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Edmonton Downtown Revitalization


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Katz's plan done properly will electrify downtown

By Scott McKeen, Edmonton Journal
March 26, 2010

There are a few glimmers of true urban experience in our downtown.

Hunt through the ruins of the once-proud strolling and shopping district and you'll find them.

Yes, you'll pass parking lots and vacant lots, bunkers and faceless institutions. But suddenly, out of the bland, you'll come across a diner, fashion boutique, gallery or cafe.

Downtown is a work in progress. Glacial progress. But progress nonetheless.

The good news is of two bold plans emerging to reshape the core into a vibrant place of culture, community and commerce.

One plan, city hall's, was drafted over the past few years and involved numerous surveys, open houses and public meetings.

About 600 people helped shape the new Capital City Downtown Plan, with input from council, the civil service and the Edmonton Design Committee.

The other bold plan? It belongs to Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, who promotes a $1.5-billion arena megaproject as the catalyst for downtown renewal.

The Capital City Downtown Plan -- available at is broad and deep in scope and meaning. It details ways and means to reach the goal of creating a livable, walkable and sustainable uptown area with parks, architecture, public art and sidewalk shopping.

Katz's vision is more focused on his lands in and around 104th Avenue, just west of 101st Street. The project's centrepiece is a majestic hockey arena, surrounded by hotels, office buildings and public plaza.

I have no doubt Katz would also love the city's downtown plan.

Katz is a born-and-raised Edmontonian. Doubtless, he wants downtown to come alive with things to do and people to see.

Edmonton is largely a suburban city of 700 square kilometres. But humans yearn for gathering places.

Cities have many such places, both indoors and out, public and private. But downtown is usually the gathering place above all.

People work downtown, yes. But a downtown is also a place of shopping, arts, culture and the simple pleasure of people watching.

Katz's vision argues that all boats rise on the tide. That $1.5 billion of investment on 104th Avenue, along with thousands of people attending events at the arena, will spill dollars and investment south onto downtown streets.

That's one possible scenario. The other is that an arena district will shift energy north and away from Jasper Avenue, making 104th Avenue the city's new main street.

Coun. Ben Henderson, whose ward includes downtown, is concerned. Henderson fears the arena proposal is yet another car-oriented, indoor-focused complex.

Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with power centres, shopping malls and multiplex entertainment centres. But do they fit in an urban context?

West Edmonton Mall is often blamed for killing downtown. More likely, it was the development of Edmonton Centre, followed by Manulife and Commerce Place.

These office and shopping complexes turned the downtown outside-in, into just another shopping mall.

Slowly, over the past few years, people began showing up again on downtown streets. The sidewalk shops and eateries on 104th Street created some momentum.

The Bay Building was taken over by the U of A. Sobeys launched a Jasper Avenue outlet. New condo towers opened, along with a smattering of shops and restaurants in and around Jasper Avenue.

For the record, I'm an Oilers fan and have been since I can remember. Part of me dreams of a magnificent hockey arena for the team and its fans.

Yet I also dream of a vibrant downtown with blocks of shopping, dining, clubs and cafes.

My fear is the same as Henderson's. That the arena project will steal crowds away from Jasper Avenue and trap them inside another mall-like shopping and entertainment complex.

Henderson says everyone, even Katz, is focusing right now on how to finance the arena, instead of asking how it fits with Edmonton's urban planning goals.

Done well, a new arena will add pride and significance to downtown.

Done badly, the tiny glimmer will go out.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
Downtown Edmonton has a very "frozen in 1983" feel to it. I am beginning to feel as if that could be its selling point.
Forget WEM or downtown internal complexes. Of course what killed Downtown Edmonton was burying the LRT. If it ran in the street, there would be nothing but cafes, cheese stores and hordes of shoppers.

