JW Marriott Edmonton tops off in ICE District

A topping off ceremony was held today for the new JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District, located on the corner of 102 Street and 104 Avenue downtown. The building is currently the tallest tower in Edmonton, though it will relinquish that title within the next month or so when the new Stantec Tower, currently under construction right next door, surpasses it. Media and VIPs were invited to the 46th floor for the ceremony, where the “topping off” was done symbolically with a cake from Whimsical Cake Studio.

Symbolic topping off

At 56 storeys high, the building will consist of 22 floors of hotel space topped by The Legends Private Residences above. The new hotel is currently slated to open in March 2019 and will be “the first modern luxury hotel built in Edmonton and one of only three JW Marriott branded hotels in Canada.” It will feature 346 rooms, roughly 22,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, a giant 10,500 square foot ballroom, a state-of-the-art fitness centre, and at least four different restaurants. The private residences above will feature 262 condo units and include access to the amenities offered by the hotel. They’re slated to open after the hotel, sometime in 2019, and are currently 90% sold.

“To be topping off the first luxury hotel alongside The Legends Private Residences in ICE District demonstrates the transformation that is occurring in our downtown core,” said Glen Scott, president of Katz Group Real Estate.

Glen Scott

Getting off the construction elevator on the 46th floor, I was struck by how small Manulife Place looks. For years it was the tallest building in Edmonton, but now it is dwarfed by the new towers.

Manulife Place

I mean, since when can you see the top of Manulife Place?!

JW Marriott

There wasn’t much to see inside as the building is very much under construction still (the topping off simply “marks the completion of the structural phase of the building”) but they did have some display boards setup to show renderings of what the final product might look like. Most people were happy enough to just take in the incredible views, however.

ICON Towers in front of the Legislature & High Level Bridge

From that vantage point you see just how flat and spread out Edmonton is. At the same time, it makes the city feel a little smaller, as if it is all within reach.

Blatchford, also under construction, is clearly visible:

Blatchford

From that height you get a very unique perspective on Commonwealth Stadium and Northlands Coliseum:

Commonwealth Stadium & Northlands Coliseum

I also enjoyed the view of 104 Avenue and Oliver:

104 Avenue

You can see more photos from the event and of the views here.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek (January 2016)

Today the City of Edmonton offered a sneak peek at Rogers Place, Edmonton’s new downtown arena slated to open in time for the 2016-2017 NHL season (there are 228 days until project completion according to the website). The $606 million project, which includes the arena, winter garden, community rink, LRT connection, and other amenities, has been under construction since March 2014. Today was the first time the public was allowed inside.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek
The Oilers flag at centre ice

I live just a few blocks away so have had an upfront view of all of the construction, but it was neat to get a look inside the building today.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

I think they were very well prepared to handle a lot of people today, but the cold temperatures probably resulted in a smaller turnout than originally anticipated. I arrived just before 11am and there were a few hundred people in line. When I left about 45 minutes later, there was no line outside.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

The project is being constructed on 9.5 acres of land right downtown and today we got to look at two elements of it. First, the community rink which will be home to the MacEwan University hockey teams. The rink will feature 1,000 seats for fans, and will be owned and operated by the City of Edmonton.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

And of course, we got to step inside the main arena itself. Here’s a quick video of the view we had:

The building is 141 feet high, and I really felt that sense of scale today. The bowl feels rounder and more intimate than the current one at Rexall Place, even though the square footage inside the arena is 819,200 square feet compared to Rexall’s 497,700 square feet.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

The capacity for hockey games is 18,641 but it can stretch to 20,734 in a centre stage concert setup or it can shrink down to about 4,500 for a small concert. Roughly 52% of the seats are in the lower bowl, compared to just 37% at Rexall Place, so more fans will be closer to the action.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

There will be 56 suites and 24 mini suites in the new arena, plus 4,100 club seats and 1,116 loge seats. Oh, and those seats are all generally wider than the ones you’ll find at Rexall Place.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek
Bob Black explaining some of the features of the arena

Rogers Place is being constructed to the LEED Silver standard, as mandated by the City of Edmonton. There’s about 9,000 tonnes of structural steel and 24,000 cubic metres of structural concrete being used to bring it to life.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

You can follow the construction at the Rogers Place website, and you can get all the facts on the project here. You can see more photos here.

Who or what is to blame for Edmonton’s Metro Line LRT delays?

Why was the Metro Line LRT delayed and when will it become fully operational as designed and intended? We still don’t know the answer to the latter question, but the reasons for the delay have become more clear thanks to the latest report from the City Auditor.

Metro Line LRT
A train! On the Metro Line!

The Auditor’s report found that project management roles and responsibilities were not clearly defined or understood, opening dates targeted were unrealistic, status reports were not written down or communicated effectively, contract management practices were inadequate, and Council was not sufficiently kept informed. Incredibly, “Council did not receive formal updates on project progress until December 2013 when construction was supposed to be complete.” The report makes three recommendations, all of which Administration has accepted.

