Another tentative step forward for Edmonton’s Blatchford community

Edmonton’s Blatchford Redevelopment project took another step forward today with Council’s approval of the implementation strategy. Will it be the ambitious, carbon neutral, “world-leading” project that has been described over the years? Not necessarily. But it remains the most significant development project in Edmonton’s history, a sustainable and exciting community that will bring housing choice for families into our city’s core.


Today’s Motion

Here’s the motion that was passed today:

That the Blatchford Redevelopment Project implementation strategy be approved and include the following:

  1. The development of a Capital Profile and a funding strategy for Council’s consideration
  2. The implementation of the development approach as outlined in Scenario 5a of Attachment 5 to the June 10, 2014 Sustainable Development report CR_1123rev, including the following key features:
    • Medium density residential, with high density in direct proximity to LRT station
    • Town Centre
    • Institutional lands (NAIT, school sites)
    • Major park (18.8%)
    • Urban agriculture
    • Low impact development
    • Irrigation system
    • Custom designed streets
    • District energy: ambient loop with geo-exchange (preferred: requires further evaluation) or gas-fired cogeneration (in proforma)
    • High performance building envelopes
    • Fibre optic network
    • Affordable housing
    • Education program
  3. The development of a preliminary timeline for LRT extension into Blatchford and the construction of the Blatchford NAIT LRT station and the Blatchford North LRT station that will accommodate and facilitate the development of the east residential area
  4. A report to be provided to Committee on additional liveability and sustainability features that could be implemented in Blatchford, for example, ambient loop systems, solar photovoltaic panels for homes and/or supplemental to our district energy system, a recreation lake, and accessibility and age-friendly features.

The motion passed 10-2, with Councillors Caterina and Nickel voting against it. Councillor Nickel said the motion didn’t do enough to “hold on to that original vision of being world-class.” Most of the yes votes cited the importance of point 4.

The target for Administration to return with the requested information is October 28, 2014.

What does it mean?

In short, Council decided today that maybe it didn’t need everything that was suggested in the original, award-winning design. The recommended scenario “includes all of the key design elements from the Perkins+Will concept plan and it optimizes investment in environmental and social sustainability features.” By “optimizes investment”, they really mean that features like the ambient loop, geo-exchange district energy system, and pneumatic waste collection system were cut to save money. The recommendation also reduces the size of the major park by about 10% to allow more room for housing. It results in a net profit of nearly $45 million, and would be built-out over 25 years.

The City argues that the modified plan will still provide family-oriented housing, create mixed-use and employment opportunities, and will accommodate NAIT expansion. It still positions Edmonton as “a leader in achieving sustainability” even though it doesn’t go as far as Perkins+Will originally envisaged.

A reasonable compromise

Mayor Iveson has written about the project twice in the last week. Today he shared his thoughts in advance of the Council meeting:

“I don’t think the recommended scenario for Blatchford is a compromise. In fact, I’d say it’s as close to a balanced triple bottom line – social, financial and environmental – as we could hope for. We’ll achieve the ambitious principles set out by council and still produce a reasonable return on our investment.”

That follows his earlier comments:

“Some of the grief Edmonton has endured for poor urban design over the last 50 years can be countered with a project of Blatchford’s scale. This is a story we can share with the world; as good of a reputation-smasher as we’re ever going to see.”

It was great to hear the rest of Council share both his desire to stick to the principles set out by the previous Council and his desire for something impressive.

In voting to move ahead with the modified plan today, Council reached a reasonable compromise. It’s not uncommon for projects to start out far more ambitious than they end up, and it’s Council’s job to try to find the middle ground between citizens’ ambition and Administration’s risk aversion. I think that’s what they did today. No doubt communication about the plans could have been much better, but that could be said of just about every City project.

What happened with Perkins+Will?

Clearly there were issues between Perkins+Will and the City during this process, resulting in the firm attending today’s meeting. Director of Urban Design Joyce Drohan did not mince words once prompted, saying that her firm was “extremely disappointed.” She also called the process “extremely disrespectful.” Before she could get too deep into her criticism, Mayor Iveson stopped her, saying there were other issues at play. He later said that Perkins+Will had “not been cooperative.” There was definitely some animosity present during the meeting today.

Is it just a case of two partners trying to find a way to work together on an ambitious and stressful project? Perhaps, except this isn’t the first time that issues have been raised about the City’s process. Where there’s smoke there’s generally fire. And as Tegan quite rightly pointed out today, “the problem is that the world is watching on this one.” For some reason, Perkins+Will felt they had no choice but to show up in person to publicly defend their work. That’s concerning.