Seriously, interesting article. Edmonton and Calgary are the only Canadian cities I have yet to check out properly. I know Calgary has Stephen Avenue, but could the same article describe it, is it a 9-5 downtown mostly?
Calgary's downtown is a financial district but a lot of the vibrant inner city neighbourhoods are not far away, such as Sunnyside and the Beltline. By contrast, Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona (the parts of Edmonton that are vibrant) are quite far removed from downtown Edmonton, at least psychologically.

What's interesting is that downtown Edmonton doesn't suffer for a lack of residents. There are thousands of people living in the brutalist apartment highrises that are clustered just to the south of downtown and that line the cliff edge just west of the Legislature. I don't know why they don't start fun things in their own backyard.
To anyone who knows, how would you contrast Edmonton and Calgary in terms of urban experience and general livability?
To anyone who knows, how would you contrast Edmonton and Calgary in terms of urban experience and general livability?

Been to both, and liked Calgary much more than I liked Edmonton. Downtown Edmonton felt too spaced out and desolate compared to Downtown Calgary which was very compact. Both downtowns were pretty dead outside of business hours, but I see much more potential in Calgary than Edmonton. Calgary has good bones. Edmonton has a lot of parking lots to develop.
Calgary is undoubtedly the bigger-feeling city of the two. It has a certain brash, big city ambition and they seem to be in a phase of true "city building", similar to the early Metro years in Toronto. That said, Edmonton has a high quality of life and the people are immensely friendly. It's possible to have a good time there, as I did when I lived there for a summer as an undergrad. The people were pretty inventive in turning their crap 1950s automobile-based surroundings into something more vibrant.

Many people from Toronto and Montreal have a jaundiced view of cities like Edmonton and Calgary because of the age of the cities; you will never find old high Victorian commercial strips like Queen West or the Plateau with rowhouses flanking them because Calgary and Edmonton just didn't evolve (or exist) during that era. The most urban areas of town sort of resemble places like Avenue road north of Lawrence or Bloor in the Kingsway: featureless one and two-storey 1950s-era commercial buidlings along a four-lane arterial. That said, all the stores and services that would normally pack Queen or the Plateau would be found on streets like these (for example, Whyte Avenue in Edmonton or 17th Ave SW in Calgary), so the areas do have some flavour to them. Accounting for their size, both cities have plenty of the good stuff.
Rezoning Application submitted as reported in The Globe and Mail

Edmonton Oilers owner makes $1.5-billion arena proposal official

Josh Wingrove

Edmonton — Globe and Mail Update Published on Monday, Apr. 19, 2010 2:11PM EDT Last updated on Monday, Apr. 19, 2010 3:52PM EDT

The billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers has submitted a formal proposal to the City of Edmonton to rezone 16 acres of downtown land for an ambitious arena project, but is remaining tight-lipped on how much of the project he’ll ask the city to pay for.

The city announced Monday it had received the application for the land, which is currently occupied by parking lots and a casino and sits on the northern cusp of the city's core. The application was made by the Katz Group, run by Daryl Katz, a drugstore chain mogul who bought the Oilers two years ago.

The proposal includes a new arena (with an unspecified seating capacity), a practice rink, a new casino, two hotels, two office towers, two condo towers, retail space, two student residences and 4,000 parking stalls.

It applies for tower heights of up to 60 floors - approximately double the height of the city’s existing downtown towers.

“This is about much more than an arena,” Bob Black, a Katz Group vice-president who is in charge of the arena pitch, said Monday morning. “We think it’s very much a project of transforming our downtown.”

Mr. Katz’s representatives have for months been laying out a pitch for an approximately $1.5-billion project. They hope to be the lead developer, but have not announced any major tenants, such as a hotel chain, saying the project is still in its early stages.

As such, the zoning application is a first step, one that would lead to public consultations and would require approval from city council. The team would then have to apply for a development permit. To apply for zoning, the team paid a fee of about $70,000.

Though procedural in nature, the application has generated heavy attention in hockey-mad Edmonton, where long-simmering discussions about a new arena - and public financing for it - have proven to be a divisive issue.

“The best way to think about it is it provides the envelope into which a future development concept would fit,” Gary Klassen, the city’s general manager of planning and development, told a packed media conference Monday morning. “Normally, we don’t get this kind of interest in [zoning] applications.”

