On April 26 Council voted to approve the development of Alldritt Tower, just east of the Shaw Conference Centre, on Jasper Avenue and 96 Street. The application was complex, and there were lots of aspects to consider.
What was approved
Council first approved the re-zoning of the area to allow for a taller building to be built. Edmonton downtown buildings have been capped for years to allow for planes to land at the downtown airport. Now that the airport is no longer there, the option to develop high-rise buildings in the downtown core is available. Re-zoning the area makes it possible for Alldritt Tower’s sleek, eye-catching design to become a reality.
Council also approved the re-zoning of a small area of land on the slope, south of the tower between Jasper Avenue and Grierson Hill Road, from parkland so the development could take place. This land is small, not utilized, does not have trees and very few other plants, and makes up only the land between the two roadways. It was also significantly contaminated, and needs considerable cleanup and remediation. This is now going to be done by the developer, not the city, saving the city the cost of this considerable expense. Re-zoning this area allows for the development of the public park and landscaped terraces on the slope itself.
The tower itself is approved to measure up to a maximum of 280 meters, or 80 stories. This approval does not mean that the tower will be 80 stories. There has been a minimum amount of 20% of the building to be allocated for residential uses. The street-level floors are intended to be commercial spaces so that there can be cafes, restaurants, and shops available for pedestrians in the area. These shops will be accessible by the public through three interconnected, terraced levels on the tower that will be on the slope above Grierson Hill Road.
The agreement of the sale of land is that the terraces be publically accessible, and make up a public park. This park will be maintained by the developer. The creation of this public park is intended to increase the accessibility of the river valley to the public, and will include wheelchair access to this part of the river valley, which was previously not accessible. The tower itself will be in the centre of the one-hectare park.
Finally, it was agreed upon by Council that the revenue generated from the sale of this land will be used to buy other river valley land that is privately owned to ensure that it is preserved as part of the river valley.
Alldritt Tower itself is going to replace two derelict, abandoned buildings with a thin skyscraper on the south side of Jasper Avenue. The design will have glass windows throughout on the main levels so as to maintain views into the river valley as much as possible. It is approved to be up to 80 stories, but could be 40 stories. The final height of the tower depends on the number of floors a potential hotel, and how many residential units that Alldritt sells in the tower.
Included in the design are these high-quality landscaped terraces that will be developed on the slope above Grierson Hill Road. These terraces are designed to be connected, multi-level terraces that will increase access to the river valley itself. The creation of this public park will also give wheelchair access from Jasper Ave into the river valley. Included in the plans for these terraces is a connecting path or link from the terraces down to Louise McKinney Park below. This path is to be handled by the city, and so will not be built by the developer. Council is going to decide on how this path will be created in a future decision. However, it is included in some of the concept designs. This path will make it easier for pedestrians to access Louise McKinney Park on foot, and encourage movement between the terraces above and the park below.
Why I voted for the development
The application for this development was complicated, and there was significant input from the public, both for and against, the approval of the tower. Ultimately, I voted for the development for a number of reasons.
The first reason is that this piece of land was significantly contaminated. While it was zoned as parkland, the stretch of land itself had little vegetation, no trees, and was separated from the whole of the river valley by Grierson Hill Road. It was also significantly contaminated, and the cost of reclaiming that land is significant-- the cost of reclamation would be in the millions of dollars. By approving this development the city does not have to pay for the land reclamation, the developer does, and there is increased accessibility to the river valley itself. I have no doubt that if this proposal had been further south, requiring trees of the river valley to be removed, and would have altered that river valley environment, that the development would not have been approved. I would not have voted for it had this been the case.
The second reason is what this development has to offer for Edmontonians. In this category there are many benefits. The public park will enhance and diversify opportunities for individuals to experience the River Valley. It re-imagines an isolated and underutilized piece of previously disturbed land, increasing public accessibility to the river valley—and with the future Valley Line LRT being located approximately 250 meters north of the tower, this accessibility will be all the more beneficial for commuters and the public.
We are also expecting this development to act as a catalyst for more development in this area. With this area being beautifully developed, making access to the river valley easier and with the presence of new shops and restaurants, there is greater incentive to invest in the Quarters neighbourhood. Just as Rogers Place spurred significant development in the Ice District, which was an under-used, under-developed area of downtown, we are expecting that approving this development may have the same sort of effect for the Quarters and the eastern part of downtown.