One of the things I’ve heard time and time again during and since the City Centre Airport debate earlier this month is the argument that closing the airport and making the lands available for redevelopment threatens the infill that is required throughout downtown. If you highlight all the surface parking lots, downtown Edmonton (97th Street to 109th Street, 99th Avenue to 104th Avenue) looks something like this:
That doesn’t take into account parkades or any lots that I missed (I put it together pretty quickly just looking at the satellite view). It’s also a relatively small area (there are far more on the other side of 109th and 104th) I don’t think anyone would look at that and say, “it’s fine the way it is.” The fact is, we definitely need infill development if we want to have a sustainable, vibrant city. I would suggest that the individuals who supported closing the City Centre Airport likely also strongly support infill development. Both are steps toward the same end.
The first and probably most important thing to consider with this issue is that the whole of the ECCA lands did not go on the market the day Council voted to close the airport. It’s a long-term proposition, and redevelopment will take time.
The second thing to consider is that we may in fact need that space eventually, even if all of the current infill development happens. A few questions were asked about this very topic in Council’s Q & A. Here is the key response, prepared by Gordon Easton from Colliers:
Development pressure in the City of Edmonton is coming from the dual processes of population growth and population change. The population of Edmonton is expected to increase by approximately 400,000 people by 2041. The population is also aging, which creates demand for additional dwelling units, including high density. Our housing demand report showed that between 2016 and 2041 there will be a minimum of 45,107 apartments and 16,212 other multi family homes required to house the expected population. Certainly there are other developments and other sites that can and will accommodate some of this growth. Armin Preiksitis & Associates estimates that the current major development sites underway or expected in the City will contribute almost 35,000 multi-family units. If no other developments come on-line, those units will be completely absorbed in 2019, and there will be 2,453 multi family units needed each year thereafter. That is the equivalent of over 8 30-story condo towers and 650 townhouses per year. As part of the City’s multi family dwelling supply, the ECCA lands would reduce the rate of absorption at competing properties and lengthening the development timing. If ECCA were not developed with multi family residential, the rate of absorption at other sites would be higher, and development pressures (prices) on other sites throughout the city would increase as the market responds to the demand.
We need infill development in downtown Edmonton whether the airport disappears or stays. Closing the airport doesn’t mean that such infill development can’t or won’t happen, and to suggest otherwise is misleading and dishonest.