Why does the University of Alberta want to be part of the Galleria project?

“The University has long desired to establish a significant campus in downtown Edmonton.”

That’s the first thing the Edmonton Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre (Galleria) business case from April 2013 identifies under opportunities and benefits for the University of Alberta. It sounds plausible, given the ongoing interest in revitalizing downtown and the University’s desire to play a role in the larger Edmonton community. But is it really true?

Here’s what columnist Paula Simons wrote in November 2001:

“Officially, a downtown campus isn’t an option. I’ve spoken to U of A President Rod Fraser, to University Provost Doug Owram, and to Jim Mitchell, the university’s vice-president of facilities. They all tell me it would be too expensive to build downtown, much more than developing land they already own in Garneau or southwest Edmonton. They say it would be too hard to find suitable space for labs and large lecture theatres. They say students and staff would feel isolated from campus life and facilities. They say it’s not their mandate to save downtown, but to serve the best interests of the U of A.”

That was around the time that the University of Alberta’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) was being developed (approved in 2002). It provides “a planning framework to accommodate and to guide physical development on University lands during the next thirty years.” Though it focuses on land and facilities that the University already owns, it does deal explicitly with the idea of a downtown campus:

ualberta lrdp

Though the plan has been amended a few times over the years, notably to incorporate Augustana Campus and most recently to incorporate updated plans for South Campus, that section has never been changed. “South Campus will accommodate much of the growth of the University of Alberta for the next thirty years” is what the most recent amendment says.

Even in 2005, when the University announced plans to buy the Hudson’s Bay building, it was not seen as a first step toward a larger campus in downtown or a change to previous plans. New President Indira Samarasekera said “the University of Alberta is a contributor to business, arts, and other sectors,” adding “we have an obligation to the community that we take seriously, and a downtown presence will build on that.” A few years later at the official opening of Enterprise Square, she said “that the University has finally crossed the river and found a place in the heart of the city is very significant” but also admitted that “it initially scared the heck out of me; we took a leap of faith.”

It was with some surprise then that Provost and Vice President Academic Dr. Carl Amrhein posted the following on the University of Alberta’s blog yesterday:

“The Galleria project is more than much-needed space for the University of Alberta—it is consistent with the university’s vision of an urban, linear campus connected by LRT where students, faculty and members of the public move freely around the city to access world-class teaching and research experiences offered at Edmonton’s post-secondary institutions. Imagine the vibrancy that 5,000 art, design and music students, faculty and staff will bring to the downtown core. Imagine the potential when students and professional artists interact through linkages with the Winspear, Citadel and Art Gallery of Alberta. The creative energy will be palpable!”

That seems to contradict not only statements by earlier University officials, but also the LRDP. Had the need for “an integrated campus environment” changed? Had the disadvantages about paying rent changed? Did student leaders now find a downtown location desirable? I reached out to Dr. Amhrein for clarification.

“There’s a technical point,” he told me, “which is that the Long Range Development Plan is concerned with real estate that the university owns and controls.” Given that the U of A would be leasing space inside the new Galleria project, it wouldn’t necessarily contradict the plan. He recognized the larger point however, and said “the argument for integrated locations is ease of mobility and the ability to move people around in a certain amount of time.” That’s where the LRT comes in.

Bay/Enterprise Square
Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station, photo by Christopher Cotrell

“The feature that made Enterprise Square imaginable was the LRT,” Dr. Amrhein told me. “It meant that it was no more difficult to get from HUB to Enterprise Square than it was to get from HUB to South Campus.” He said the U of A’s first question then about the Galleria project was, “is there an LRT stop?” As both Churchill LRT Station and MacEwan LRT Station are close, the goal of an “urban, linear campus connected by LRT” is achieved at the Galleria, according to Dr. Amrhein.

In his blog post, Dr. Amrhein reiterated the University of Alberta’s key requirement for the Galleria:

“Yes, the university has identified climate-controlled access to the Galleria from the LRT as critical for our students, faculty and staff, and the patrons of the performances at the Galleria theatres and concert halls. A pedway is one solution, but there are others.”

He sounded annoyed that the pedway had become such a touch point in discussions about the Galleria. “The pedway is not a deal-breaker for the University,” he told me. Only “climate-controlled access” is a requirement. When I asked him to suggest alternatives to a pedway that could meet that requirement, initially he dodged the question. But asked a second time, he suggested the position of the buildings could provide the required access, citing the Telus towers and their connection to the LRT as an example. “Clever positioning with a plus fifteen would achieve the same result,” he said, noting that the project architects would have to rethink their plans to make that happen.

Dr. Amrhein told me the University requires climate-controlled access for three reasons. The first is the need to move faculty, staff, and students around campus in short periods of time. “When it’s dark and cold, there’s a disincentive to move around the facilities,” he said. The second is safety, which Dr. Amrhein said has been “completely lost in the conversation.” He stressed the importance of safety, saying that pedways are “well-lit and heated, and very visible” and that they often include security features. “There’s a personal safety issue here.” The third is accessibility of the performance venues for the community.