The Metro Line is a hot topic in Edmonton right now, and Edmontonians are not happy about it. Lots of folks are looking for someone to blame, and for good reason – the project is more than year behind schedule and we still don’t know when it’ll be “done done” as opposed to “done but”. And while I think holding Administration accountable is going to be a critical part of restoring public confidence in the City’s ability to manage large projects, what’s less clear is who that blame should fall upon.

Dorian Wandzura
Dorian Wandzura

Dorian Wandzura started as the GM of Transportation Services on September 3, 2013. He took over from Bob Boutilier, who retired from the role on July 31, 2013. Formerly a deputy GM with the Toronto Transit Commission, Boutilier was credited with getting “80% of Edmonton’s long term Light Rail Transit network has been designed, planned or constructed” during his tenure. He may now also be credited with leaving the Metro Line project in a state of disarray. While Wandzura has made some mistakes along the way, it’s pretty clear now that he inherited a mess. And not just one actually, as he’s also having to deal with the Walterdale Bridge and 102 Avenue Bridge delays, among other projects.

Bob Boutilier
Bob Boutilier

What about Charles Stolte, the former GM of ETS who was fired in June? It’s not clear exactly why Wandzura let him go, but there’s some suggestion it was because of philosophical differences rather than as a result of delays to the Metro Line. He would no doubt have been involved in the signalling work, but it’s unlikely that he was primarily responsible for the debacle.

ETS Execs
Charles Stolte, right

Then there’s Wayne Mandryk, who has been in charge of LRT Design and Construction since 2008. Until the last major city reorganization in June 2011, his branch was part of a separate department known was Capital Construction. Since then it has been part of Transportation Services. The branch “manages contracts for design and construction, identifies and evaluates project delivery strategies, and coordinates construction with other city departments and utilities.” Until the spring, it was most often Mandryk that handled public communications about the Metro Line. Now Wandzura has been handling that himself. But it doesn’t appear that switch has anything to do with confidence in Mandryk as he’s currently filling Stolte’s role as well until a replacement is found.

Wayne Mandryk
Wayne Mandryk

The Auditor’s report seems to place quite a bit of blame on both Boutilier and Mandryk:

“Schedule risks emerged as planning and procurement activities progressed. However, we found no formal documentation from LRT Design and Construction to the Transportation Services General Manager advising him of emerging issues and potential delays. We were advised by LRT Design and Construction that the culture at the time was to provide verbal rather than written reports.”

Mandryk’s department didn’t provide written reports when they should have but Boutilier would have been most responsible for allowing a culture of verbal updates to flourish.

Simon Farbrother
City Manager Simon Farbrother with Councillor Amarjeet Sohi

So up we go, to the top. City Manager Simon Farbrother started at the City of Edmonton in January 2010. That’s after the Concept Plan for the Metro Line was approved, but before the contracts were awarded and long before work began. Certainly he’s going to have to answer some difficult questions from Council next week, and I expect he’ll be ready to make some changes, but it’s hard to find fault with Farbrother in this case. Throughout his first five years with the City, a key initiative of Farbrother’s has been changing the culture. He’s led a transformation that has made the City more open, creative, and aspirational. Additionally, Boutilier had already been in charge of Transportation for three years by the time Farbrother joined, and so far hiring Wandzura seems to have been a smart move.

Still, the comment Councillor Andrew Knack made this week suggests Farbrother could have done more:

“For such a major city project, there should be a desire for those in the highest (positions), especially if they haven’t heard anything, to get a status update. That’s the discouraging part.”

He’s right. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect the folks in charge to ask for updates. Except that Council doesn’t seem to have asked for updates either, at least not in an official, there’s-a-paper-trail capacity. There were about ten agenda items from mid-2011 through until mid 2013 related to the NAIT LRT, and none of them were about project status.

Mayor Iveson wrote on Monday:

“Not only were the city’s senior managers seemingly out of the loop when contractor performance started to slip in 2011, but City Council was left totally in the dark until late 2013 – which made it all the more difficult for us to hold staff accountable and explain to the public what was going on.”

All of this begs the question, what the heck happened between 2011 and 2013? Why were senior managers and Council so out of the loop on the Metro Line LRT?

Well, there was one thing that pretty much consumed Council and CLT’s attention during that same period of time: the downtown arena.

New Edmonton Arena Construction
Rogers Place rises next to MacEwan LRT Station on the Metro Line

Think about it. The arena debate dominated attention across the city throughout 2011 and 2012. It also included a lot of secret, private meetings between Administration, the Katz Group, and City Council, which plenty of people picked up on and criticized, myself included. That could have contributed to the culture of verbal reporting.

Here’s the timeline:

Most other attention-hogging projects were done by the time problems with Metro Line project started. The Quesnell Bridge expansion was completed in September 2011 and the 23 Avenue Interchange opened the following month. The winter of 2012/2013 was a particularly bad one for potholes and that did attract a lot of attention and criticism, but we have potholes every year.

I’m not saying the downtown arena project is to blame for the Metro Line delays. Correlation does not imply causation, of course. And that project is currently on time and budget because of solid project management, and I don’t want to take anything away from that. But the timeline above fits together just a little too well, doesn’t it?

