LET’S TALK TOWERS
Edmonton’s urban core was once the butt of snark and cynicism.
I won’t repeat the slander, it doesn’t matter today. During this most recent economic downtown, construction in Ward 6 was the engine of the Edmonton economy.
New towers, along with major renovations of existing buildings in Ward 6, spawned a flock of construction cranes over the greater downtown, representing investment, jobs and economic spinoff in the range of $5 billion.
A score of towers were approved this council term, or began construction, in Chinatown, downtown, in The Quarters and Oliver.
The Mayfair precinct at 109th Street and Jasper Avenue is rounding into form, especially with the extreme makeover of the old Associated Engineering building, which I once described in my Edmonton Journal column as Edmonton’s homeliest building.
One Development’s plan to demolish and replace the old CNIB building along Jasper Avenue features gorgeous, thematic design elements and appointments.
The Kelly Ramsey building, tragically marred in a 2009 fire, was reconstructed by John Day into what is now Enbridge Centre, with its historic facade facing Rice Howard Way.
The Hendrix Tower in south Oliver, or Grandin, is setting a new and high bar for amenities in rental buildings. The developers of the MacLaren, at 102 Avenue and 124th Street, dismantled the brick facade in the historic Glenora B&B and will incorporate it into a new tower.
Emerging out of the ground right now in Ice District south of Rogers Place are several towers — hotel, commercial and residential buildings — including the 60-plus storey Stantec Tower, to be Edmonton’s tallest.
On 101st Street is the new Edmonton Tower, with its gentle curving south facade.
In other sites and other Ward 6 neighbourhoods, other towers are underway, approved and awaiting permits or in the queue to come to council for adjudication.
All this good news should not be taken as giddy, undisciplined bias. My office has led opposition on several towers in the ward, including the 80-storey Alldritt Tower proposed for east Jasper.
My concern in that case was not so much about design — architect Brad Kennedy and his team are talented and civic minded — as it was about process. I hate saying that, as I’ve seen council members over the years fall back on process in order to avoid a decision.
But process matters. In the case of the Alldritt Tower, city council sold a parcel of land without providing the details in advance of the public hearing and ruling. The City, I believe, also failed in its duty to match public engagement with the scope of the project.
One senior manager described the Alldritt Tower negotiations as being more complex than those for the downtown arena. Yet staff only held one — ONE — public open house to gather input.
Great tower. Great design. But opponents brought compelling issues to the table, with no time left to consider them seriously.
I also voted no to the 47 storey Emerald Tower on Jasper Avenue in Oliver. In that case, the Oliver Community League pointed out the failings of the building’s design and I completely agreed.
My sincere belief is that a majority of developers, especially the local ones, design and build towers that they and citizens will take pride in. But it is incumbent on the mayor, city council and civic administration to up their game so far as understanding the impacts of high density and tall towers on the host community.
It is up to council and city administration to follow through on the City’s heralded public engagement process and plan, which involved hundreds of citizens and completed its work recently.
Sometimes a major project needs to be sent back for revisions. Sometimes city council just needs to send a flat-out no, to ensure we don’t create a race to the bottom and in doing so undermine the good and great work of this city’s architects, designers and developers.
As former mayor Stephen Mandel famously said: No more crap.
By Scott McKeen, City Councillor Ward 6