Edmonton City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

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

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

From the press release:

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

The five winning firms are (in alphabetical order):

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

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

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

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

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

Some additional notes from the press conference:

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

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

It’s great to see this project moving forward!

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

Photo Tour of the Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport

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

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

Who’s behind Envision Edmonton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the Envision Edmonton board members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edmonton City Centre Airport Lands Master Plan Principles

A report went to City Council today outlining the vision and principles for development of the City Centre Airport lands.

The ECCA lands will be home to 30,000 Edmontonians living, working and learning in a sustainable community that uses 100% renewable energy, is carbon neutral, significantly reduces its ecological footprint, and empowers residents to pursue a range of sustainable lifestyle choices.

You can download the report here. A few of the highlights for me:

  • The challenge is to be experimental, not to wait for the perfect solution to arrive.
  • Common goal is defined by: design excellence, empowering people, reducing consumption, offering lifestyle options, innovating, measuring achievements.
  • Examples mentioned: Vastra Hamnen (Western Front), Malmo, and Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm, both in Sweden, and One Planet Communities.
  • The goal is to achieve LEED Gold certification for all buildings, and to encourage LEED Platinum.
  • Under transportation: LRT is a focus, of course, but also “designs to discourage high speed traffic”, “bike paths and multi-use trails to provide fully connected routes”.
  • Technology is identified as a key component of the Master Plan: “A key to success in adapting new technologies will be the engagement of three major local players: EPCOR, the University of Alberta and NAIT.”
  • Our climate is highlighted: “It must be recognized that Edmonton has severe winter conditions, which bring their own challenges, but these need not stand in the way of achieving sustainable development.”

The report also highlights the historical significance of the lands, and states that the Master Plan must embody that through preservation, naming, interpretation, and designation:

  • Identify opportunities to re-use hangars as recreation facilities or other community facilities (e.g. farmers market).
  • Explore the idea of a “mall of museums” that would acknowledge the historical significance of structures such as Hangars 8 and 11 that are all on the Inventory of Historic Resources in Edmonton.
  • Acknowledge the history of the site through naming opportunities for thoroughfares, places and buildings that are associated with the past.

The Master Plan process will be guided by a new steering committee, and is broken into the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFP) phases. In the RFP stage, the City is looking for 3-5 proposals. Selection would be made by “an independent jury of distinguished professionals.” Excluding formal approvals by Council, the entire process is expected to take a year.

I think the report is a great first step, but there’s still a long way to go. In the background section, there are lots of specific targets, such as the One Planet principles that include “100% of power coming from renewable energy”, “98% reduction in solid landfill waste”, “82% reduction in CO2”, and “20% of materials manufactured on site”. The section that outlines the Master Plan is largely devoid of such targets, however. I found only a couple:

  • At least 20% of the housing units built must be affordable housing.
  • Achieve an overall density of 25 units per acre minimum.

To get an idea of what 25 units per acre looks like, check out this PDF (4 MB).

Council will be discussing the report today. You can watch or listen live online here.

Edmonton City Centre Airport closure delayed

Back in July, City Council voted in favor of phased closure for the City Centre Airport. The first runway (16-34) was scheduled to be closed by April 30, 2010, but today Council voted to delay that until October 2010 so that the Rexall Edmonton Indy can be held next year (only Councillor Batty voted against the decision). You know, the race that cost taxpayers $5.3 million last year (figures for the 2009 race haven’t yet been released). I guess this means the design competition will also be delayed.

Just last week a report suggested that air traffic may be closed for four weeks to accommodate the Indy. The only other alternative that was presented was to spend the money on a new track, a decision that probably wouldn’t have gone over very well with anyone.

The current contract with the Indy Racing League expires after the 2010 race, but City Manager Al Maurer says that discussions about a longer term agreement are underway. If the 2009 figures don’t show a big improvement from 2008, it’ll be hard for City Council to justify a renewal.

I think City Council missed an important opportunity today to reinforce their decision to close the City Centre Airport. Additionally, they’re in danger of setting a bad precedent of delays. What happens the next time Tom Hendricks or someone else goes to Council to ask for more time?

I hope this is the first and last delay in the closure process. We’re watching you City Council.