As Paula Simons wrote in her column on the auditor’s report, “there’s no smoking gun in this audit – just smoke and murk.” There are also a lot of assumptions being made in trying to explain the delays – the splitting of the contracts, the inadequate project management practices, Thales missing deadlines. Maybe the simplest answer is the right one: the City and Council were distracted.

My slightly more complicated take? The arena distraction didn’t help but the biggest issue was that the culture of Transportation Services needed to change, which is happening now that Boutilier is gone and Wandzura is in.

We’ll find out more on Monday afternoon as Council discusses the auditor’s report.

NorQuest’s downtown expansion rises

Two more cranes joined the downtown skyline recently as construction on NorQuest’s new Singhmar Centre for Learning heats up. The new facility will be located immediately north of the current NorQuest campus along 103 Avenue between 107 Street and 108 Street (Capital Boulevard). It’s the first major project for NorQuest in roughly 50 years, and when it opens in 2017 it will bring enrollment in the college to over 12,500 students with the goal of doubling the current student population to 20,000 by 2025.

NorQuest Construction

The Province is contributing $170 million to the project, with another $15 million coming through NorQuest’s Maximizing Opportunities campaign. That campaign received a major boost in November when Dr. Prem Singhmar and Dr. Saroj Singhmar contributed $2.5 million to the project, which is where the name came from.

NorQuest Construction

The details are subject to change of course, but current plans would see 24 classrooms, 24 labs, and 3 “flex” classrooms built in the new facility. It would become the college’s main academic building and will serve students studying in a variety of subjects, everything from health care to English as a second language. The Singhmar Centre will also feature a daycare, a new library, food services, and plenty of meeting and activity space. Underground you’ll find parking for about 100 vehicles and 75 bicycles.

NorQuest Singhmar Centre for Learning

The existing main building isn’t going anywhere but will be receiving significant renovations, slated to be complete in 2018. The smaller Health Education Centre building on the corner of 102 Avenue and 107 Street will be demolished at some point after the expansion opens. When the entire project is done, it’ll offer not only important new learning space for NorQuest students, but also plenty of publicly accessible green space too. It’s great to see another giant downtown parking lot disappear!

Expectations for a modern college

The existing downtown campus opened in 1971, when both educators and students had very different expectations than they do today. The new campus should help NorQuest to keep up-to-speed with the changing technology requirements (and knowledge) of its students and staff.

NorQuest Singhmar Centre for Learning

About 89% of students have a smartphone, 52% use a tablet, and 95% have access to high speed Internet, and those numbers are only going up. Lots of students choose NorQuest in order to prepare for their careers, which these days always involves technology. I’m looking forward to learning more about what technology features the building will have.

A diverse student population

Based on the 2013-2014 academic year, about 75% of NorQuest students are from the Edmonton region, but 60% were born outside of Canada, representing around 90 countries. There are nearly 70 languages spoken on the NorQuest campus!

NorQuest Singhmar Centre for Learning

Approximately 11% of NorQuest’s student population are Aboriginal (First Nations, Metis, or Inuit ancestry). That’s one of the reasons why the college is so excited about the Aboriginal ceremonial room that the new campus will feature. The centrally-located and inviting room will be overseen by one of NorQuest’s elders-in-residence.

As Edmonton’s Aboriginal population continues to grow, NorQuest is looking forward to contributing to the success of that community. They recently launched a two-year pilot project in conjunction with Bow Valley College to help more than 600 Aboriginal people train for careers in the construction industry.

Connected to the LRT

With the Valley Line LRT slated to run right up 107 Street beside the campus with a stop just south of 104 Avenue, NorQuest will become connected by train to MacEwan, NAIT, and the University of Alberta.

As mentioned, NorQuest’s student population is very diverse. With a large number of newcomers, who NorQuest says typically rely on transit, being so close to the LRT will be key for remaining competitive in the future. In fact, 69% of NorQuest students cited “location” as an important factor in their decision making, and having the LRT there will make the decision that much easier.

A window into the construction

I believe the Singhmar Centre for Learning is one of the first downtown construction projects to feature the “E” window that was unveiled back in May. As you walk around the construction site under the scaffolding, you’ll find a series of E-shaped windows that let you peek into the construction activity happening on-site.

NorQuest Construction

You can follow along as construction of the Singhmar Centre for Learning progresses at the microsite. They’ve got a blog and are also on Twitter as @nqexpansion. As is the trend these days, NorQuest is working to create a timelapse of the construction so you can revisit the transformation once it is all done.

NorQuest is also celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015 “with a year-long series of events and activities.”

UPDATE: Corrected to clarify that the Health Education Centre building will not remain as originally stated and will in fact be demolished.
UPDATE2: NorQuest has updated their microsite to say that the Province is providing $170 million, not $154 million as originally stated. I have updated the post accordingly.