A few Councillors expressed concern today at how the modified Blatchford plan would be received by the public. There’s no question that there’s a communications challenge ahead of Council and the City, but I don’t think it’ll be too difficult to get Edmontonians onside with a pragmatic approach to city building. The bigger challenge is ensuring future partners aren’t turned off working with Edmonton because of the way things were handled with Perkins+Will and the other firms that competed in the international design competition.

Bringing families into the core

Closing the City Centre Airport was a pivotal moment in Edmonton’s history. Finishing the consolidation of air traffic at the Edmonton International Airport, removing the height restrictions imposed on downtown by the Airport Protection Overlay (which could be official as of June 24), putting a distracting and wasteful discussion behind us – those were among the many reasons to support the closure. But the most important reason for me was always the opportunity to increase the density of our city’s core.

I’ve long seen Blatchford as an opportunity to enhance housing choice. It’s a project that will make it increasingly viable for families to live in the core. Imagine the impact of another 30,000 people living just a short train ride from downtown! We’ve already seen what can happen when you increase the number of residents.

Would it be ideal if the project were highly profitable for the City of Edmonton? Sure. Would it be great if the community was carbon neutral? Yes. Would I be thrilled to have cities around the world look upon Blatchford with admiration for its leading edge sustainability? Absolutely. But those things are all secondary for me.


Blatchford, opening 2016?

The expectation is that builders will start to pre-sell homes in 2016, with the first moving moving in late that year or early in 2017. There’s a lot of work to do before we get to that point, but it’s exciting to know that Blatchford will be a reality sooner rather than later.

You can keep up-to-date with the project here.

Edmonton’s City Centre Airport closes to make way for the new Blatchford

Runway 12-30 at the City Centre Airport officially closed at 4:49pm on Saturday, November 30, 2013, bringing to an end one of Edmonton’s longest-running civic debates. City Council voted to close the airport in phases on July 8, 2009 after years of fierce arguments, countless reports, and two plebiscites. Runway 16-34 closed on August 3, 2010 in the midst of a last-ditch effort by Envision Edmonton to keep the airport open. Now the full closure means the planned redevelopment of the lands into “a walkable, transit-oriented, and sustainable community” can move ahead.

Last departure
Last departure, photo by Jeff Wallace

The final flight to depart the airport was a 1963 red and white Cessna 172D, with registration C-FWKV, piloted by Chris Blower. Two CF-18 jets from the 409 Squadron out of 4 Wing Cold Lake were scheduled to perform a touch-and-go to mark the closure of the airport, but they had to cancel at the last minute due to weather. It would have been a nice reference to the airport’s history as two Royal Canadian Air Force Siskins were the first to land when Blatchford Field officially opened in 1927.

City Centre Airport

Here’s a look at the final departure and closure of the City Centre Airport:

Earlier in the afternoon a press conference was held at City Hall to mark the occasion. David Ridley of the Edmonton Heritage Council called the Blatchford lands “among the most important of historical locations in Edmonton.” He said naming the new community Blatchford “the first step” in preserving the history of the airfield.

City Centre Airport Closure

Newly elected Councillor Bev Esslinger also spoke, reinforcing the importance of the site’s history. She unveiled a plaque and living time capsule that will be on display at City Hall until it can be included in the redevelopment. “The items included show and tell the story of the airfield, and will be an enduring reminder of the role aviation has played in shaping Edmonton,” she said.

City Centre Airport Closure

Over the last year, any remaining uncertainty about the closure gradually faded away.

  • A new, 3,600-square-metre air ambulance based opened in March at the Edmonton International Airport, completing the relocation of medevac services.
  • City Council voted on June 19 to expropriate interests in the airport lands, which included more than 200 individual landowners.
  • On October 10, Villeneuve Airport announced a large expansion with plans to build 6 new hangars, to extend one runway to 5,000 feet, to install an Instrument Landing System (ILS), and to improve storm water, domestic water, and sanitary systems.
  • The new Alberta Flying Heritage Museum was announced on November 17. Located at Villeneuve Airport, the new museum will focus on the broad history of Central and Northern Alberta. The Alberta Aviation Museum will remain open in its current location and will focus on the history of Edmonton and Blatchford Field.
  • The Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 737 that had been featured as an exhibit at the Alberta Aviation Museum since 2005 flew once more on November 29, landing at its new home at Villeneuve Airport.

City Centre Airport Closure

Though many called the closure bittersweet, I’m glad it is now finished. With the airport closed, the City can move forward with implementation of the Master Plan for Blatchford.

The 217 hectare (536 acre) site will become a home for up to 30,000 residents, and a place to work for up to 11,000 employees. This will transform the City Centre Airport into a mixed-use urban community that meets the City of Edmonton’s goals of building strong, vibrant neighbourhoods and increasing density to make best use of existing infrastructure.