UPDATE: The Journal reports that the delay would be until July 31, 2010 not October 2010.

UPDATE2: The text of the motion is as follows:

That the City of Edmonton cooperate with Edmonton Regional Airports Authority to ensure that any closure of Runway 16-34 would not take effect until after the 2010 Edmonton Indy and Alberta Aviation Museum’s Airfest 2010.

You can download the minutes in Word here.

Downtown Edmonton requires infill development

One of the things I’ve heard time and time again during and since the City Centre Airport debate earlier this month is the argument that closing the airport and making the lands available for redevelopment threatens the infill that is required throughout downtown. If you highlight all the surface parking lots, downtown Edmonton (97th Street to 109th Street, 99th Avenue to 104th Avenue) looks something like this:

That doesn’t take into account parkades or any lots that I missed (I put it together pretty quickly just looking at the satellite view). It’s also a relatively small area (there are far more on the other side of 109th and 104th) I don’t think anyone would look at that and say, “it’s fine the way it is.” The fact is, we definitely need infill development if we want to have a sustainable, vibrant city. I would suggest that the individuals who supported closing the City Centre Airport likely also strongly support infill development. Both are steps toward the same end.

The first and probably most important thing to consider with this issue is that the whole of the ECCA lands did not go on the market the day Council voted to close the airport. It’s a long-term proposition, and redevelopment will take time.

The second thing to consider is that we may in fact need that space eventually, even if all of the current infill development happens. A few questions were asked about this very topic in Council’s Q & A. Here is the key response, prepared by Gordon Easton from Colliers:

Development pressure in the City of Edmonton is coming from the dual processes of population growth and population change. The population of Edmonton is expected to increase by approximately 400,000 people by 2041. The population is also aging, which creates demand for additional dwelling units, including high density. Our housing demand report showed that between 2016 and 2041 there will be a minimum of 45,107 apartments and 16,212 other multi family homes required to house the expected population. Certainly there are other developments and other sites that can and will accommodate some of this growth. Armin Preiksitis & Associates estimates that the current major development sites underway or expected in the City will contribute almost 35,000 multi-family units. If no other developments come on-line, those units will be completely absorbed in 2019, and there will be 2,453 multi family units needed each year thereafter. That is the equivalent of over 8 30-story condo towers and 650 townhouses per year. As part of the City’s multi family dwelling supply, the ECCA lands would reduce the rate of absorption at competing properties and lengthening the development timing. If ECCA were not developed with multi family residential, the rate of absorption at other sites would be higher, and development pressures (prices) on other sites throughout the city would increase as the market responds to the demand.

We need infill development in downtown Edmonton whether the airport disappears or stays. Closing the airport doesn’t mean that such infill development can’t or won’t happen, and to suggest otherwise is misleading and dishonest.

Social Media and the City Centre Airport Debate

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

On Thursday morning Jeff Samsonow and I chatted about the City Centre Airport for a few minutes on CBC Radio. During the interview I was asked if I thought social media played a role in the debate. I answered, “absolutely”.

Also on Thursday, Graham Hicks mentioned the “rise of youth” in his column, observing that “the younger demographic flexed its muscle” and that “the "social media" was solidly anti-airport”. He specifically mentioned myself, Jordan Schroder, Dave Cournoyer, and Michael Janz.

Scott McKeen got things rolling on Friday with his column in the Edmonton Journal, stating that “a new reality emerged along with a new establishment.” He too mentioned age:

Blogger Mack Male used Twitter to go live from council chambers during the final debate. In one Twitter post, he wrote: "There is a silver-haired guy in the audience shaking his head during Don Iveson’s remarks."

Global Edmonton’s Linda Nguyen interviewed me Friday for a piece that aired during the evening news (click on “silent majority” because their video system sucks). Councillors Iveson and Krushell were also interviewed for the story, and cited the use of social media by young people as a trend to keep an eye on.

On Saturday, Todd Babiak’s column in the Edmonton Journal took the story to another level. He interviewed both myself and Jordan Schroder, and said:

It must have been devastating for the city’s most powerful men and women to watch a group of virtually connected–but politically unconnected–young people creating and controlling public debate with speed, elegance and respect.