A colorful window into downtown Edmonton’s transformation

Edmonton’s downtown is undergoing an incredible transformation right now. You can tell by looking up at the more than two dozen cranes located in and around downtown. You can tell by the dust and other construction debris that gets blown around by the wind. You can tell by the closed sidewalks and the detours that drivers face. And of course, you can tell by the energy and excitement that seems to be in the air whenever someone talks about what is happening downtown. This is no mere revitalization. To use the City of Edmonton’s words, it’s an “incredible renaissance coming to life” in the heart of our city.

This growth and momentum was the focus of a showcase that took place today on the empty and unfinished 16th floor of the EPCOR Tower. I’m not sure the organizers appreciated the irony of talking about new buildings and more development while we were standing in the middle of the last new office tower built downtown, one which remains only partially full. I know they wanted the view, but still.

A Downtown for Everyone

The statistics that Jim Taylor, Executive Director of the Downtown Business Association, and Scott McKeen, City Councillor for Ward 6, shared with us are impressive:

  • In just two years, the amount of underdeveloped land decreased by 17%.
  • Over 1 million square feet of land in the core comprises active construction sites. That’s the equivalent of about 62 NHL-sized hockey arenas.
  • There is 6.6 million square feet of floor area under construction, which is bigger than West Edmonton Mall.
  • Over 1,100 resident units are under construction and another 3,300 have been announced by developers.

“The new downtown vibrancy and momentum is unmistakable,” said Jim Taylor. “There’s about $5 billion in new condos, office towers, hotels, and infrastructure under construction or planned for our downtown.”

A Downtown for Everyone

Projects under active construction include Rogers Place, the new Royal Alberta Museum, MacEwan Centre for Arts & Culture, NorQuest College Singhmar Centre, Kelly Ramsey, Fox Towers, The Ultima, 107 Street Annex, Hyatt Place in The Quarters, and of course all the buildings in the Edmonton Arena District, like the new Stantec tower. These projects are for residential, commercial, post-secondary, and other uses. It’s great to see such a varied mix.

The highlight of today’s event was the new visual icon that is meant to tie the various projects together. It’s a window in the shape of an “E” and it comes with lots and lots of color.

A Downtown for Everyone

I’ll admit my first reaction to the design when I saw it a few weeks ago was negative. I still don’t get the “E”. It doesn’t say anything about downtown nor does it say anything about construction. I guess you can take it to mean that all of these projects are building a bigger and better Edmonton, but that feels like a bit of a stretch. The City seems indicate that the “E” is for everyone:

“Together, as a community, we are building a downtown for everyone, one that is economically strong, vibrant, global and inclusive. The visual style is bold, optimistic and confident. Everything our downtown, and Edmonton, truly embodies.”

That seems at odds with the approach Make Something Edmonton has taken. Instead of pretending that Edmonton is for everyone, MSE posits that it’s not, but that if you’re a maker, this is your city. Can downtown really be for everyone? I will say the design is growing on me though.

A Downtown for Everyone

Berlin did the work and I had the opportunity to talk to Michael Brechtel about it. He’s a partner and is in charge of creative for the firm. He was quick to point out what the design is not. “It’s not intended to be a new brand for downtown,” he said. “It’s meant to reflect this specific time and this specific place.” He talked about the excitement that people are feeling about downtown and said his team is no different. “We’re excited and we feel a sense of ownership over downtown”, he said, pointing out that most of his colleagues live somewhere in the core and many walk to work.

There are three aspects of the design that I really like. I love the fact that it’s a window. You’ll see that reflected in print and online, and hopefully also around the construction sites, with literal windows into what’s going on behind the hoarding. If I had to pick my favorite construction hoarding from around Edmonton, it would be the new Royal Alberta Museum, partially because of the window (but also the fact that its colorful, well-lit, etc). A window into what’s coming is a pretty straightforward visual metaphor and it works.

Another thing I like about the design is that it’s colorful and bright, something that construction generally is not. “This should feel celebratory,” Michael told me. I’ve written about the short-term pain that comes with construction, but Michael is right – there’s a lot to celebrate. He noted that color helps to provide that feeling but is also accessible and inviting.

The third thing I like is that there’s at least an attempt to tie the various projects together. Obviously it wouldn’t make sense for the Oilers to get rid of their own branding, or for the Kelly Ramsey tower to ditch its excellent signage. But adding the “E” could help to better convey the message that there’s something bigger underway here. “We wanted a fun, common visual connector to raise interest and show our support for downtown,” said Councillor McKeen.

A Downtown for Everyone

Of course, that only works if it is widely adopted. There were a couple of dozen representatives from the downtown projects in attendance today, so that’s a good sign. I spoke with Tim Shipton from the Edmonton Oilers and he assured me they are on board and are looking forward to integrating the “E” into their site along 104 Avenue. I hope others are planning to do the same.

It will be interesting to see what the City itself does with the “E” as well. So far they have run with the idea on the new downtown section of the website. They’ve added taglines like “put yourself in the picture”, “excitement worth waiting for”, and “who says cranes are an endangered species”. They communicate about what’s happening downtown more than anyone else, so including the “E” will be critical if it’s going to see any traction.