Shovels are expected to be in the ground next year, with the first Edmontonians living and working on site as early as 2016/17. Full build out of the community will of course take decades. The opportunity to build a community as large as Blatchford so close to the heart of the city is one that cities of our size simply don’t get.

Blatchford Redevelopment
Artist rendering of future Blatchford community street

I feel more now than ever that closing the City Centre Airport was the right decision for Edmonton, and I look forward to the incredibly positive impact that the Blatchford Redevelopment will have on our city.

City Centre Redevelopment ‘shorter-listing’ reveals problems that must be addressed

Last week City Council shorter-listed three of the five finalists in the City Centre Redevelopment Master Plan Design Competition, with the winner set to be named on June 22. The decision to narrow the field to three after a botched media conference was unexpected and was largely overshadowed by last week’s arena news.

The media conference was set to take place on Wednesday afternoon. The advisory had gone out less than 24 hours earlier:

Join City Manager Simon Farbrother for the announcement of City Council’s selected design team to transform the City Centre Redevelopment project into a world leading, environmentally sustainable community. The announcement completes a year-long international competition to select the best team to deliver a master plan to develop this centrally-located land which is approximately 266 CFL football fields in size. A representative from the winning team will be on hand for media interviews after the formal portion of the announcement.

Members of the local media filled the Councillor’s Boardroom at City Hall which had been setup with chairs and the competing teams’ display boards. Mayor Stephen Mandel, City Manager Simon Farbrother, City Centre Redevelopment Executive Director Phil Sande, Fairness Advisor James McKellar, and a representative from each of the five finalists were set to be in attendance. We chatted amongst ourselves as we waited for the proceedings to begin.

ECCA Announcement

Just before four o’clock, Mayor Mandel and Simon Farbrother entered the room, nearly half an hour after the media conference was supposed to begin. The mayor took the podium and revealed that City Council had been discussing the proposals in camera (in private) and still had too many questions outstanding to make a decision. I tweeted the news at 3:57 PM, along with The Charrette and a few other people. Simon Farbrother also said a few words, and said the media would be given an update by the following morning. The whole thing lasted just five minutes.

I remember thinking as I left City Hall that someone must have screwed up. I mean, since when does Council discuss anything quickly? It’s their job to make an informed decision, and that usually takes time. I found out later that inconveniencing the media was just the tip of the iceberg.

Mayor Mandel ECCA Announcement

When Mayor Mandel had told the media that Council still had questions, I assumed they were questioning the finalists directly. Not so, Shafraaz Kaba of Manasc Isaac told me. While the media were sitting in the Councillor’s Boardroom waiting for the announcement, the five finalists were sitting in a windowless room in the City Clerk’s office. Shafraaz said they had been taken there while Council was discussing the selection committee’s recommendation. They were not told how long they’d be waiting. “They provided coffee and drinks, and some fruit and dessert that basically no one touched,” Shafraaz told me. He recalled that everyone was starting to get impatient as they watched the minutes slowly tick by. Finally after an hour and a half they sent someone to find out what was going on. Soon everyone had left the room and was waiting outside the clerk’s office for some kind of update. “That’s when I saw your tweets, about Council not being able to make a decision,” he told me. A few minutes later, Phil Sande arrived and told them that Council would not be making a decision after all. When Shafraaz told him that they already knew that, Phil seemed surprised and asked how they had found out. “It was like he didn’t seem to know that there was a press conference going on,” Shafraaz said.

The next morning, Phil called Shafraaz and told him that their team’s submission had not been chosen as one of the three to move ahead. It was clarified that the Mayor and City Council will make the final decision on the winning team. At the Downtown Business Association’s Spring Luncheon later that day, representatives from all five teams were introduced and then a short, pre-recorded video with Mayor Mandel was shown. In the video, Mandel made reference to “the decision” which brought chuckles to the packed room. Simon Farbrother then made the official announcement about the shortlisting of three teams.

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

The way the finalists were treated last week is completely inexcusable. Five world-class teams are competing to help shape the future of Edmonton and we lock them in a room with no information about what’s going on? It’s completely unacceptable. What are the chances that they’re going to want to work with the City again after being treated like that?

The worst part is that Wednesday was just more of the same, according to Shafraaz. There has been confusion and some disappointing decisions made ever since the start of the competition. “We asked early on who had the final decision, the ‘jury of distinguished experts’ or City Council,” Shafraaz told me. The response from the City was that Council had the final decision but that hopefully they would respect the jury’s decision. The RFP stated that “the jury will ultimately recommend a winning Submission or combination of Submissions to City Council for adoption” and that “City Council reserves the right to accept or reject the recommendation of the jury.” It certainly seemed as though Council’s role was not to conduct its own analysis but was instead to ratify the recommendation of the jury. Why have an independent jury if that wasn’t the case?

