City Council endorses phased approach to Edmonton Galleria project, but many questions remain

The long-discussed Galleria project received a fresh injection of life today after Council threw its support behind a phased approach that would see the $1 billion project constructed through 2020. The item was up at Executive Committee again after last year’s request by Council to find a way to lower the risk to the City.


The Galleria project consists of the same components today as it did then: four performing arts theatres (1600 seat theatre, 650 seat theatre/concert hall, 200 seat theatre, 200 seat recital hall); the relocation of the University of Alberta’s School of Music, Department of Art & Design, and one other department; construction of an office tower; development of a covered public galleria; and commercial and retail opportunities. The difference is that now it’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Today’s decision by Council to endorse a phased approach means the project backers can seek funding from the other orders of government. It also means in theory that certain triggers must be met before the City needs to spend any money, the first of which is agreeing to a memorandum of understanding in September and giving final approval to the City’s financial contribution.

So how much would the City be on the hook for?

“The total project costs outlined in this report that would be the responsibility of the City total $58.3 million. When factoring in interest charges on the amounts that are eligible to be borrowed for, the total expected cash expenditure for the City is estimated at $75.2 million.”

It sounds like any City money would come with strings attached too: “The release of city funds would be dependent on EDAC achieving certain milestones including the securing of a tenant in commercial/residential development with income sufficient to cover the capital and operating commitments of the Foundation.” That’s a much better approach than they took with the arena. For now they’ve approved $7.5 million for the pedway between Churchill LRT Station and the Royal Alberta Museum.

As I mentioned last year, I’m fine with the land acquisitions the City would be making. That’s probably a wise investment whether the Galleria project goes ahead or not. But there are still too many questions outstanding for me to support this project.

Provincial or Federal funding

The Galleria project is only going to move forward if funding from the other orders of government can be secured, and that’s far from guaranteed.

We saw absolutely zero interest from the PCs in supporting the project, even with Irv & Dianne Kipnes as donors, so I don’t see why the NDP would be any more likely to support it. The Provincial government has stuck to its hard line against funding the downtown arena, and I’d be surprised to see them all of a sudden come to the table on the Galleria.

On the federal side, Mayor Iveson has said that Council has received “mixed signals” and that he’d be surprised if the project could secure any federal funding at all. It has not been easy to get money out of Ottawa. Council had to agree to a P3 in order to get federal funding for the LRT, for instance.

Furthermore, the reality is that the City and specifically Council is going to have to go to bat for the project if the Province or the Feds are going to pony up anything at all. And that begs the question, is this really the project you want to burn important political capital on? Is this more important than the City Charter, LRT, poverty elimination, or any of the other significant priorities Edmonton has?

Lack of support from the Arts Community

Crickets. That’s what we’ve heard from most arts organizations about the Galleria project, at least publicly. Privately many have argued against the project, but the Kipnes are powerful enemies to attract.

A purpose-built opera house would undoubtedly be a good thing for the Edmonton Opera. It’s probably the most expensive art form in the world. For example, the Jubilee is effectively dark for about 90 nights a year to stage just 3 or 4 opera performances because of the construction and rehearsal time that each one takes. That’s a lot of lost revenue when you consider that events like “The Book of Mormon” can arrive and be setup in a day and will nearly always sell out.

Without hearing from other organizations, how can we be sure the proposed four theatres would meet the need that exists in the arts community? How much of the new Galleria space would be open and available to other arts organizations? How often would it be unavailable thanks to either opera or University of Alberta use? What costs or other requirements would go along with use?

Perhaps those details are yet to be finalized and that’s why it is difficult for arts organizations to decide whether or not to support the project. But it’s not a good sign that the arts community at large has been so quiet on the project.

Breaking up the University of Alberta

With MacEwan and NorQuest consolidating their campuses downtown, I can understand that perhaps the University of Alberta feels a little left out, but breaking up its own campus doesn’t seem like a wise move. For years it was pretty clear in all U of A long range plans that a downtown campus was not in the best interests of the university or its students. The South Campus vision was the preferred approach, allowing for a more connected campus.

There has been some vague lip service paid to the fact that being connected via the LRT to all other post secondary institutions would be a beneficial thing, but as soon as the Metro Line opens we’ll already have that. No need for a new campus.

Innovation doesn’t seem to be happening by segregation. The most interesting and powerful ideas that are changing the world are coming from interdisciplinary efforts. Why separate the arts from the science and engineering part of the university?

Furthermore, what impact would a downtown arts campus for the U of A have on MacEwan’s new Centre for Arts and Culture? Does it make sense to have two arts campuses so close to one another?

