Edmonton’s downtown is being held hostage by the arena

Edmonton’s downtown hasn’t gotten its fair shake when it comes to capital funding over the last decade. There’s now a pretty pie chart that magically appeared to illustrate that (I’m not sure where the data comes from specifically, but it seems more or less accurate to me). I am totally on board with the idea that we should be putting our money where our mouths are. If downtown is so important to Edmonton, and I believe it is, we should be willing to back that up with dollars.

I think it’s fair to say I’m one of the biggest downtown supporters in the city. I talk about it all the time. I’ve organized plenty of events for downtown. I seeded the I ❤ YEGDT campaign. I built and operate the website. I work downtown. Sharon and I chose to live downtown and purchased a condo here.

With all of that said, I want to support what the newly formed Downtown Vibrancy Coalition is trying to do, but I’m finding it very difficult to get on board. Here’s what their backgrounder states:

“If we lose the arena – over a missing $55 million – approximately $3 billion in downtown revitalization projects will be shelved or scrapped. The arena represents only one-sixth of the proposed investment. But if the arena fails, Edmonton’s downtown will lose $2 billion of private investment in the related entertainment district – new hotels, office towers, retail shops, clubs – as well as downtown parks, a river valley promenade and Jasper Avenue streetscape enhancements.”

Every single time I read that, I can’t help but think: bullshit. Is downtown important or not?

This all stems from the August 2011 decision to make the proposed arena the centerpiece of the Community Revitalization Levy. I wrote in that post that I was worried we’d be doing more harm than good for downtown by tying the two together. Now, as we’re about the lose the arena, the impact of that decision is becoming clear. We’ve put all of our eggs in one basket, or at least that’s what it looks like.

But I see no reason why downtown revitalization has to die along with the arena. The notion that you need an anchor or catalyst project for a CRL to work is false (as proven by the existence of CRLs for The Quarters and Fort Road). Furthermore, we know that programs like housing incentives work and lead to the outcomes we want. There are ways to ensure downtown gets the funding it deserves with or without a shiny new arena. Why would everything need to be shelved or scrapped?

I would love to see a new arena built downtown, and I do agree that $55 million seems like a surmountable barrier. But I don’t like that MSI funding is being used to help pay for the arena and I really don’t like that our downtown is being held hostage by it.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force and of ONEdmonton.

Budget 2012: Ten unfunded growth projects that caught my eye

It’s budget time, and I have been looking into the documents that were released last week.

At the very end of the 2012-2021 Capital Investment Agenda, there are some really interesting tables. One is “Approved & Recommended Growth Projects” – projects that have previously been approved or that Administration is recommending. The list of recommended projects includes the seat replacement at Commonwealth Stadium, the South East Community Leagues Association Skate Park, and a number of other projects you may have heard about.

The last table is perhaps the most intriguing, however. It lists 77 different “Unfunded Prioritized Growth Projects” totaling a little over $1.5 billion. Most of these simply will not get funding in the 2012-2014 Capital Budget because there is just $9 million available for allocation to these projects:

In the 2009-2011 Capital Budget, Council made decisions to commit $883 million of future funding for growth projects in the 2012-2014 time frame. The result of these decisions means only $254 million additional funding is available for growth projects and $245 million of that funding is constrained as Retained Earnings or Developer/Partner funding. This leaves $9 million available for allocation to other priority growth projects.

That said, I’m sure we’ll see some creativity as Council digs into the budget.

Here are ten unfunded growth projects that caught my eye:

  • 12-60-1753: Closed Circuit Television (#6)

    Total Cost: $2.35 million, $1.7 million to become compliant

    Less exciting than it sounds, actually. The Province has revised its policing standards and those changes take effect December 31, 2013. This project is all about extending the existing CCTV coverage to enable EPS to meet the new standards.

  • 12-28-4149: Louise McKinney Riverfront Park Masterplan Completion

    Total Cost: $6.5 million

    The vision for Louise McKinney was approved by City Council way back in 1997, and it still isn’t done. This project would see the completion of the Grand Stair, two viewpoints, four gateways, Shaw Conference Centre linkages, and the redevelopment of the parking lot. It would be great to see us actually finish this project before embarking on too many more new ones.