There were other bumps along the road too. “It was unclear what the deliverables for a ‘master plan’ should be,” Shafraaz told me. With no guidance, each team likely interpreted the amount of work involved differently. That’s especially problematic given that 25% of the evaluation scoring was price (vision & team philosophy was 30%, primary requirements was 25%, and master plan principles was 20%). “Is it about design or is it about cost?” Shafraaz wondered. “If you want the best design, you pay for it; it should never have been about cost.”

Unsurprisingly, the finalists also had to dig for details on the public involvement aspect of the competition. “We had to ask how much information we could present, how many boards we could have, how long the videos could be,” Shafraaz said. The jury was supposed to consider how the public responded, but teams were given no information about how that would be done. I saw some great coverage at The Charrette, but what little buzz there was about the videos didn’t seem to be sustained or capitalized on by the City, let alone factored into any evaluation.

Shafraaz is obviously disappointed that his team wasn’t shorter-listed, but he doesn’t regret taking part in the competition. “What made losing worth it, in terms of time and energy and all of the hours put in, is the experience of working with amazing designers, engineers, and other consultants that have done this kind of work in other projects.” He hopes other local participants also learned from the experience.

Ultimately, the real work will begin after a winning team is finally selected next month. Shafraaz thinks the project can gain some momentum after that decision is made, “but they’re going to have to work at it.” I don’t think it’s enough to simply hope that the City does indeed work at it. There are clearly some issues that must be addressed. We need to hold the City accountable and we need to ensure the mistakes that have been made so far are not repeated. This project is too important.

Quarterly Update on the City Centre Airport Redevelopment

Today the City of Edmonton provided an update on the City Centre Redevelopment. Phil Sande, the project’s executive director, gave a brief overview of the report (PDF) that will go to Council on Friday, and was available to the media for questions. As you can see, the project now has a logo!

Phil talked most about the process for the design competition. Submissions from the five finalists are due on January 21, 2011, and are to contain display material, a five-minute video, and written content. Each finalist must also make a case for why they should be chosen. Here are the updated dates:

  • January 21, 2011: Submissions from finalists due.
  • January 24/25, 2011: Submissions should be available to the public online.
  • January 28 – February 6, 2011: Submissions will be on display at City Hall (and other locations).
  • February 8-10, 2011: Selection Committee will review the submissions and interview each team.
  • March 2011: Recommendation from Selection Committee will go to City Council.
  • April/May 2011: Winning submission selected and contract negotiations begin.

The winning submission will then undergo a 15 month “master plan process” which will include extensive public involvement. After that process is complete, the City will have more reliable numbers for both number of residents and potential tax revenue from the redevelopment. Tenders for construction of the first phase of the project could go out as early as the summer of 2013, with utility work beginning around the same time.

Phil Sande, CCR

There’s an update on the environmental analysis in the report:

The Phase II Environmental Site Assessment on the east portion of Edmonton City Centre Airport site identified three locations where there are contaminants above acceptable criteria. A risk management approach is being applied to these sites, which means no remediation is necessary until such time as the site is redeveloped.

There were lots of questions about the updated revenue estimates for the redevelopment. Here’s what the report says:

Based on current development practices, upon full build out, preliminary estimates suggest that the City Centre Redevelopment will generate annual tax revenues in excess of $20 million per year and generate net sales revenues in excess of $70 million.

Phil stressed that we’ll have better information after the master plan process, and that the estimates are conservative and very approximate. He cited a change in parameters (notably the amount of land set aside for institutional use, and an increase in the amount of residential use and thus a decrease in the more lucrative commercial space) as contributing to any differences from previous estimates.

Here’s what Economic Impact Analysis (PDF) from June 2009 said:

The overall benefit to the City of Edmonton resulting from redevelopment of the ECCA lands is estimated to total $93 million (2009 $ net present value over 35 years using a 10% discount rate).  This benefit is expected to range between $55 and $168 million when the discount rate applied to future costs and revenues is varied by ±3%.

You can find all the other relevant documents here. It’ll be interesting to see how these numbers change as we learn more, but right now, they don’t seem that far off from where we were at last year.

Phil said that the redevelopment is still a vitally important project for the City of Edmonton, one that will bring a number of benefits to Edmontonians. His team has not received anything from the finalists in the design competition just yet, but it sounds like they are hard at work. I look forward to seeing what they have come up with in January!

UPDATE: Here’s a PDF document that outlines the range of redevelopment opportunities as they were envisioned in 2009. The net revenues of the options range from $91 million to $486 million.