More empty space left behind

Look up and you see cranes. Look around on ground level and you’ll see a bunch of empty space.

We’re coming up on four years since the EPCOR Tower opened, the first new office tower built downtown since 1990. Originally known as “Station Lands Tower A”, the building still to this day has empty, unused space (such as the entire 16th floor where the recent downtown event was held). The other buildings that were slated to be part of the Station Lands development have never materialized.

The old EPCOR tower, rebranded First & Jasper, still has plenty of empty space, such as most of the ground level commercial. Even Edmonton’s premier downtown street, 104 Street, is home to its share of vacancies. The old Carbon space near 102 Avenue remains empty as does the old Sobey’s on the corner of Jasper Avenue, one of the most visible – and in theory attractive – locations in all of Edmonton.

All of this space is empty today, before development has really gotten underway. What will happen when the City of Edmonton offices consolidate into the new tower? Scotia Place, HSBC, Century Place, and other buildings are going to have a lot of vacancies. What about when Stantec consolidates into its new tower? All of its existing offices will need new tenants. What happens to City Centre when the new hotel and theatre open in the arena district? It’s already struggling to keep retailers.

In fact, a Cushman and Wakefield report suggests that by the end of 2017, Edmonton’s office vacancy rate could reach 17%, the highest in the country.

I’m all for getting rid of additional parking lots, but where’s the demand for yet another office tower? Especially one that needs to generate revenue to help fund the project.

Competition with the Edmonton Arena District

So far the Katz Group has been publicly supportive of the Galleria but I have no doubt that would change if their significant real estate investments came under threat. There’s simply too much money at stake.

The arena deal is done and for better or worse the Downtown CRL depends on it. So as taxpayers, we need that project to be successful. Does it really make sense to build a competitive project right next door? Another office tower to fill, with additional retail spaces that need to attract patrons? Proponents of the Galleria would argue that the project will drive significant additional traffic to the area but I find their estimates unrealistic and I’ve not see any new data that would change my mind.

Plus we’d have yet another big, open public space to program or have sit empty. Is there really a need for Churchill Square, the EAD square, and a public galleria?

A holistic decision needs to be made

I completely understand that when someone comes forward with $50 million as the philanthropists behind the Galleria project have, there’s a desire on the part of Council to leverage that money. Acquiring funding for projects is hard and having private money brought to the table is a huge help and doesn’t happen every day. But just because you come to the table with money doesn’t mean that your project should go ahead.


Council needs to decide not only if the Galleria itself is a good project, but whether it is going to bring a positive, net benefit to downtown and to Edmonton as a whole. Does Edmonton need the Galleria right now? Will it have a positive impact, without negatively impacting the other major projects we have underway?

With so many big questions still unanswered, I remain unconvinced that Edmonton should support the Galleria project.

Mercury Opera’s 104 Underground (an operascape)

104 undergroundMercury Opera took over the Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station tonight to stage an operascape featuring the talents of Alicia Woynarski, Lauren Woods, Jill Hoogewoonink, and Nevada Collins. They were accompanied by the Vif String Quartet and wore costumes by local fashion designer Natasha Lazarovic.

Mercury Opera’s presentation features an all-Canadian cast of rising operatic talent singing the sensual Mon coeur s’ouvre from Camille Saint Saens’ Samson et Dalila, The Queen of the Night’s Vengeance Aria, Mozart’s dazzler from The Magic Flute, and the exquisitely sublime Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes. The performance culminates in a  special rendition of one of opera’s favorite chart toppers,Puccini’s Nessun Dorma sung as a quartet.

The event got underway at 6pm with four businesses on 104 Street taking part. Ticket holders were invited to enjoy light refreshments at Coup, 29 Armstrong, deVine Wines & Spirits, and the Eyecare Group. Sharon and I walked over just after 7pm to find Coup full of people! We made our way from one venue to the next before heading down to the LRT station platform for the performance.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Coup filling up!

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Ed pouring wine at deVine Wines

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The food mostly consisted of cheese and meat platters

At around 8pm, everyone started moving underground. It was quite a sight with the LRT station platform so full of people! There were dozens of cameras, and not only from patrons hoping to capture the performance – OMNI had a bunch of cameras present to film a documentary about the event.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground 
One of the OMNI cameras

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Waiting for the performance to get underway

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The setup for Vif

To ensure the LRT could still operate, volunteers used police tape to separate the event from transit riders getting on and off the trains. ETS officers also helped to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground 
Transit riders on the left, event attendees on the right

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The performers arrived on the LRT!