  • 11-66-1293: SMARTBUS (#25)

    Total Cost: $34.433 million, $3.4 million of which was previously approved

    For me this one is a definite no-brainer. SMARTBUS technology includes Automated Stop Announcements, Computer Aided Dispatch, Automated Vehicle Health Monitoring, and Automated Passenger Counters. It also includes Automated Vehicle Location and Real-Time Customer Information, which will finally make it possible to see where your bus actually is, rather than just where it is scheduled to be. I think a lot of Edmontonians would strongly support this one!

    The previously approved piece of this was the 50 bus evaluation and that is expected to be completed by September 2012.

  • 12-21-7227: Winspear Centre Expansion (#44)

    Total Cost: $3.5 million

    The planned expansion would accommodate a multi-purpose facility for arts initiatives, studio space for youth, and rehearsal space, among other things. The expansion would take place on the east side of the building onto surplus City lands between 102 and 102A Avenue adjacent to 97 Street. The plan is for construction to take place in 2014. The Winspear received $50,000 as part of the 2011 Operating Budget to help with the preliminary concept planning.

  • 12-75-3514: New Downtown Office Tower (#57)

    Total Cost: $140 million

    This project is part of the Edmonton Downtown Civic Accommodation Plan which focuses on strategies to support growth and expansion of City services and programs. The choice is either to lease existing building space or to construct a new civic office building. The $140 million pricetag is just what would be part of the 2012-2014 budget – the total amount of the project is currently $600 million.

    Analysis has not yet been completed, and the project profile states that “a financing strategy must be developed” if constructing the new office tower is recommended. The consequence of not building a new tower is that “the City will continue to lease a large amount of office space from the private sector.”

    This project isn’t an immediate one, so I don’t expect any major news will come out of the budget discussions. I’m glad to see the commitment to downtown, however.

  • 12-17-0373: 104th Street Funicular (#60)

    Total Cost: $20 million

    This project has been in the news quite a bit lately, usually in relation to the Rossdale redevelopment project. The idea is to “provide a way for people to move from the West Rossdale flats to the top of the bank thereby creating a more walkable area.” In other words, the hill is too step for most people! This project is specifically mentioned in the Capital City Downtown Plan actually, as part of the focus on River Valley Promenades.

  • 12-17-0371: Downtown Lands Acquisition (#71)

    Total Cost: $4 million

    Given the recent decision to purchase the land for the downtown arena, this project caught my eye. The land in question is located at Jasper Avenue and 100 Street, in front of Hotel Macdonald. “It is presently owned by a private developer who has publicly expressed an interest in constructing a condominium tower on the site. Purchasing this park will protect and preserve it in its current state, ensuring that the existing amenity space and historic view corridors are maintained.” Um, take that Occupy Edmonton!

  • 12-21-1200: City Collections Repository (#74)

    Total Cost: $29.539 million

    The proposed 55,425 square foot building would house historical artifacts from the O’Keefe Building and would also serve as the off site storage centre for the City Archives. “The building will be designed to allow for growth in both collections for 25 years.” The building was recommended by Lundhom & Associates after looking at the existing facilities and the collections. I think a new facility with proper temperature, humidity, light, and dust control systems makes a lot of sense. It’s important to preserve Edmonton’s history.

  • 12-21-5674: Medium Sized Stadium (#75)

    Total Cost: $53.016 million

    New stadium?! The proposed stadium would feature artificial turf and seating of 8,000 “with opportunities for increasing the seating further through temporary or expansion of seating for a total capacity of 20,000.” This project is intended to meet the needs for “certain amateur sports, professional soccer, FIFA and other championships and concert events.”

    Telus Field is one of the other venues identified, along with Foote Field (2,770), Clarke Park (1,300 seats), and Commonwealth Stadium (60,000 seats) but it lacks parking and LRT services. This new stadium would fit nicely in-between those facilities and would presumably be built close to the LRT, though the project profile does not mention a location.

  • 12-21-7663: CKUA Expansion (#77)

    Total Cost: $5 million

    I was wondering how CKUA could afford to move into the former Alberta Hotel, recently reconstructed just west of Canada Place on Jasper Avenue. Sounds like it is City of Edmonton to the rescue! The justification for supporting this is that it is adjacent to The Quarters, it would maintain and preserve a historic resource, and because “CKUA would offer below-market leasing space to other non-profit organizations.”

I encourage you to take a look through the budget documents, there’s a lot of really interesting information there!