Is it just coincidence that so many stories on the same topic appeared over the last few days? Were they all just trying to avoid another negative comment from Cal Nihols and his side? Maybe, but I think there’s more to it than that.

Social Media Lessons

Social media definitely played a large role in the City Centre Airport debate, on both sides. As I mentioned in my post introducing NotMyAirport.ca, AEG made use of social media for its campaign too, though the local media seems to have glossed over this fact. David MacLean was active on Twitter, and actually was the first to use the #ecca hashtag that has become so popular. You may know that I didn’t create the Not My Airport group on Facebook, Jordan Schroder did. I just looked for the largest pro-closure group and linked to it – Jordan then renamed it and made me an admin. David told me a similar thing happened with their side’s Facebook group. David and I both took part in the web debate hosted by FusedLogic, and we both encouraged others to email their councillors.

All of which begs the question, if both sides had such similar stories, why were the pro-closure side’s social media efforts so much more effective? The fact that, at least in my opinion, we had a stronger case notwithstanding, I believe the following reasons are key:

  1. Blogging

    Blogs are still the stars of social media. The pro-closure side made use of blogs quite extensively. Myself, Dave, Michael, Adam, Adam, and Jeff all blogged about the issue numerous times, and I’m sure there were others too. A blog has many benefits, but three in particular played a role here: a place to expand on thoughts and to lay out facts, a good ranking in search engines, a place for others to leave comments and have a conversation. The pro-Muni side didn’t have any blogs, and they missed out accordingly.

  2. Consistency

    Perhaps the most important thing you can do when you have a blog is to post regularly. I did that, as did others. We were also consistent with other tools. We kept the Twitter stream updated, and we regularly sent messages to our Facebook group and posted on the wall. The debate seemed more alive because we were consistent with our communications.

  3. Using the right tool for the job

    Blogs are great for sharing a relatively large amount of information. Twitter is great for short, real-time bits of info. Here’s an example: I listened to the live stream for the public hearings, and Twittered about it in real-time. The pro-Muni side was nowhere to be found. Similarly, I live tweeted the final decision, because that’s what Twitter is good at. The pro-Muni side again was silent. Even the web debate is a good example – I suggested it because I knew it would give us time to explore the issues and a chance for others to converse online.

  4. No distractions

    You might call it grassroots or simply having no money, but the pro-closure social media efforts were not affected by other “distractions”. The billboards, lawn signs, etc. all have an impact – in this case, they made the pro-Muni side seem like it had some money, and that took away from the authenticity of their social media efforts.

Over the weekend, Adam and Dave wrote about Babiak’s story. Both suggested that there’s more to the story than just young people using social media. I agree with them. If age played any role, it’s that young people are more comfortable with social media tools and thus used them more effectively. That’s a bit of a generalization, however. There were young and old people on both sides of the debate.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt in my mind that the City Centre Airport debate and the role social media played in that debate will have a lasting impact on politics in Edmonton. Having said that, it’s important to realize that change doesn’t often happen overnight. Just as it will take years for the airport itself to give way to something new, political decisions will continue to be made the way they always have been, at least for the foreseeable future.

The difference now, I hope, is that social media has been legitimized in the eyes of our local political system and should see greater use in the future.

I think that’s something to be proud of.

Edmonton City Centre Airport Decision: Phased Closure

City Council voted today to implement a phased closure of the City Centre Airport. The motion put forward by Councillor Gibbons described two phases and passed by a vote of 10-3. I’m happy with the decision that was made today, and I commend Council for taking a courageous step toward ensuring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan are realized.

Here is the vote breakdown for adopting the motion (which you can download here):

Councillor Karen Leibovici (Ward 1) Yes
Councillor Linda Sloan (Ward 1) No
Councillor Ron Hayter (Ward 2) No
Councillor Kim Krushell (Ward 2) Yes
Councillor Ed Gibbons (Ward 3) Yes
Councillor Tony Caterina (Ward 3) No
Councillor Jane Batty (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Ben Henderson (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Bryan Anderson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Don Iveson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Amarjeet Sohi (Ward 6) Yes
Councillor Dave Thiele (Ward 6) Yes
Mayor Stephen Mandel Yes

Council started discussing the issue at 1:30pm, and didn’t wrap up until nearly 6pm. There were at least four rounds of questioning, driven largely by Councillors Caterina and Sloan who were vehemently opposed to the motion. After the questioning finally ended, Councillor Caterina put forward a motion to refer the issue to Administration which was soundly defeated.