The application is in four parts, seeking to accomodate new land use, amend the city's overall downtown plan to include the project, close a small park that lies within the zone, and a partial road closure.

It includes two plots of land split by 104 Avenue, a major thoroughfare in the city. The two sides of the project will be connected by a bridge over the road, which will include a so-called “winter garden” indoor green space.

Also included in the application are mixed-use businesses such as a daycare and a carwash, though Mr. Klassen said that is standard and is primarily a way to keep the developer’s options open, rather than saying explicitly a daycare would be included in a final project.

He said public consultations could take place as soon as July, and anytime over the ensuing nine months or so. A civic election is slated for October.

The application itself, however, does little to shed any more light on the high-profile project. The Katz Group had suggested it would ask the city to entirely finance the arena, with a cost pegged at $400-million to $450-million, in exchange for the increased tax revenue the broader development would generate. Mr. Black said earlier this month the scale of the development "warranted" the city's support.

Funding details are not normally included in zoning applications and weren’t in the plan submitted by Mr. Katz’s group. Mr. Black said financing talks are still ongoing.

“We’re working hard to develop a funding model.”

In an interview earlier this month, Mayor Stephen Mandel told The Globe and Mail he supported a project and wasn't opposed to using city credit to partially finance one - but he expected a contribution from the Katz Group and said no formal offer had then been laid out.

"The sad part about this is there’s been so much talk about it, but not very much clarity," Mr. Mandel said at the time. "Right now, I haven’t seen anything that’s going to tell me what we’re going to explain [to residents]."

A 2008 city report recommended replacing the current rink, Rexall Place, which is named for one of Mr. Katz's companies. The aging, city-owned rink is the third-oldest in the league (built in 1974 with public money), and the second-smallest. The cost of renovating it was pegged at $250-million.

The Katz Group has suggested the tax revenues from the project, along with subsidies currently going to Rexall Place, would cover the payments on a loan to build the arena - thereby avoiding a property tax hike. The city report recommended a similar mixed-revenue stream that could finance the rink, but included a new ticket tax and a $100-million pledge from Mr. Katz in its calculation.

The $100-million pledge was made when Mr. Katz bought the team. He has since clarified his position, saying he'd aim to use the money on the private development around the arena, but not the arena itself. Mr. Mandel said earlier this month he'd "absolutely" expect the Katz Group to contribute to a new arena.

The Oilers have said that a new rink, with more luxury suites and seating capacity, is critical for the long-term survival of the team, which finished last in the NHL this season.

The cost estimates of $400- to $450-million (and of $250-million to renovate the existing building) were made at the height of oil-rich Alberta's boom, and have since dropped significantly, Mr. Mandel said earlier this month.

The NHL's newest arena, the New Jersey Devils' Prudential Center, cost $309-million.
Arena rendering?

22 October 2010 | Press Releases

The Katz Group today issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for Architectural and Engineering Services for the proposed downtown arena, the centrepiece of the Edmonton Arena District. A copy of the RFQ is available for download here (PDF).

The RFQ is a preliminary step in the process of building a team of professionals to initiate the architectural design of the proposed arena. With the support of City Administration, the Katz Group is beginning this process now, in the absence of certain agreements, including a resolution of City Council with respect to funding, to be in a position to meet future timelines for design and development of the project.

The RFQ will gather expressions of interest and qualifications from Edmonton-based firms and as well as other national and international candidates. The Katz Group intends to engage an internationally renowned architect to serve as the Design Architect for the project. This RFQ is requesting interested architectural and engineering firms to submit their qualifications to serve in roles supporting the Design Architect, including the "Arena Architect" and other supporting roles within the "Architect of Record Team".

Full release here:
It looks amazing, though it could be subjected to a lot of cheapening.The architecture of hockey arenas in Canada, especially major arenas, could be more sophisticated considering the significance of the sport in this country. We should set the standard for the world.