Goodbye, Hello at the Royal Alberta Museum

More than 35,000 Edmontonians visited the Royal Alberta Museum over the weekend to say goodbye to the building that has seen more than 14 million visits since it opened back on December 6, 1967. The numbers from this weekend speak to the impact the museum has had on the community:

“The museum saw 16,290 people in the first 24-hours alone, eclipsing the previous single-day attendance record of 13,212, which was set in 1974 with gear from the Apollo moon landings on display.”

Goobye, Hello RAM

In addition to one last look at the bug room, visitors had the opportunity to visit the “Goodbye, Hello” exhibit in the feature gallery where they could share a memory or write a message for the new building. They could also see a video overview of the new building that is currently under construction downtown.

The new building will be roughly twice the size, with more than 82,000 square feet of exhibition space. It is being built to the LEED Silver standard at a cost of $375.5 million, $253 million of which is coming from the Province with the rest coming from the Federal government. Construction began on February 7, 2014 and is expected to finish in mid-2016. The goal is to open the new museum to the public in late 2017.

Goobye, Hello RAM

While the new building will certainly be an exciting addition to the downtown arts district, it does raise the question of what will happen to the current building. There’s nothing wrong with it, aside from being too small to share the museum’s growing collection. Here’s what the FAQ says:

“There has been no decision on the future of the Royal Alberta Museum building when the existing museum closes. When determining the future use the general process is to first see if government still has a use for the building/property. If government doesn’t require the property then the municipality is consulted to see if they have a use for it. The building is offered to the public if neither levels of government have a use for the property. Although the museum will be closing its doors in December 2015, the building will still be occupied with staff and collections until likely Fall 2019, as it makes the massive move to its new location.”

So while there’s still time to determine its fate, it’s an issue we’ll have to address as a community soon. To learn more about the history of the museum, have a look at Then & Now feature and check out this article by Janet Vlieg:

“The first two decades of the museum’s existence saw new exhibits added in keeping with the original goals of preserving Alberta history. No admission fees were charged and the museum relied almost completely on provincial funding. Help for extras came in 1982 with a new fundraising support group, now known as Friends of Royal Alberta Museum.”

On Monday evening, the final day the museum was open, Sharon and I were able to attend the RAM: A Moving Tribute event as guests of the Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society (FRAMS). It was an “evening of fond farewells to a beautiful building.” A well-dressed crowd gathered to hear some speeches, visit the galleries, and reminisce about their previous visits to the building.

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, Minister of Culture & Tourism David Eggen, and City Councillor Scott McKeen were among those who brought greetings and reflected on their experiences in the museum. Guests could then explore the museum one last time, stopping perhaps to learn from the experts that were stationed throughout.

Goobye, Hello RAM

I didn’t grow up in Edmonton, so I don’t have the same memories of visiting as a kid. But I have enjoyed visiting in recent years and look forward to spend lots of time at the new building. Sharon does remember visiting as a child and was quite eager to visit the Wild Alberta Gallery one last time! We had fun exploring and adding our own messages to the wall in the feature gallery.

Goobye, Hello RAM

Thanks to FRAMS for having us! We look forward to visting the new museum when it opens on (or around) December 7, 2017. Can’t wait!

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.

Mini-Edmonton
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?

Roundup: The Royal Alberta Museum is moving downtown

It’s amazing how big news can just seemingly drop from the sky sometimes! Yesterday’s big announcement here in Edmonton was that the Royal Alberta Museum will be rebuilt downtown:

A new comprehensive Royal Alberta Museum will be built in downtown Edmonton starting this year, featuring twice as much gallery space, direct connections to public transit, proximity to the Arts District, and the ability to host major international exhibits and rare artifacts. The new museum will be equipped to showcase both Alberta’s history and its natural wonders, and will be free of the limitations of the current museum site.

The new museum is expected to cost $340 million and is set to open by 2015. Budget 2011 includes $180 million over the first three years of the project, which includes $30 million from the Federal government. Here’s a rough rendering of the building:

For a better look, check out this video from the Province introducing the new concept:

[googlemaps https://www.youtube.com/embed/xkbxfUSWgh0″ frameborder=”0″ width=”524″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”>

Here’s where the site is located (click here for Street View):

Lots has been written/recorded about the project already. Here are some of the things I have come across that are worth checking out.

From the Edmonton Journal:

The current museum will stay open for the next four years. Discussions are just starting on what to do with the old museum and the rest of the property in Glenora, although a portion will eventually house a new residence for the lieutenant-governor.

“Right now, I can tell you it’s not going to be condos,” Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett said. He said it’s “very unlikely” the land will be sold to private developers.

From the CBC:

Stelmach said the museum land could be the future home of the Edmonton terminal for a high-speed rail line to Calgary. Land for a Calgary station was purchased in 2007.

Paula Simons picked up on that as well at The Edmonton Commons and added:

There’s no denying the real attractions of this site. It would be accessible by LRT – especially if the city were to “activate” the dormant LRT stop, known as Future Station, that’s already roughed in under the Brownlee Building. It would be linked to the existing pedway system. It would be a block east of that proposed arena and entertainment district, assuming such a thing actually comes to be built. It would be a way to push attractive development into the Chinatown/Boyle/McCauley area. It would make the Churchill Square/City Hall precinct a true arts centre. And it would be a fabulous companion to the AGA – a tourist draw in the heart of the city core. It might also help to give impetus to develop on the Station Lands site directly to the north – and even integrate with possible plans to turn Mary Burlie Park, just to the north of the proposed RAM site, into a Chinese garden and cultural centre.

From Global Edmonton:

The decision to move to a new location was made because of size constraints at the old location, and because the construction process would have forced the museum to close for a significant amount of time while the construction was in progress. As a result, the province says the cost to build on a new location will be less than the cost of trying to redevelop the old site.

From CTV Edmonton:

This spring, a competitive bidding process will seek out a private sector consortium to design and build the new facility.

Finally, while I like the spirit of David Staples’ latest column, it’s unfortunate that most of the words are dedicated to the arena, not the RAM. Still, it is great news for downtown!

What else have you come across that is worth sharing?