UPDATE2: Another update from the City, received this evening:

Previous estimates of City revenues ranging from $91M to $486M remain accurate. These are based on the City acting as developer in four possible redevelopment scenarios. The anticipated revenue from the sale of the land as reported in the update is $70M. This number is based on the City selling the land to a developer, rather than acting as the developer itself, as is intended. The option for the City to simply sell the land was not one of the previous four redevelopment scenarios, and should not have been included in the quarterly update report. It is not an option the City is considering.

Edmonton Election 2010: Election Result Statistics

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the unofficial election results (official results should be released tomorrow). I thought it would be interesting to look at those numbers in more detail, and with a little bit of context.

There were 14 data updates throughout the night. The first voting stations reported in at 8:31 PM, and the final one reported at 11:35 PM. Here’s what the updates looked like:

Time is along the bottom, the vertical axis represents the number of ballots cast, and the size of the balloon represents the size of the update (the data labels are the number of votes after the update). You can see that there was one very large update, at 9:48 PM.

Here’s what Stephen Mandel’s win looked like throughout the night – the difference in votes between him and nearest competitor David Dorward:

When all was said and done, Mandel had won re-election by 49,533 votes.

A total of 196,661 ballots were cast. Here are the number of votes per ward:

You can see that Ward 8 had the most votes. Because the wards changed this year from six to twelve, it doesn’t make sense to try to compare them to 2007. We can compare the winning candidates however. To get elected in 2007, a candidate on average had 12724 votes. To get elected in 2010, a candidate on average had just 8640 votes.

Here is the difference between first and second place for each ward:

You can see that the two closest races were in Ward 2 and Ward 3. Those two wards were among the busiest in terms of the number of candidates, along with Ward 6 and Ward 11. The biggest wins were in Ward 5, Ward 9, and Ward 10, all of which had strong incumbents and few competitors.

Here are the number of votes per Catholic School Ward:

And finally, here are the number of votes per Public School Ward, compared with 2007:

There were two acclamations this year, versus just one in 2007. In every other ward, the number of votes in 2010 was higher than in 2007. This isn’t surprising, given the increased interest in schools due to the closures.

Just 1217 ballots did not indicate a choice for mayor (compared to 2491 in 2007), where as 4456 ballots did not indicate a choice for councillor. A total of 44,121 ballots did not indicate a choice for school trustee (keep in mind there were two acclamations, but still).

I’ll leave you with this:

UPDATE: Official election results are now available.

Let us move forward, together

There were no major upsets last night. Mayor Mandel was re-elected to his third term. Every incumbent councillor was re-elected, including Kim Krushell in the close Ward 2 race.

Envision Edmonton made a lot of noise about 100,000 people wanting to have their say on the airport, yet they apparently didn’t care enough to show up at the voting stations.

By all accounts, yesterday was a victory for Edmontonians ready to move forward, beyond the airport and on to bigger and better things. Yet if you read today’s Edmonton Journal, that’s not the impression you’d get at all.

The Day After: Calgary Herald vs. Edmonton Journal

Here are the headlines/key phrases today on the front of the Calgary Herald:

  • It’s Nenshi
  • New mayor paints town purple with decisive win
  • Political newcomer vows change on the way for city
  • Best voter turnout in years ushers in new faces to council chamber
  • What’s next for council?
  • Big changes at City Hall
  • Calgarians flood polls

Here are the headlines/key phrases today on the front of the Edmonton Journal:

  • ‘Finally, we will move forward’: Mandel
  • Envision Edmonton vows to continue fight to save City Centre Airport

Turn the page, and on A3 you see in big bold letters, side-by-side:

I’m definitely not the first to point out the differences between the Herald and the Journal – this kind of thing happens far too often. And before you comment and say that the Journal is just trying to be balanced, let me say to that: I don’t buy it.

Is there really a division?

There’s no question that the airport has been a divisive issue in Edmonton in the past. But yesterday is not today, and today is not tomorrow. In his article on the airport issue dividing the city, David Staples wrote:

“A council bent on shutting the historic downtown airport won re-election, but the bitterness over issue will continue to fracture Edmonton.”

I humbly suggest that the only “fracture” left is the artificial one that David and his colleagues seem more than happy to perpetuate.

Let’s follow the logic here. Thousands of Edmontonians re-elect a city council that decided it was in the city’s best interests to close the City Centre Airport. Envision Edmonton’s Ed Schlemko says the issue “has divided the city”. As a result, we’re going to continue to be fractured?

This afternoon, the Herald’s website was full of stories about Nenshi. And the Journal? They’ve got a story about new ward 11 councillor Kerry Diotte pushing for an airport plebiscite. It’s not just the Journal either – CBC, the Edmonton Sun, and iNews880 also have similar stories.

Let’s move on

Edmontonians want to move forward – they voted for a council that decided to close the airport. Mandel wants to move forward, as he made very clear in his victory speech last night. Even David Dorward seems to want to move forward.

