on the agenda, an amendment to the existing bylaw that allows for a ticket surcharge on all events held at Rexall Place. The new bylaw will be known as the Rexall Place Ticket Surcharge Bylaw, and is required to comply with the Master Agreement between the City and the Edmonton Arena Corporation. It will come into effect on July 1, 2016.

Capital Financial Update

There’s a lot of information available in this report and in the December 2015 Preliminary Year-End Financial Results. Here are some highlights:

  • Including carry-forward from 2014, the total approved capital budget is $7.93 billion.
  • The full year spend for 2015 was $1.03 billion or 16.7% against the 2015-2018 budgeted capital plan of $6.15 billion.
  • There are 466 active profiles with planned expenditures in the 2015-2018 budget cycle, 341 of which are classified as single and 125 as composite in nature.
  • There are 69 projects in the 2015 to 2018 Capital Budget cycle with costs greater than or equal to $20 million. They account for 89.1% ($7.07 billion) of the total approved budget.
  • As of December 2015, 83 projects have been classified as green, 2 as yellow, and 12 have been flagged red.

Those 12 red projects are:

  • Great Neighbourhoods Initiative
  • Milner Library Renewal & Upgrades
  • Northwest Police Campus
  • The Quarters – Phase 1
  • River Valley Alliance Connective Infrastructure
  • Walterdale Bridge
  • 102 Ave over Groat Road
  • Metro Line LRT
  • Westwood Transit Garage Replacement
  • Mill Woods Double Barrel
  • Anaerobic Digestion
  • Parking Control Technology

There’s also some information on economic indicators:

  • Inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index was down on a year-to-year basis in the Edmonton region from 2.2% in 2014 to 1.2% in 2015.
  • The Municipal Price Index is projected to average 0.4% for 2015 trending upward to 3% in 2019.
  • The costs of delivering municipal services are expected to rise at a faster rate than that of the Consumer Price Index.
  • Interest rates are expected to rise at the end of 2016.

inflation forecast

Edmonton Arena District Update

The latest update on the downtown arena district says that “construction continues to progress on schedule and within the approved budget.” There’s a lot of different work already underway, and “fit-out and finishing” is about to begin. The first seat was installed this month and all seating is expected to be in place in May. That’s also when the scoreboard is set to arrive. The Alex Janvier public artwork in the Winter Garden will be installed in June. As previously discussed, the arena will be a LEED Silver building, the second in the NHL after Pittsburgh. “Through the end of December, 87.2 percent (5,288 tons) of waste has been diverted from the landfill.”

Transforming City
Transforming City, photo by Dave Sutherland

The update also includes a rough schedule for when the various buildings within Ice District will open:

  • September 2016 – Casino
  • September 2016 – Oilers Entertainment Group Offices
  • November 2016 – Edmonton Office Tower
  • Summer 2018 – JW Marriott Hotel
  • Fall 2018 – Stantec Office Tower & Retail Podium
  • Spring 2019 – Legends Residential Tower
  • Summer 2019 – Stantec Residential Units

Through the end of February 2016, total project expenditures are about $441,500,000. The total project budget is $604,950,279.

District Energy Sharing System

A district energy system “centralizes the production of heating or cooling for a geographical area” and was one of the key features of the Blatchford development plan. Council had previously asked for “a comprehensive business case” for implementing the system, which is included in this report. The business case for the system recommends a low (ambient) temperature system operating as a public interest utility. Two scenarios have been modelled:

  • Scenario A requires $20 million per year for the first ten years and represents the full build-out of the system using only renewable energy source for meeting both base and peak demand for thermal energy
  • Scenario B requires $20 million per year for five years and represents the full build-out of the system using renewable energy sources to meet the base demand and transitional natural gas boilers and cooling towers to meet peaking thermal energy demand

Administration says Scenario B is “a pragmatic first step” toward achieving the carbon neutral, 100% renewable energy-based vision for Blatchford, but it “does not achieve the same level of greenhouse gas reductions” as the Scenario A would. In order to move forward, a revised project implementation schedule is required and means that construction may be delayed until 2017. The source of funding has not yet been identified.

The next steps are for Administration to look at options for funding the project, engage in further discussions with EPCOR, and to review the financials and project implementation schedule.

Other interesting items

  • The Deputy Mayor and Acting Mayor roster has been updated as a result of the Ward 12 by-election. Councillor Banga will serve as Deputy Mayor from September 16 to the Organizational Meeting in October, and as Acting Mayor from August 16 to September 15.
  • Transportation Committee has recommended that Council approve funding for the Heritage Valley Park and Ride and adopt a revised Park and Ride strategy.
  • The committee has also recommended that by September 2016, some free Park and Ride stalls be converted to paid stalls, that the price to park in reserved stalls be increased, and that time limits be implemented for unreserved stalls.
  • Bylaw 17571 is ready for first reading and will authorize the City to widen Whitemud Drive from 40 Street to 17 Street at a cost of $14,648,000.
  • Bylaw 17575 would lower the special tax rate for Alley Lighting by nearly 4%, from $1.02 per assessable metre in 2015 to $0.98 per assessable metre in 2016. This is because LED lights use less energy and require less maintenance.

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.