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
They used the raised, circular benches as stages

There were big cheers when the train carrying the performers arrived. They wasted no time and started right away, eventually making their way to the circular benches in the centre of the platform. At the end of the show, the four performers came together to receive flowers and to perform an encore. The left the same way they came – on the train.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Two performers were on the east end of the platform and two were on the west end

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Enjoying the show!

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The four performers at the end of the show

It was particularly cool for a transit geek like me to see the trains coming and going in the background as the performance continued. And what a performance it was! The sound quality in the station was much better than I anticipated, and the lighting and reflective surfaces of the station walls and ceiling made for a very unique look. I think everyone really enjoyed it!

Tonight’s operascape is precisely the kind of event that I’d like to see more of in Edmonton. Congratulations to Darcia Parada and her team – I think its safe to say tonight was a big success! It’s so great to have people like Darcia – she had a vision, and she made it happen. Bravo!

You can see the rest of my photos here. Be sure to read Gig City’s preview as well.

I love Opera 10

As long-time readers will know, my web browser of choice is Opera. I’ve been using it as my primary browser since at least version 9.0, which came out over three years ago. On September 1st, the latest version was released:

In a world of ordinary Web browsers, Opera 10 stands out from the crowd with innovative new features wrapped in an elegant, fresh interface. Opera 10 is absolutely free, comes in 43 languages, and works on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

Opera 10 really does look fantastic, and has a decent list of new features. Interestingly enough, I haven’t found the most touted feature, Turbo, all that useful. I suppose I haven’t really used it on a slow connection however, and that’s what it is designed for.

Here are my favorite things about the new release:

  • Speed. Opera now loads Facebook and Google Reader as fast as, if not faster than, Chrome. I used to leave Chrome open for those apps, but not since Opera 10.
  • The big, beautiful new icon, as seen above.
  • The updated interface. It’s slick, and I love the little circle notification when a tab has been updated. Visual tabs are also pretty neat. I also enjoy that I can get rid of the File menu.
  • Spell checking built-in. Yes I know other browsers have this.
  • Customizable speed dial! You can now increase the number of buttons on your speed dial.
  • Built-in auto-updates. This is long overdue for Opera, and works quite well (I was using the betas and release candidates which got auto-updated).

Favorites I mentioned about versions 9.5 and 9.1 are still relevant too!

If you haven’t tried Opera, I encourage you to do so. It’s a fantastic browser! Others seem to think so too – Opera 10 was downloaded 10 million times during the first week of release. Pretty impressive.

My favorite things about Opera 9.5

opera 9.5 Everyone is talking about Firefox 3, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about a different browser! On June 12th, Opera released the latest version of its desktop web browser. Version 9.5 includes a bunch of new features and lots of incremental improvements. Here are some of my favorite things about it so far:

  • Faster. Opera says the new version is twice as fast as 9.2 at rendering HTML and Javascript, and my experience would support that. I haven’t timed it obviously, but 9.5 does indeed seem quicker.
  • Quick Find. Firefox 3 has the so-called “awesome bar” that remembers page titles and such, allowing you to type in the address bar to find pages you’ve visited in the past. Opera 9.5 does this too, and a whole lot more – it indexes the actual content of pages! Remember a word you read on a page you visited? Type it in the address bar, and Opera will help you find it again. Very slick.
  • Vista stability. I don’t think this is an official improvement, but 9.5 definitely seems more stable on Windows Vista than 9.2 did.
  • New look and feel. When I first launched 9.5, I was a little surprised at the black default theme. After a day or two of using it though, I’m hooked. I love it. It looks great on Vista too.

Opera 9.5 also has support for Extended Validation (EV) certificates – finally!

One new feature that I haven’t tried yet is Opera Link. It allows you to synchronize your bookmarks and Speed Dial settings between computers and devices. Firefox 3 has a similar feature. It’s a great idea for the average user, but for someone like me who uses, it’s kind of useless.

Of course, my list of ten things to love about Opera from last year is still valid too!

Want to give Opera 9.5 a try? You can download it here.

Falstaff at the Edmonton Opera

falstaff Back in February I went to see the Edmonton Opera’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore. As a first-timer, I was pleasantly surprised! I can honestly say I had a good time and enjoyed the opera. With that in mind, I agreed to check out Falstaff on Saturday with Sharon. Here’s the description from Wikipedia:

Falstaff is an operatic commedia lirica in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare’s plays The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV. It was Verdi’s last opera, written in the composer’s eighth decade, and only the second of his twenty-six operas to be a comedy.