Three amendments were made to the original motion. Councillor Iveson’s two amendments were “friendly”. Councillor Krushell’s amendment stated that after scheduled service licenses expire at ECCA in June of 2012, that they not be renewed. All three amendments were approved, and as soon as the final motion is online I’ll link to it which you can download here (PDF).

It became clear as Councillors gave their final remarks that the motion was going to pass. I thought Councillors Henderson, Iveson, and Krushell made excellent comments about why this decision needed to be made, speaking in particular about the future. Councillor Leibovici mentioned the role of social networking in this debate (more on that in a future post). Mayor Mandel used his time to make it clear that “this is a closure motion.” Councillor Gibbons used his time to get a dig in at Councillor Caterina, saying “if you can’t win, don’t bring it forward.”

After the vote passed, a motion from Councillor Sloan was brought forward that called into question the legality of Councillor Gibbons’ motion (the City’s legal counsel gave the OK hours earlier). It also requested that quarterly updates be provided to Council on legal issues related to the City Centre Airport. The motion was split – the first part was defeated, the second part (quarterly updates) passed.

What happens next?

The following will happen immediately:

  • Runway 16-34 will be closed. General aviation business activities will be adjusted to accommodate a one-runway airport. Medivac service will be maintained.
  • As a result, a GPS landing system will likely be added to runway 12-30.
  • The parcel of lands adjacent to runway 16-34 that can be surrendered to the City once the runway is closed will be identified.
  • Negotiations will begin with NAIT and the Province of Alberta to allow for NAIT expansion.
  • The City of Edmonton will create a development office and will work to set out long-term visioning plans for the ECCA lands in their entirety. The plan will be presented to Council by November 2009.
  • Plans for realignment of the NAIT LRT line based on the closure of 16-34 will be provided to Council no later than September 2009.
  • The downtown plan will be adjusted to take into consideration the immediate removal of the overlay height restrictions.
  • The City of Edmonton will develop a communications strategy to inform the public about the impact of this decision.
  • The City Manager will negotiate with Edmonton Regional Airport Authority (ERAA) to make mutually acceptable lease amendments.

The following will happen sometime in the future:

  • ERAA will work with Alberta Health Services on a long-term system design to facilitate Medivac operations at the Edmonton International Airport or other regional airports.
  • The final closure date will be determined by City Council with input from ERAA when the lands are required to support the long-term land development plan.
  • After the final closure date is set, environmental remediation will take place.

What does this mean?

Council decided today to close the City Centre Airport. They stopped short of attaching dates however, which makes the motion much weaker than it could have been (during my live-tweeting I called it “gutless”). Both Mayor Mandel and Councillor Henderson addressed this in their final remarks, stating that Council’s intentions should not be misinterpreted – the intention is to close the airport.

I fear the lack of a timeline will open the door for this to be discussed again in the future, however. At what point are the lands “required to support the long-term land development plan”? Who decides that and brings it forward, especially if the City is to be the developer of those lands? I do believe that the direction is clear, that the airport is to be closed, but the lack of a final closure date makes me uncomfortable.

It’s important to realize that we’re a long way from seeing the airport completely closed. New communities are not developed overnight, and especially not world-class, transit-oriented ones. The City needs to take the time to come up with a solid, exciting plan that Edmontonians readily support.

Final Thoughts

I think Council made a bold statement today. By voting to close the City Centre Airport, Council made it clear that they’re willing to do what it takes to ensure Edmonton’s future is bright. I think today’s decision was an important step in the push to create a more vibrant, sustainable, innovative, and livable Edmonton.

The City Centre Airport will be closed, and that’s good for Edmonton.

UPDATE (7/9/2009): You can download the final version of the motion here (PDF).