I would argue they need to do more than just marketing, however. The challenge is not selling Edmontonians on the projects, which I think more or less speak for themselves. The real issue is in keeping downtown functional and open while the construction is happening. The new Current Traffic Disruptions map is a good step in the right direction, but there’s so much more that could be done. Without question all the business and community partners have a role to play, but the City is in the best position to provide leadership here.

A Downtown for Everyone

Today’s gathering reminded me a little of last year’s Edmonton in a New Light event. The focus was a little broader that time, but the message was the same. “Something big is happening,” and we need to tie it all together to help share the story. With luck, the colorful “E” window will help to do just that.

Metro Line LRT delayed again until Spring 2015, maybe, hopefully

The City held a press conference late this afternoon to provide an update on the Metro Line LRT extension to NAIT. They should have waited until February 2, because once again we learned that the opening of the new line has been delayed. The new target date is May 2015, more than a full year after the extension was originally slated to open.

2014-12-07 McEwan Station
MacEwan LRT Station in December 2014, photo by Darren Kirby

Today’s news release thanked Edmontonians for their patience and used much more careful language than previous delay announcements:

“Based on the most recent testing schedule provided by Thales Rail Signalling Solutions Inc., the City of Edmonton is cautiously optimistic the Metro Line LRT will open to public service in spring 2015.”

Cautiously optimistic is a long way from confident. The reason for the delay is the same thing we’ve heard since the project was first delayed – the contractor is having problems with the signaling system:

“Thales appreciates the patience of everyone in Edmonton as we work to complete the signaling system for the Metro Line,” says Thales Vice President Mario Peloquin. “We understand how important this essential transportation infrastructure is for the people of Edmonton, and we remain committed to delivering an outstanding product that is safe, efficient and reliable, and that will serve the city for generations to come.”

The signaling system is responsible for controlling train traffic. It tracks train movements and keeps them on schedule. Part of the challenge is that with the Metro Line, the City is changing the signaling system from a traditional fixed block system to a more modern communications-based train control system, or CBTC. It’s this new signaling system that will enable trains on the Metro and Capital lines to share the same tracks.

Even though construction completed on time and $90 million under budget, the Metro Line still isn’t open. The project has been delayed numerous times over the last year or so:

  • In September 2013, everything seemed on track for an April 2014 opening.
  • In December 2013, the opening was delayed a few months until Spring 2014.
  • In the Spring of 2014, the opening was further delayed until the end of the year. That schedule was reaffirmed over the summer.
  • In October 2014, the opening was delayed again, with February 2015 identified as the earliest possible date.
  • Now, in January 2015, the opening has been delayed until May 2015.

Needless to say, there’s very little confidence in the latest target date.

New Edmonton Arena Construction
MacEwan LRT Station next to the new downtown arena, September 2014

It was in October 2014 that Mayor Iveson called the delays “unacceptable” and asked the City Auditor to review how the project had been managed. Since then, the City has held back $20 million from the $55 million contract with Thales, and the auditor has been investigating.

Now the City says that the latest schedule from Thales would have the handover of the signaling system take place by March 23, 2015. If by some miracle Thales is actually able to meet that date, the City would need approximately 6 weeks to evaluate the system and complete staff training.

“We are very concerned with the ongoing delay of the Metro Line and will continue doing everything we can to hold Thales to their new schedule. Our goal remains the same: to open the Metro Line for safe, reliable public service as quickly as possible.”

On the Metro Line LRT site, the City has made available a slide deck and an FAQ, both in PDF.

metro line delayed

The FAQ tries to explain what has happened and attempts to provide some confidence that the City is providing “increased” project oversight to ensure it gets done. After the number of delays this project has experienced, you have to wonder if sticking with Thales is the right approach, but that’s what the City is doing:

“At present, our best option is to continue supporting Thales to deliver the signaling system. Our expectation is that Thales will meet its commitments. The City has strict project oversight to ensure they do so. If they fail to meet a milestone or if testing does not proceed according to schedule, the City will hold Thales to account.”

Let’s hope the sunk cost fallacy isn’t at play here.

The City says they are “tracking milestones on a daily basis” and have increased resources on the project. “We’re working diligently to help Thales deliver the signaling system by March 23, 2015.” The FAQ even says the City has explored the option of using people to manage train movements in an effort to get the new line open more quickly, but they ultimately decided that approach did not meet requirements for cost, safety, reliability, or efficiency.

Curiously, the final question in the FAQ is, “are you feeling badly about the delay, City of Edmonton?” Here’s the answer:

“Everyone involved with the Metro Line project regrets the delay of this exciting transportation project. We ask for your patience and hope you’ll continue to bear with us as we work towards bringing the Metro Line into service in spring 2015.”

So we’ll have to wait until late March before we can be sure the Spring 2015 opening is actually going to happen. In the meantime, we’d better make sure the same problems aren’t going to plague the Valley Line LRT extension.

Edmonton in a New Light

Tonight local business leaders gathered in the EPCOR Tower to celebrate a changing city. Construction is happening all over downtown Edmonton, our population is rapidly increasing, and our economic growth is the envy of most other jurisdictions around North America. It’s time to shed our humble past and proudly talk about the new Edmonton, we were told. It’s time to “think positive, talk proud, and speak loud.” It’s time to see Edmonton in a new light.