It was entertaining enough, but I didn’t enjoy Falstaff nearly as much as H.M.S. Pinafore. I think I took a few things for granted. For one thing, Pinafore was in English, so the subtitles weren’t completely necessary. They were for Falstaff though. Pinafore starred my favorite, Jeff Haslam. The characters were more interesting. By comparison, Falstaff seemed sort of boring. We also had pizza and beer during the intermission at Pinafore, which probably made more of a difference than I expected.

In short, Falstaff was closer to the image of opera that I have always had in my head. Interesting, but not really my thing.

Before the show they played a video introducing the lineup for next season. Edmonton Opera will perform Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment, and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. The “plus one” performance will be Verdi’s La Traviata. Every time they announced one of the titles, the audience seemed to gasp with delight. Sharon and I just looked at each other, puzzled. I guess it helps if you’ve heard of them before!

Sharon’s write-up is here.

H.M.S. Pinafore

On Thursday evening Sharon and I went to the Edmonton Opera’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore. The two act comic opera is a famous one by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. I’d never been to the opera before, so it was definitely a new experience for me. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I have to say I’m incredibly grateful that there were subtitles. Here’s the Edmonton Opera’s teaser:

Renowned Edmonton playwright Stewart Lemoine teams up with Edmonton Opera to create a brand-new production with a brand-new take on Gilbert and Sullivan. Join Little Buttercup, Ralph, Josephine, Sir Joseph and the sailors of the high seas in a comedy that sings the songs of love and silliness, and pokes fun at society too: British satire at its best!

haslam in pinafore
Jeff Haslam as Sir Joseph Porter

Sharon is an Explorer’s Club member which means that first and foremost, our tickets were cheaper! We also got free pizza and beer during the intermission. Before the show we went to a thirty minute “introduction to the opera” session where we learned a little about the plot in Pinafore and some of the history behind it. That was really helpful, and definitely interesting.

Only one cast member, Monica Huisman who played Josephine, was what I would call “over the top opera.” I couldn’t understand a word she was singing, and her voice was incredibly shrill. My favorite was definitely Jeff Haslam who played the crazy Sir Joseph Porter. I’ve seen Haslam act many times here in Edmonton, and he was excellent again in the opera. He stole the show, without a doubt.

I’m sure opera afficionados would gasp at the idea of subtitles, pizza, and beer, but it made the experience much more enjoyable for a first-timer like myself. Opera is kind of like a musical that you can’t understand, and I’m not such a fan of musicals in the first place.

I never would have guessed that the experience would be educational, but it was. Not only did I learn a bit more about opera in general, but I never quite realized the impact it has on our culture. Heck, there’s an entire Wikipedia entry dedicated to the cultural influence of Gilbert and Sullivan. And I learned this popular exchange:

“What, never?”
“No, never!”
“What, never?
“Well, hardly ever!”

Just as funny now as it was a hundred years ago! That’s probably why Pinafore is still popular – it’s timeless entertainment all around.

BitTorrent Exploit Discovered in Opera

Post ImageAs much as I love Opera, it is still just software, and that means it too is vulnerable to security issues. Maybe not as badly as IE or Firefox, but vulnerable nonetheless. That said, I’d be remiss if I only posted about Opera’s positives and ignored this bit of news:

It is being reported that Opera v9.20 is vulnerable to an attack which causes it to consume 100% of its host machine’s resources, rendering the PC unusable.

There is currently no work-around so anyone worried about this situation should disable the BitTorrent engine within Opera by following the instructions found on Opera’s site.

Fortunately I wouldn’t have been affected by this. The first thing I did after installing Opera 9.2 was disable BitTorrent downloading in the browser, as I much prefer µTorrent.

Read: TorrentFreak

Why does Microsoft hate Opera?

Post ImageI just went to checkout the Silverlight website, and was presented with this message:

Your current browser does not support WPF/E (codename). Click here for more details on WPF/E-supported browsers and platforms.

I am using Opera of course. So I click through to the suggested link, and here’s what I find:

Silverlight media capabilities include fast, cost-effective delivery of high-quality audio and video to all major browsers including Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer running on the Mac or on Windows.


According to these stats, Safari had 1.7% market share last month compared with Opera’s 1.6%. The numbers are a little lower at Wikipedia, but it’s not like Safari has ten times the market share.

I realize that Safari is the offical browser for the Mac, but I still think that Opera is being unfairly left out by Microsoft. And it’s not the first time – it took them a very long time to support Opera with ASP.NET Ajax.

Especially with Silverlight, I think Opera should be supported. It is widely used on mobile phones and other devices, like the Nintendo Wii.

Read: Silverlight

Opera 9.2 with Speed Dial released!