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Dr. Carl Amrhein, photo by James MacKenzie

Back to the central question – why does the University of Alberta want to be part of the Galleria project? To answer that, Dr. Amrhein brought up Mayor Mandel and his vision to have all of Edmonton’s post-secondary institutions integrated and connected by LRT. “Imagine a medical student at NAIT,” Dr. Amrhein said. “That student can move from the classrooms at NAIT to the labs at the Walter MacKenzie Health Sciences Centre because of the LRT.” Integration across institutions like that would “put Edmonton in a very small group” of cities, Dr. Amrhein said.

It’s clear that Dr. Amrhein views the University’s participation in the Galleria project as something that will help Edmonton as a whole. “I hope it goes ahead.”

Some details on Enterprise Square

Post ImageI attended an information session put on by TEC Edmonton today, where I learned some more details about the recently named Enterprise Square. TEC Edmonton will be the largest tenant in the new building, and while the session today was geared more towards their Research Transition Facility (RTF) clients, I still learned a lot. First and foremost, the name RTF will cease to exist when TEC Edmonton moves downtown in August of 2007. The new name will simply be “TEC Centre”.

One of the more interesting aspects of the presentation was that they shared artist drawings and some preliminary floorplans for the building. I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of the floorplans, but I do have scans of the drawings – here’s the outside of the building, and here’s part of the inside. If you look really closely, you might notice the following:

  • They have added a lot of windows to the second and third floors to try and bring in some more daylight.
  • A completely new fourth floor is currently being added. It will be constructed of steel on top of the existing concrete structure, and the sides will be completely covered in glass.
  • Instead of a skylight on the roof, they are building 13-foot high glass structures to allow daylight to flow into the building.
  • New elevators will be completely enclosed in glass, and existing escalators are being refurbished.

You’ll note the number of times I mentioned daylight. The existing Bay building was meant to be a department store, and so the focus was entirely retail. As a result, very few windows were built. Actually, I learned some interesting things about the building itself too. It is entirely built of concrete, and was constructed in two parts. The southern half was built in 1939, and the northern half was added in 1952. The familiar “coat of arms” on the southeast corner of the building will be preserved, along with a number of other features in order to meet the City of Edmonton’s restrictions for historic buildings.

Enterprise Square will offer about 350,000 square feet of space when complete, which should free up at least 150,000 square feet of space on the main university campus (which is good considering more academic space is badly needed). Here is the tenant list:

  • TEC Centre tenants & TEC Edmonton
  • U of A Faculty of Extension (completely moving downtown)
  • U of A School of Business Executive Education Program and the Alberta Business Family Institute
  • U of A Design Gallery, Arts Faculty
  • U of A Advancement Services
  • Art Gallery of Alberta (temporary, until the new Art Gallery is complete)
  • CHUM (Citytv and The Bounce, which already occupy space in the building)

As you can guess from the list, there will be at least some classroom space in Enterprise Square, used by the Faculty of Extension and the School of Business. Whether it will be available for use like space on the main campus remains to be seen.

President Samarasekera fast-tracked the project a while ago, and has made a number of her own requests (such as open spaces for lots of “hustle and bustle” on the main floor). The construction schedule really is aggresive, with blueprints for the interior to be completed in November and construction to begin in January (Stantec is handling the project). Tenants will start moving in over the summer. Dr. Samarasekera sure knows how to crack the whip it seems!

At this stage of the game, nothing is perfectly set in stone, but it’s getting closer. I expect in January you’ll really start to notice a difference if you pass by the building. And hopefully by August we’ll be able to take a good look at one of the newest additions to the University of Alberta!

University of Alberta unveils Enterprise Square

Post ImageJust over a year ago, I posted that the University of Alberta had officially purchased the Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Edmonton. At the time, officials said the first tenants would be able to move in within 12 to 18 months. It appears things are more or less on track:

At a downtown ceremony Thursday, the University of Alberta unveiled the new name for its downtown building with a flourish.

A large sign was lowered from the second level of Commerce Place above the rotunda, bearing the name “Enterprise Square.”

The name was chosen to reflect a bunch of things, including academic enterprise working alongside the private, and the enterprising spirit of Edmonton.

Renovations at the historic site continue, and are expected to be complete in the summer of 2007 with tenants moving in shortly thereafter. Once finished, roughly 430,000 square feet of space will have been renovated and made available in just 24 months. The project is definitely impressive.

On October 11th, TEC Edmonton (which will be the building’s largest tenant) is hosting an information session at their current location on the university campus. I am registered and planning to attend. For more information or to register for the event, click here.

Read: ExpressNews