Edmonton in a New Light

Mayor Don Iveson, EPCOR CEO David Stevens, EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson, and Westin General Manager Joumana Ghandour all took turns at the podium to share their story and their thoughts on why this is such an exciting time for Edmonton. “There’s a transformation happening here,” Mayor Don Iveson told us in a speech that sounded a lot like the ones he gave on the campaign trail during last year’s election. “Edmonton is humble, sometimes to a fault,” he said, “but that’s changing.”

Edmonton in a New Light

The invitation for the event called it the “EPCOR Edmonton Business Leaders Reception”. I expected it to be similar to the 120th anniversary event that EPCOR hosted back in 2011, with brief remarks and a tour of the 28th floor balcony. But this event was much more bold and confident. Guests were invited to “celebrate Edmonton with EPCOR”:

“The opportunity for Edmonton to shine has never been better. Join our city’s business leaders as we begin the task of putting Edmonton in a new, dynamic light for the world to see. EPCOR President & CEO David Stevens and Brad Ferguson of EEDC invite you to a reception and viewing of the major construction projects in our downtown core from the 28th floor balcony of EPCOR Tower.”

In addition to the speeches, guests were treated to a sneak peek at some of the digital assets that EEDC and Make Something Edmonton have been working to create. “Edmonton is a billion dollar brand,” Brad Ferguson told us. “We just haven’t put much effort into it until now.” EEDC is working on the whitelabel video project and other assets so that Edmonton businesses can incorporate consistent messaging into their own brands and communications. The new storytelling tools are expected to be available early next year, some for a modest fee.

Edmonton in a New Light

EEDC is also planning to run targeted ad campaigns in select cities with a goal of attracting students, young couples, and offices to Edmonton’s growing downtown. “We’ve got to fill up all these new buildings,” Brad joked.

After the speeches were done, guests were invited to head up to the 28th floor balcony for a tour of the many construction projects happening around the EPCOR Tower. Here are some photos from above:

Edmonton in a New Light
The Edmonton Arena District

New Royal Alberta Museum Construction
New Royal Alberta Museum

Edmonton in a New Light
Fox & Ultima residential towers

New City Office Tower Construction
EAD Office Tower, which will be home to the City of Edmonton offices

Edmonton in a New Light
The new arena takes shape

Blatchford
Blatchford in the distance

Tonight’s event was undoubtedly a cheerleading session. So might consider it a call-to-arms for the local business community, an opportunity to say ‘get on the train now before its too late’. But unfortunately this sales pitch lacked the all important ask. There was no mention of next steps, beyond the “speak proudly about Edmonton” message and the promise of digital assets to help tell our city’s story. It felt a little incomplete.

That said, this is absolutely an exciting time for Edmonton, and it’s great that our city’s leaders are willing to stand up and say so. Not with the empty, meaningless, and outlandish claims of the past – “Edmonton is the best city, in the best province, in the best country in the world!” – but with a much more Edmontonian approach. “Something big is happening here, we can feel it, and we’re going to start talking a bit more about it.” We’re becoming a little less humble, and that’s a good thing.

Edmonton in a New Light

“The opportunity before us is to let the rest of the world in on the secret of why we’re all here,” Mayor Iveson said. It’s a message that those in the room should already know, but a little reinforcement doesn’t hurt. Hopefully tonight was the first in a series of nudges to get them to do something about it.

You can see more photos here.

Edmonton will officially join the skyscraper club with Stantec’s new tower

Stantec today unveiled their new headquarters, a 62-storey tower that will be built on the corner of 102 Street and 103 Avenue right in the heart of the Edmonton Arena District. Along with the Katz Group, WAM Development Group, and City of Edmonton, Stantec shared details on the new building which will be the tallest in Edmonton and one of the tallest in western Canada.

Stantec Tower

As expected, the new building will open directly into the public plaza in the Edmonton Arena District, and is being considered the “anchor” project. Construction on the $500 million project will begin this fall, with the new building slated to open in the summer of 2018.

It was back in June that City Council officially removed the Airport Protection Overlay, clearing the way for buildings higher than 150 meters to be possible. That height is significant. A building is generally considered a “high-rise” until it reaches 150m, at which point it becomes a skyscraper, at least according to most definitions. As of April 2013, there were 90 such buildings in Canada: Toronto has 56, Calgary has 16, Montreal has 9, Vancouver has 4, Mississauga has 2, and Niagara Falls and Burnaby each have 1. With the new Stantec tower, Edmonton will officially become a member of the skyscraper club!

Stantec Tower

The new tower will rise to 224 meters (or 746 feet), though officials today clarified that it could still rise higher. The design features 26 floors of offices and could accommodate another 2 floors if the market demand makes adding them feasible. The building will also include approximately 320 residential units taking up 33 residential floors. Another 2 floors are mechanical, and the first floor will feature retail.