Envision Edmonton is heading to the courts, refusing to accept defeat. They and what few supporters they have left don’t want to move forward. Kerry Diotte has decided he doesn’t want to move forward either.

The City Centre Airport will close. And then the lands will be redeveloped. We need to focus our energies on making sure that redevelopment is positive for Edmonton.

Let us move forward, together.

Envision Edmonton’s petition insufficient, City Centre Airport phased closure will continue

Yesterday the declaration of the City Clerk was released, stating that the petition put forward by Envision Edmonton was not sufficient, for two reasons:

  • There were no more than 73,657 valid signatures.
  • The petition was not brought within 60 days of Council’s decision to close the airport.

According to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) that means that City Council was not required to take any notice of the petition. They debated the issue in their final meeting before the election, and voted 10-3 against including a question on the ballot. The vote breakdown was exactly the same as it was in July 2009, when Council voted in favor of a phased closure of the City Centre Airport. Here are some of the quotes from the meeting:

  • “The decision to not put a question on the ballot is the right one for Edmonton.” – Mayor Mandel
  • “For some unknown reason it took 11 months to get a petition.” – Mayor Mandel
  • “This needs to end.” – Mayor Mandel
  • “This motion is the same year late as the petition. This needed to happen last year.” – Councillor Iveson
  • “I am not prepared to support something that could lead to 42 years of inefficient operation.” – Councillor Anderson
  • “Somebody has to have the guts to say enough is enough.” – Councillor Henderson
  • “I am prepared to stand up and say I did eight months of research on this issue.” – Councillor Krushell
  • “Is this the only big decision we’ve made in the last three years?” – Councillor Sohi

In both the meeting and a media briefing, we learned more about the petition verification process.

  • Roughly 80 staff worked for more than 3700 hours to verify the petition. About 60 of those staff were hired specifically for the verification process.
  • One of the first things the City had to do was photocopy every page of the petition. The copies and the originals are now stored in a vault, where they will remain for at least 5 years.
  • It turns out Envision Edmonton did not contact the City Clerk about its petition. If it had done so, it might have learned about the 60 day requirement.
  • Had the petition been valid and sufficient, the outcome of the question would have been binding for ten years. If Council had decided to put a question on the ballot anyway, its outcome would not have been binding.
  • The total cost for the verification is estimated at between $125,000 and $150,000.
  • Banister Research was hired to help complete the verification, which they did via telephone.
  • The petition signatories (addresses) were compared against both the Edmonton Elections database (current as of 2009) and SLIM (Spatial Land Inventory Management).
  • Since the July 2009 decision, the City has incurred costs of $12 million, while ERAA has incurred costs of more than $23 million.


Lots of people have written about this already. Here are some relevant links:


PDF Municipal Government Act (2.4 MB)

PDF Declaration of the City Clerk (689 KB)

PDF Report on the Petition (55 KB)

Final Thoughts

I don’t for a second think the battle over the City Centre Airport is finished. I’m sure we’ll see additional challenges and fights in the weeks and months ahead. Edmonton Airports seems to think so as well, launching Share The Facts today. I am confident that City Council made the right decision yesterday however, and I think they’ll be rewarded for it on October 18.

Closing the City Centre Airport is the right decision for Edmonton’s future. Yesterday was simply another step along the way to making that future a reality.

Edmonton City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

Today Simon Farbrother, City Manager, and Phil Sande, City Centre Airport Executive Director, announced the five finalists in the City Centre Airport Lands Design Competition. These finalists will now work until the end of the year on their plans to redevelop the 216-hectare site into a sustainable, transit-oriented community.

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

From the press release:

“We had an overwhelming response to our request for qualifications,” says Phil Sande, Executive Director, City Centre Airport redevelopment project, City of Edmonton. “We’ve received 33 submissions with a wealth of experience in innovative sustainable design, urban design and redevelopment, engineering and architectural design.”

The five winning firms are (in alphabetical order):

  1. BNIM, Kansas City, USA
  2. Foster & Partners, London, UK
  3. KCAP, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  4. Perkins + Will, Vancouver, Canada
  5. Sweco International AB, Stockholm, Sweden

The contents of their submissions is confidential, so all we got to see were the covers of the proposals. The City also suggested the following visuals: BNIM, Foster & Partners, KCAP, Perkins + Will, Sweco International AB.

Local firms involved in the proposals include Williams Engineering, Bunt & Associates, Cohos Evamy, and Calder Bateman.

