Edmonton’s skyline can now officially rise higher

For all the noise that was made about height restrictions over downtown in recent years, they sure went away quietly today! At a public hearing, City Council made the removal of the Airport Protection Overlay (APO) official, passing Bylaw 16859 without debate. The zoning bylaw no longer references height restrictions, and buildings downtown can now rise to whatever height the market will bear.

Edmonton City Centre Airport

Section 810 described special regulations for the Downtown Development Area as follows:

“…the maximum Height of a development within the Downtown Development Area, defined in Appendix I to this Schedule, shall not exceed a Height of 815.34 m above sea level.”

Though the maximum height of each building varied with its specific location, in general, the overlay restricted buildings downtown to a maximum height of about 150 metres. The new EPCOR Tower was built to the maximum height allowed, rising to 149 metres, about two-thirds the height of the Bow building that now dominates Calgary’s skyline. Now, buildings can go even higher.

It was only a matter of time until the Airport Protection Overlay was removed, thanks to the full closure of the City Centre Airport in December. “The removal of the Airport Protection Overlay is considered to be an administrative process directly resulting from the closure of the Edmonton City Centre Airport which underwent significant public consultation,” today’s report read. Still, the outcome marks another milestone in the history of the City Centre Airport.

City Centre Airport

Our attention has now fully shifted to Blatchford, and rightly so, but the removal of height restrictions could enliven downtown’s development too. There are of course many examples of great cities that have managed to grow with height restrictions in place, such as Paris or London. Removing the Airport Protection Overlay in Edmonton isn’t going to change the fortunes of downtown by itself, but it is one more barrier out of the way. For a good discussion on what the removal of height restrictions over downtown could mean, check out this Avenue Edmonton article.

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.

Megaprojects aren’t enough to revitalize Edmonton’s downtown

Edmonton’s downtown has been the centre of attention lately, with a number of exciting megaprojects making headlines in recent weeks. As someone who has bought into the “as goes your downtown, so goes your city” mantra, I think the progress is good. But I firmly believe we need more than megaprojects to turn downtown around, and I’m not sure the little things that will positively impact downtown get the attention they deserve and require.

Downtown Panoramic

The most talked about megaproject is of course the $450 million arena:

“I’m elated. This is, to my mind, the start of a dream come true to rebuild our downtown.”
– Mayor Mandel, City of Edmonton and Katz Group reach arena deal (Archive)

Another megaproject is the $340 million Royal Alberta Museum:

“The aspirations of the city to revitalize its downtown, complete (with its) arts district, meshed with the province’s need for a new home for the Royal Alberta Museum.”
– Premier Stelmach, Royal addition to downtown (Archive)

Yet another megaproject is the $275 million redevelopment of the Federal Building:

“A different type of downtown? Step by step, piece by piece, we’re putting the puzzle together.”
– Paula Simons, Federal Building quietly takes shape (Archive)

Another one is the City Centre Airport, which Jim Taylor talked a lot about at the DBA luncheon yesterday. There are lots of other headlines and articles related to these megaprojects, and all seem to convey the message that collectively the megaprojects will revitalize downtown. Or that interest in downtown as a result of these projects is enough. But for these megaprojects to return the fullest return on investment possible, we need to do more. We need to make many, many smaller improvements in conjunction with the big ones. We can’t forget the little things!

To me, increasing the number of downtown residents is the key to downtown revitalization. We need a good mix of residential densities, types, and uses in the core. And we need more of the people who work downtown to choose to live there as well. Just having a new arena or museum isn’t going to be enough to get people to make that choice.

Photo by Jason Bouwmeester

The good news is that there are lots of small things we can do to make downtown a more attractive place to live, work, and play. Here are ten ideas that I have been thinking about, in no particular order:

  • Relax jaywalking laws downtown. I’ve had colleagues from London visit and they’re shocked that people wait at red lights! There and in many other cities, pedestrians are free to cross whenever the street is clear. I will readily admit that I cross the street on red lights all the time when the coast is clear. I think we need to make downtown a better place for pedestrians. It might seem like that’s what jaywalking laws are meant to do, but I think they actually reinforce the idea that vehicles have the priority instead. We need vehicles to slow down, and to come second to pedestrians.
  • Add scramble intersections. These are the intersections where traffic stops in all four directions, allowing pedestrians to cross the street in any direction, including diagonally. Again this helps to make downtown a more walkable, friendly place for pedestrians. This has been suggested for inclusion in the Jasper Avenue New Vision revitalization project, but we need to ensure it happens.
  • Prioritize downtown street cleaning. As soon as the snow is gone, the streets downtown should be cleaned. First impressions make a difference, and visitors are not impressed when they step outside and find themselves in a huge cloud of dust and gravel.
  • More projects like Todd Babiak’s Interventions and the Alley of Light. We need to make better use of underutilized spaces, and we could definitely do with some additional color and flair downtown. Let’s treat more of our blank walls and empty parking lots as canvases ready to be put to use. Maybe we need a community-edited database of available spaces?
  • Make public art a priority. Related to the previous point, development projects are supposed to include funding for public art, but the rules are not enforced. Capital Boulevard is moving ahead without funding for public art, for example.
  • Improve transit information displays. Downtown is already our primary hub for transit, and that role is going to be reinforced by the LRT expansion, particularly with the Downtown LRT Connector. Let’s add digital display boards to the big bus stops. They could use scheduled information for now, and be switched over to live GPS data when that system goes live across ETS. Let’s make the experience of using transit downtown even better than it already is.
  • Get rid of the portable toilets and add permanent ones. Having a place for people to go is better than having no place at all, without question. But why half-ass it? Let’s spend the (relatively small amount of) money to add permanent toilets downtown. There are lots of examples to draw upon, such as the beautiful and highly-effective public urinals that Matthew Soules Architecture designed for Victoria.
  • Add recycle bins alongside garbage cans. You may have seen the nice, silver receptacles that combine garbage, paper, and bottle recycling around the city, but there aren’t many downtown (aside from Churchill Square). We’re already a pretty green city, and this would help drive that message home downtown.
  • Require green roofs on new developments. They’ve done it in Toronto, why not here? There are many, many benefits that come from green roofs. And hey, we’ve already got one thanks to Williams Engineering.
  • Get rid of parking minimums throughout downtown. There’s a five-year pilot project in place for the warehouse district, but I think it’s a no-brainer. If you can sell a condo or rent a space without parking, then why not do it? Otherwise we’re effectively just subsidizing vehicles. This is a good way to spur development and hopefully infill, considering that it can cost developers between $30,000 and $70,000 per stall to create.

I’ve got my share of “bigger” ideas as well, such as doing whatever it takes to make the space behind the Stanley Milner library a proper usable square, perhaps alongside a larger revitalization of the building. Another one would be closing Rice Howard Way to vehicles and extending it to the top of the river valley.

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface with this list, but the point is that there’s a lot more that goes into downtown revitalization than megaprojects. What are your ideas?

Recap: DBA Annual Spring Luncheon & DECL AGM

I suppose every day is a ‘downtown day’ for me given that I both live and work here, but today felt especially downtown-focused. Of course the arena news was still fresh this morning and most people I came across throughout the day were talking about it. At lunch I was fortunate enough to be a guest of EEDC at the Downtown Business Association’s annual spring luncheon, where some City Centre Airport news was released. And this evening I joined Sharon at the Downtown Edmonton Community League’s annual general meeting.

DBA Annual Spring Luncheon

The spring luncheon is one of two annual luncheons produced by the DBA. Held at The Westin, there was a packed house for the presentation of the DBA’s 2010 Annual Report. Jim Taylor, Executive Director of the DBA, highlighted some of the activities from the past year, and in what has become an annual tradition, presented the Downtown Beat Officers with a new bicycle.

All five finalists in the City Centre Redevelopment competition were present at the luncheon. Mayor Mandel couldn’t be there in person, so a pre-recorded video was played instead. In the video he referenced the “decision” made yesterday regarding the competition, which got a chuckle from everyone (because, of course, they couldn’t decide). Simon Farbrother took the stage and surprised us with the announcement that the list of five had been trimmed to three:

  • Perkins + Will, Vancouver, B.C.
  • Foster & Partners, London, U.K.
  • KCAP Architects, Rotterdam, Netherlands

The final decision will be made by City Council on June 22.

Guests at the luncheon were also reminded that the Downtown Core Crew starts again next week. You can book the team of summer students for tours and other special events!

You can read about past luncheons here, and watch for the annual report to be posted online here.


Tonight’s DECL AGM was held at the Yellowhead Brewery on 105 Street. It was fairly well attended for a community league AGM! President Chris Buyze presented his annual report highlighting a number of successes:

  • On-going community events such as Al Fresco, CornFest, and the first annual EFCL Day.
  • The completion and passing of the new Capital City Downtown Plan in July 2010 (with the zoning portion passing in December 2010). Chris had personally been involved in consultations for more than 5 years!
  • Participation in various downtown and city-wide issues and initiatives, such as the ONEdmonton Downtown Vibrancy Task Force and the Jasper Avenue Hospitality Committee.
  • Embracing social media to connect with residents!

Chris also highlighted a couple of challenges that DECL met, including conveying concerns with the proposed downtown arena and the development of a new 2-year strategic plan.


There were also two presentations this evening. We received a brief update on the Alley of Light project, and Alex Abboud talked about Homeward Trust and the work that they are doing in our community. Watch for a new Homeward Trust website next month, and check out Find Furnishing Hope, a social enterprise offering quality, low-cost previously used furniture located at 5120 122 Street.

There was also the official business of the AGM this evening, with a few board members moving on and a few new faces joining the board: Scott McKeen, Sharon Yeo, and Sebastian Hanlon. Questions and discussion covered the arena, the intersection at 105 Street & 104 Avenue, and electronic signs and billboards downtown. We also took a quick trip outside to look at Scott Property where hopefully a park will be built before long!

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.