“This new building will revolutionize the downtown landscape in Edmonton and will set expectations for future buildings in the city,” said Darren Durstling, President and CEO of WAM Development Group. “This tower is being designed, engineered and project managed entirely by Stantec, showcasing their vast capabilities and experience.”

The new building will have a dramatic effect on Edmonton’s skyline when it opens. The current tallest building in the city is EPCOR Tower, which rises to 149 meters (490 feet). Manulife Place, which was the tallest structure in Edmonton for 28 years, rises to 146 meters (480 feet). Down in Calgary, the iconic Bow tower rises to 236 meters (774 feet).

Stantec unveils new tower

Daryl Katz said the new tower will “set the tone for new buildings in Edmonton for years to come.” He called it “an extraordinary addition” to Edmonton’s skyline. Mayor Don Iveson joked, “I’m a tall guy, but I am intimidated by this!” He highlighted the building’s impact on Edmonton, saying it will transform our city’s image across the country. “This is an indication of what the power of investment in our downtown can do,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Stantec is taking about 450,000 square feet of the new building, or approximately 19 floors. They have signed a 15 year lease which of course includes naming rights (the official name is yet to be revealed). Today’s announcement was hosted at Stantec’s head office on 112 Street, one of four local offices that will be consolidated into the new building. Dozens of Stantec staffers were on hand to witness the unveiling.

“We are proud to have both our people and our designer’s work play a role in enhancing the vibrancy of the Edmonton Arena District,” said Bob Gomes, president and CEO of Stantec.

You can see Gomes and WAM President & CEO Darren Durstling literally press a button to reveal the new building with this GIF. Stantec Senior VP Keith Shillington said “our hearts were downtown” while acknowledging the proposal received some stiff competition.

Stantec unveils new tower

I am very excited about this building. Stantec, one of Edmonton’s biggest success stories, is making a significant commitment to the future of our downtown. On top of that, this building is the first major private project in the Edmonton Arena District. During the press conference, Mayor Iveson did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to suggest that if Manulife Place currently contributes about $3 million in annual tax revenue, the new Stantec tower could contribute $4-5 million into the CRL. That’s extremely significant. Just as the Bow tower “paid for” the Rivers CRL in Calgary, the Stantec tower makes the success of the downtown CRL much more likely. And hopefully it’ll allow us to attract even more private investment. For me, the “district” just became real.

Stantec Tower

If you look closely in the renderings, you’ll see a building directly to the north that features the word “hotel” across the top. I understand that the next big announcement for the Edmonton Arena District will include details on the hotel. It’s a very exciting time for downtown Edmonton!

You can see more photos from today’s announcement here.

Downtown Edmonton’s momentum continues with exciting announcements

What an exciting time for downtown Edmonton! We’re in the height of festival season, with the annual K-Days Parade and Taste of Edmonton both bringing thousands of Edmontonians into the core, and we seem to be in the height of announcement season too. Here’s a look at some of the encouraging downtown-related news that has made headlines over the last week or so:

Jasper House & North on 106 Street

Toronto-based developer Brad Lamb has announced two new condo projects in Edmonton called Jasper House and North. Located on 106 Street at 102 Avenue, the 36-storey Jasper House will get rid of another empty parking lot downtown. Sales are expected to begin this fall, with construction starting next year.

Jasper House

If all goes well with Jasper House, Lamb would undertake North, a 40-storey tower that would be located on 105 Street at 103 Avenue. Together, the two buildings represent about $260 million of investment.

You can register to receive updates on Jasper House here. No website exists yet for the North project.

More: Edmonton Journal, Metro Edmonton

Stantec Headquarters in the Edmonton Arena District

This morning, Stantec announced that their search for a new headquarters has come to an end with the signing of a lease agreement for a brand new building inside the Edmonton Arena District:

“This agreement represents our commitment to the community of Edmonton and the downtown redevelopment,” said Bob Gomes, president and CEO of Stantec. “Our decision is the result of an intensive selection process over the last year, and we are looking forward to moving ahead with design and construction.”

The new building will allow Stantec to consolidate its five current Edmonton locations into one. As the news release says, it’s “a true commitment to the city’s downtown.” The company has about 1,500 employees in Edmonton. Their existing leases are all up by 2019. Back in May, Stantec indicated they had narrowed their search for a new home to downtown.

Proponents of the downtown arena deal will no doubt hail this as a major victory, while critics will point out that we’re simply moving around offices that already existed in Edmonton. I think it’s an encouraging sign for the arena district, and I hope Stantec’s decision will help to attract outside investment as the district evolves. We still aren’t seeing the promised dominoes falling, but at least this is a very encouraging step in the right direction. The Katz Group’s Bob Black said to expect further announcements related to the district, so let’s hope this is a sign of things to come!

The specific location within the EAD site hasn’t been announced, but there’s speculation it could be where the Greyhound Station exists today. Preliminary design work for the new building is underway, and Stantec anticipates sharing more information at a press conference in late August.

More: Edmonton Journal, Metro Edmonton

Alley of Light Pocket Park Redevelopment

Michael Phair has shared an exciting update on the Alley of Light project! The initiative has long wanted to redevelop the pocket park behind the Sobeys building adjacent to Icon I, and it looks like that will finally be happening.