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

Their submissions were based upon the Master Plan Principles that City Council approved earlier this year. The review committee included: Simon Farbrother, City Manager; Gord Jackson, Acting Manager of the Policy and Planning Branch; Rick Daviss, Manager of Corporate Properties Branch; Peter Hackett, Exec. Professor School of Business, VP Research and a Fellow of the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta; Chris Henderson, CEO of Delphi Group, Canada’s leading strategic consulting firm in the environment and clean energy sectors; and Todd Latham, President of Actual Media Inc. which produces ReNew Canada, the infrastructure and renewal magazine. James McKellar, Associate Dean, External Relations Academic Director, Program in Real Estate and Infrastructure, Schulich School of Business, York University ensured the review process was transparent and fair.

Some additional notes from the press conference:

  • The first phase of the build out could be completed by 2024.
  • Preliminary results of the environmental evaluation show three small sites with limited contamination potential. The findings thus far were described as “very positive”. More information will be available in about 3 weeks.
  • Each firm will receive an honorarium of $50,000 to participate.
  • Phil said that consideration of Edmonton as a Winter City was important, and was something the finalists both embraced and have experience with.

Edmontonians will get to review all five submissions at the end of the year. The review committee will then be joined by Lars Franne, Retired Project Manager, Hammarby Sjöstad Sustainable Redevelopment, Stockholm, Sweden, and potentially others, and will make a recommendation to City Council, who ultimately has the final decision.

It’s great to see this project moving forward!

UPDATE: Here are the biographies of the five finalists (in PDF), provided by the City.

Photo Tour of the Edmonton City Centre Airport

This week I had the opportunity (with a few other local bloggers) to tour the Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA). Traci Bednard, VP of Communications at Edmonton Airports, took the time to guide us around the facility, providing information relevant to the ongoing debate and answering as many of our questions as she could. Here’s what we saw.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

ECCA, built in 1929, encompasses approximately 144 acres of land just north of the City Centre. It has two runways (12/30 and 16/34) placed in an intersecting “V” configuration. The airport supports general aviation activities. Approximately 41% of all flights originate and terminate at ECCA without landing at another airport.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

Edmonton Airports has invested over $13 million in ECCA since scheduled service was consolidated at EIA in 1996. A further $35 million of capital investment will be required over the next 10 years. Though ECCA generates a small amount of operating income annually, it cannot fully cover its capital requirements.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw 12800 describes the Airport Protection Overlay (APO), which restricts the height of structures within the overlay area to 815.34 m above sea level. The maximum height of a building varies depending on the base elevation. At 146 m tall, Manulife Place is very close to the maximum, as is the soon-to-be-completed EPCOR Tower at a height of 149 m.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

Roughly 27% of all aircraft movements at ECCA are northern flights. In 2008, there were 133,000 landed seats from the north to ECCA, versus 778,000 from the north to EIA. The top 25 users at ECCA make up 75% of all aircraft movements, and of these users, 18 also commonly use EIA.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

Roughly 4000 air ambulance flights occur at ECCA each year (about 5% of total movements). Less than 10% of those (approximately 350) are time sensitive. Air ambulance, while important, is just one leg of a patient’s overall journey. Patients must be stabilized on the scene and taken to an airport via ground ambulance, loaded on a fixed wing air ambulance, flown to Edmonton, and then loaded onto another ground ambulance to be taken to a hospital.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

STARS Air Ambulance is one of the more well-known users of ECCA. Its helicopter fleet transports time sensitive/trauma patients directly to hospital, most often to the University of Alberta hospital. STARS, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health & Wellness, and Edmonton Airports have discussed the concept of an integrated air ambulance facility at EIA, which could create efficiencies and ultimately improve patient care.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

With the phased closure of ECCA set to begin next week, Edmonton Airports has been working with tenants (such as the Government of Alberta) to help prepare for the closure of runway 16/34. That includes ensuring that all tenants have access to runway 12/30, and exploring options for moving to either EIA or Villeneuve.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

The City of Edmonton has launched an international competition seeking firms interested in redeveloping the ECCA lands. A total of 33 responses to the request for potential bidders were received. The City is working to short list the group to 5 by August 6. That group will have until the end of the year to develop their proposals.

Thanks to Traci and Edmonton Airports for the tour. You can see the rest of my photos here. You can read fellow blogger John Winslow’s post here. Stay tuned to #ecca on Twitter for updates on this ongoing issue. You get more information about ECCA from Edmonton Airports.

Who’s behind Envision Edmonton?

Last week, the City Centre Airport was once again in the news thanks to a “new” group calling itself Envision Edmonton. Though City Council voted to close the City Centre Airport nearly a year ago, the issue has never really gone away. First there was the delay to accommodate the Edmonton Indy, then there was the lawsuit from Airco (they lost their bid for an injunction to stop the closure last week). The Edmonton Flying Club has also filed suit trying to keep the airport open.