Council’s Q & A on the City Centre Airport

I know I’ve been writing a lot about ECCA lately, but with the Council meeting taking place tomorrow afternoon, it’s crunch time. I think the most likely outcome is that Council will vote for a staged closure of the airport (shutting one runway down initially, with the rest to follow at a later date). The only other outcome that I think has a chance is that Council will somehow delay the process, likely by asking for additional information.

During the public hearings last week, Council asked a number of questions (75 to be exact). This afternoon, the answers were published online (you can download the Word doc here). It’s worth reading the entire thing (50 pages, which includes the ECCA 2007 Annual Report) but I thought I’d highlight a few here.

On height restrictions:

Examples of major past projects that were reduced in height or could have developed higher were it not for the Airport Protection Overlay (APO) height limitations include the EPCOR Tower (101 Street/105 Avenue), the AMA Building (109 Street/118 Avenue, the Royal Alexandra Hospital Expansion, two residential towers in Railtown, and Aurora Developments (105 Avenue/101 Street).

On medivac (there’s not as much in the answers as you might think):

Many stakeholders noted that the medevac system needs improvement, whether or not there are changes to ECCA. They also noted with all ambulances (ground, fixed wing and rotary wing) potentially being managed by Alberta Health Services, an opportunity exists for improvement of patient care.

On a third party managing the airport:

The Board of Directors of Edmonton Airports approved a resolution on June 20, 2009 that “For as long as the Edmonton City Centre Airport lands are used as an airport, Edmonton Airport is committed to manage the Edmonton City Centre Airport as an airport in accordance with the lease to the expiry of the lease term.” Therefore, the option of having the ECCA separately managed is not available for consideration.

On competition for development throughout the City:

Armin Preiksitis & Associates estimates that the current major development sites underway or expected in the City will contribute almost 35,000 multi-family units. If no other developments come on-line, those units will be completely absorbed in 2019, and there will be 2,453 multi family units needed each year thereafter. That is the equivalent of over 8 30-story condo towers and 650 townhouses per year. As part of the City’s multi family dwelling supply, the ECCA lands would reduce the rate of absorption at competing properties and lengthening the development timing.

On the timeline for closure:

It needs to be recognized that potential redevelopment of the ECCA lands is a mid-term to long-term proposition. If you refer to the report (Report 2009DCM032, Attachment 2, pages 10 of 299 and) it is assumed that the earliest redevelopment on the ECCA lands would begin in 2016 – seven years from now. Colliers International, based upon market conditions and competing developments, estimates a 23-28 year build out period.

On the creation of economic activity:

To say that Airports Create Jobs, leaves you with the wrong impression, that if you develop an airport, you will create economic activity. This is only true to the extent that the demand for these services already exists. If you took the statement that aviation creates jobs at face value, you would consider building another airport in Edmonton as a measure for generating economic growth. This of course is not something anyone would actively promote.

On how much the City will have to pay to maintain ECCA:

Like most general aviation airports, the City Centre Airport cannot fully pay for its capital costs. Those costs are subsidized by the users of EIA. Also, the ten year capital requirements of the airport approximate $35M and one of the more significant items is storm water improvements. It is expected that the city’s contribution towards the completion of that component is up to $10M.

One of my favorite sections rips apart the Ascend report put forward by AEG (question 31). Definitely worth a look.

I’ll be tweeting live from the City Council meeting tomorrow afternoon (July 8th) at 1pm. You can follow along with the #ecca hashtag. I hope they make the right decision.

The Great Edmonton Airport Debate Continues

Tonight at 7pm, the discussion about the City Centre Airport resumes. I’ll be joining David MacLean from AEG on FusedLogic TV to discuss the issue (more info here). In case you missed it, here’s our short segment from last Thursday’s Alberta Primetime.

Thanks to FusedLogic for hosting this tonight. Here’s an intro video they’ve put together:

Because it’s online, we’ll get to be a little more interactive too. There will be a chat room and of course we’ll be checking Twitter and such as well.

If you’re looking for some reading to do before the debate tonight, check out the latest letters in support of closing the ECCA:

The issue goes before City Council on Wednesday afternoon at 1:30pm. If you haven’t already, email, write, or call your Councillors to let them know how you feel about the City Centre Airport.