“The City of Edmonton has awarded a contract to Paving Stone Plus and construction will likely begin in the week of July 28-August 1.”

The work involves new paving and stone work, new power distribution, security lighting, and LED bollards, new retaining walls, chairs and tables to seat 64, and landscaping.

Alley of Light Pocket Park

Downtown certainly could use more functional, attractive park space, so this is great to see. Kudos to Michael Phair and the entire Edmonton on the Edge team for persevering! Hopefully Scott Park on 105 Street and 102 Avenue will be moving ahead soon too.

Calgary’s Mainstreet Equity sees downtown opportunity

It’s not clear exactly where in the Edmonton Arena District that Calgarian landlord Bob Dhillon is consolidating land, but a recent article in the Journal highlighted his interest in Edmonton’s rapidly improving downtown:

“While many Calgarians look on with envy as the Edmonton Oilers plan a magnificent new building to play in, landlord Bob Dhillon sees only the opportunity.”

Mainstreet’s Edmonton portfolio currently consists of 3,683 units at 119 sites, according to the article. It’s great to see interest in the Edmonton market from a Calgary-based business!

Downtown Perception Survey

For all of these reasons and more, perceptions about downtown are changing. The Downtown Business Association is hoping to learn more about the opinions that Edmontonians have of downtown and is running an online survey. Preliminary results show that more than half of respondents say their opinion of downtown has become “more favorable” over the last year. The full results will be released on August 27.

Sign of things to come?

All of these new projects will join existing ones already underway, including the Fox Towers, Ultima, Kelly Ramsey Building, Symphony, new Royal Alberta Museum, and many others.

Kelly Ramsey Building Construction

This is what happens when thousands of people start living in the downtown area. Demand, demand, demand. The next few years are going to be extremely exciting!

Photo Tour: Rogers Place construction is well underway!

Construction is well underway on Rogers Place, and yesterday morning the local media had the opportunity to see the activity from above and up close. You can check out the live view here.

We started off with a trip to the top of the EPCOR Tower. From there, you get an excellent view of the 9.5 acre site. When finished, Rogers Place will be about 60% larger than Rexall Place is today. It’ll seat 18,641 for hockey games, and up to 20,734 in a centre stage concert setup.

Rogers Place Construction Update

The former site of the Staples is now empty, and there was limited activity there yesterday.

Rogers Place Construction Update

The Baccarat Casino remains open, and will remain open for as long as they want. The City of Edmonton owns the land and is now their landlord, but the arena development will not encroach on the area where the casino is in any way. It seems strange to me that it could remain open next to the arena, but apparently there’s a strong possibility that’ll happen.

Rogers Place Construction Update

The LRT station is more or less finished, with just signaling to go. There will be some impact to the station once the 5,300 square foot connection to Rogers Place is constructed.

Rogers Place Construction Update

After the media had assembled, the brief press conference was held. On hand to answer questions were: Rick Daviss, Manager of Corporate Properties at the City of Edmonton; Bob Black, Executive VP of the Edmonton Arena Corporation at the Katz Group; Mike Staines, Construction Manager at PCL; Patrick LaForge, President of the Edmonton Oilers; and Dan Valliant, SVP and Project Executive for Rogers Place with ICON Venue Group.

Rogers Place Construction Update

PCL’s Mike Staines gave an update on the construction taking place. “We have around 30 of 400 columns in place, and two or three elevator shafts today.” There are about 150 craftsmen and craftswomen on site working. The steel and concrete structure will be erected starting this fall with two cranes that are three times the size of the ones there today. That work will take about a year.

Next we hopped on a bus to go across the street to see the construction up close.

Rogers Place Construction Update

The crew had setup a PCL flag to denote where Centre Ice will be. About 80,000 m3 of material will be excavated, with up to 300 truck loads removed each day.

Rogers Place Construction Update

Here you can see how deep they have excavated the site, and also the wall that has been setup to separate the arena project from the casino.

Rogers Place Construction Update

About 10,000 pieces of structural steel weighing 9,000 tonnes and 25,000 m3 of concrete will be used in the construction of Rogers Place.

Rogers Place Construction Update

Across the street, there is limited construction activity thus far. Eventually the Winter Garden will cross 104 Avenue, connecting the north and south sites. I expect that’ll be the focus of a future construction update.

Rogers Place Construction Update

Bob Black addressed questions about the arena district right away: “There’ll be much more to come in the coming months as the project evolves. I know that many of you will have questions on the district, and we will be providing details on that very soon. But today, the focus is on Rogers Place.”

Rogers Place Construction Update

Construction has been hugely impactful on the residents of Square 104, but the City of Edmonton’s Rick Daviss said that communication has been good and the City and Katz Group have been quick to take care of any issues that have come up. The City is meeting regularly with residents and business owners in the area.

Rogers Place Construction Update

Rogers Place is slated to open in the fall of 2016. It will bee the first LEED Silver-certified NHL arena in Canada.

Rogers Place Construction Update

You can see more photos of the construction site here.