With the AEG turning its attention toward the oil sands, it’s almost like the local media were salivating for someone to reopen the issue. Here’s what the Envision Edmonton press release said:

In response to Mayor, Stephen Mandel’s challenge issued during his State of the City speech – to convince City Council that the City Centre Airport should stay open – a group of local business people stepped forward to propose alternatives.

A group of concerned Edmontonians created “Envision Edmonton” – an independent community organization formed specifically to develop a suitable and economically viable plan to revitalize the City Centre Airport.

I’m really disappointed with how this has been covered in the local media so far. Here is how they reported the “news”:

I’m sure there was a 60 second piece on the evening news that day too. If you read through those stories, you’ll find that they don’t provide much information beyond what was contained within the press release (as is so often the case, unfortunately). Here are some of the questions that sprung to mind immediately that were not answered:

  1. Who’s behind the group, and is it really new? Have they been involved in the issue in the past?
  2. Where have I heard that name before?
  3. Where can I learn more about the group and its proposed alternatives?

Simple stuff really. Maybe those questions didn’t come to mind for the writers and editors working that day, or maybe they found that answering them was too daunting a task (that might be a valid excuse actually, given that Envision Edmonton still doesn’t have a website…yes, seriously). To be fair to Gordon Kent, his piece did at least treat the group with some skepticism.

It gets much better though. All of those stories use quotes from or paraphrase the press release, which is pretty standard. I’m wondering how they chose what to include, however. Here’s the last paragraph of the press release:

Envision Edmonton is primarily funded by individuals and businesses, many of which have no direct investment in or association with the City Centre Airport, but who are instead dedicated exclusively to helping to make Edmonton a great city.

That’s a pretty cut-and-dry statement, and it ties in nicely with my first question. So I set out to find the answer. Turns out it is completely false (not the last part of course, I’m sure they all want to help make Edmonton a great city).

Here are the Envision Edmonton board members:

  1. Charles Allard (Chairman)
  2. Ian Barrigan
  3. Dr. Joseph Fernando
  4. Phil Milroy
  5. Barry Breckenridge
  6. Bob Bentley
  7. Dr. Kerry Pawluski
  8. Ralph Henderson
  9. Ed Schlemko
  10. Eugene Strilchuk
  11. Bruce Ritchie
  12. Dean Braithwaite

No direct investment or association with the City Centre Airport huh? Right.

I also have answers for the other two questions I mentioned above. The name “Envision Edmonton” has been used a few times, but was probably best known as the former name for the City of Edmonton’s Strategic Plan. That certainly raised my eyebrows. Of all the names they could have picked, they went with the name of an important City document.

Where can you learn more about Envision Edmonton? That’s a good question. For now you can follow them on Twitter, or you can check them out on Facebook. I suspect you’ll hear more about the group later today after they hold another press conference, this time to actually unveil next steps (the last press conference was a meet-and-greet I guess). Here’s what I think you’ll hear:

  • Envision Edmonton will announce that they are launching a campaign to gather 78,000+ signatures to force a plebiscite.
  • One alternative, not many as the press release stated. They will announce loose, high level plans to expand business activities at the City Centre Airport, while retaining (and perhaps improving) medevac facilities.
  • A website. Maybe. It is 2010 after all.

What you probably won’t hear but might want to know:

  • The group has been raising a lot of money to support the campaign. I have heard numbers as high as $700,000. Their total budget, confirmed by Charles Allard, is $500,000. They’re also actively recruiting volunteers.
  • They have been making the rounds, and not just locally. Some members of the group visited Yellowknife back in May to try to get the GNWT on board.
  • Over the last few months they have been making an effort to leave comments on blogs and post updates on forums (example 1, example 2).

If you know something else that I’ve missed, let me know.

I invite you to read my posts on the City Centre Airport. In particular, you should read this post that outlines some responses to the most common questions (medevac, economic activity, etc) and contains links to additional documents. You might also want to read Scott McKeen’s column from last week. There are also lots of links to resources at

UPDATE: As expected, Envision Edmonton announced plans today to get 80,000 signatures to keep the City Centre Airport open. Their campaign website includes the proposed plebiscite and other information. Part of their proposal is a new LRT route, running alongside NAIT to the east of the airport. The group has already raised half of their budget, and will start an ad campaign on TV and radio later this week. I asked Charles if they get the signatures and it goes to a vote and citizens want to close the airport, what’s next for Envision Edmonton? He told me “we’d have to respect the decision of the electorate”. Gordon Kent from The Journal asked a ton of questions, including lots about the funding. He is suggesting (and is correct in doing so, I think) that this could be the most heavily funded campaign in the fall election, more than any other race. He also asked if many of the members or funders of Envision Edmonton are involved with the City Centre Airport. Charles told him no, but as you can see above, that’s just simply not true.