Post ImageI just installed the latest version of Opera on my desktop and tablet. Version 9.2 adds two major features: Speed Dial and Developer Tools. The full changelog is here (for Windows). Here’s what Opera says about Speed Dial:

Now you have a new way to access your favorite Web sites. Just open a new tab to get your Speed Dial. It’s easy to populate and addictive to use.

It’s actually quite neat (I pay attention to the dev builds so I knew it was coming). You can setup nine “speed dials” that can then be accessed either by clicking the corresponding thumbnail, or pressing CRTL and any of the numbers 1 through 9. It looks somewhat similar to IE7’s Quick Tabs feature, except that it displays websites you specify, not the tabs you currently have open.

The one change in 9.2 that I don’t like is that the Start Bar (the little bar that appears if you click on the address bar) has been disabled by default. To enable it, right click on the address bar and choose Customize, then simply click the “Start bar” checkbox.

You can download Opera here.

Read: Opera

10 Reasons To Love Opera (the browser)

Post ImageI love Opera, I really do. It’s an awesome web browser, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t have more market share (most stats put it around 1% or less). I could go on for days about the many different reasons that Opera rocks, but here are my favorite ten (in no particular order, based on the latest version, 9.1):

Paste and go (Screenshot)
This one really shows the attention to detail that the Opera team has. How many times have you copied a URL to the clipboard, only to go paste it in the address bar of your browser? Then you have to click go or press enter. With this handy feature, Opera saves you that second step. As the name suggests, you can paste and go all in one step!

Instant back and forward
I don’t think this is listed as an official feature, but it should be! In IE or Firefox, clicking back will usually take a few seconds for the previous page to reload – not so in Opera. As soon as you press back (or forward) the previous (or next) page is instantly there. Firefox is pretty good at this too, but Opera is quite simply superior.

Highlighted Text Context Menu (Screenshot)
As soon as you highlight some text in Opera, a context menu appears with a bunch of useful commands at the ready. Again, it saves that extra step of right clicking after you have highlighted text. It might sound inconsequential, but it makes a huge difference.

Top 10 Sites (Screenshot)
Everyone has a set of websites they regularly visit. Opera is smart enough to keep track of these sites, and gives the ten most visited sites a special and easy-to-access menu. It’s kind of like automatic favorites. Very handy.

After experiencing this feature, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. Ever keep notepad open while browsing so you can copy things you might need later? No need to do so with Opera! Highlight any text and you can then turn it into a note, or you can manually create a note with whatever text you want. Notes are associated with a website too, so you can quickly see your notes for a given page. Incredibly useful feature.

Better Tabbed Browsing
All modern browsers have tabbed browsing, but none of them do it as well as Opera does. For one thing, tabs are ordered (say you have three tabs, A, B, C. Click on A, then click on C, then close C. Opera goes back to A, the other browsers go to B). Again with the attention to detail, right click on any link and you have two options: open in a new tab (which brings it to the front) or open in a new background tab (which does not). Awesome.

Search Keywords & Create Search (Screenshot)
IE and Firefox handle search engines pretty well (with the search box I mean), but it’s pretty much up to the site developer to help the browsers recognize the search engine. Not so in Opera. Right click in any search box and choose “Create search…” and automagically you have a new entry in your search engines. You can also associate keywords with engines. So for, you might associate “d”. Then you can type “d word” in the address bar, and Opera will take you there.

Mouse Gestures
Of all my favorite features, this one takes the most getting used to. Essentially mouse gestures allow you to navigate or modify the window using only the mouse. Just another small feature that can save you a bunch of time.

Trash Can
Have you ever closed a tab, only to realize a few moments later that you still need it? In other browsers you have to try to get back to the page again. In Opera, just click on the Trash Can, and choose the tab you closed. So damn handy.

Site Preferences
This feature gives you the ability to modify preferences only for a given site. Want to turn off javascript just for one site? Opera lets you do it. Not a feature you’ll use daily, but it can definitely come in handy.

Like I said, I could go on! If you like what you see, you should definitely try Opera. It’s completely free, and there are no advertisements inside (much older versions had a banner). And if you’re afraid your favorite sites won’t load correctly, don’t worry. It’s increasingly rare to find a site that doesn’t work correctly in Opera. And actually, Opera is the only Acid2-compliant browser for Windows!

In fact, I have just one problem with Opera – my page loads incredibly slowly. I have no idea why, but I’d like to get it fixed. If you have any ideas, let me know!

UPDATE: It appears Opera simply doesn’t like my huge list of tags. I changed my preferences to display as a cloud, and only tags with at least 5 items, and now it loads very quickly!

Read: Opera