New tower heralds end of old fights and new start for our downtown.
EDMONTON – Stantec’s new $500-million skyscraper will be mighty tall when it’s completed in 2018 — 62 storeys, dwarfing all other Edmonton towers, making it one of the highest skyscrapers in the country, behind five Toronto and two Calgary towers (The Bow and an even taller Calgary tower currently in the works).
If anything, though, the new skyscraper is just as big a symbol for the Edmonton as it is a mighty edifice. It’s a sign that our downtown is taking off like a rocket, as well as an exclamation mark that should help mark the end of two fierce and often ugly civic battles. First, came the question of whether or not to close down and redevelop the City Centre Airport, then the issue of whether or not the city should invest in a downtown arena.
Most folks had a strong opinion on both matters, although often it was best to not say a word, rather than risk a toxic disagreement. Aggressive factions formed. The city split into warring camps.
In the end, of course, decisions were made. The new office tower represents the fruits of both those decisions. Its height is made possible by the closing of the downtown airport, and its downtown location on the soon-to-be built arena district plaza flows out of the Katz Group and the City of Edmonton’s decision to invest in transforming that blighted area of parking lots and empty lots.
Mayor Don Iveson mentioned both disputes at the news conference Tuesday announcing the new Stantec tower. Iveson supported former mayor Stephen Mandel’s effort to shut the downtown airport, and now he told the crowd at the Stantec presser that cranes were poking high into our skyline, above the old, low envelope forced on the downtown by the need for safe flight paths. All this made the Stantec tower possible, Iveson said. “This is another thing that we couldn’t have done before we made some other bold decisions.”
As for the arena, the Stantec tower will greatly help pay off the project. The city will borrow $199 million to help fund the arena and its related infrastructure. That $199 million is to be repaid through a mechanism known as the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL), a fund that will gather taxes in the arena district from 2015 to 2035. The CRL money is to pay for the arena and for many other downtown infrastructure projects, such as new storm sewers, streetscape improvements and new parks.
With the Katz Group and WAM Development Group already slated to build a new $300-million office tower for the City of Edmonton, and with them now teaming up with Stantec on this tower, it’s clear the CRL will create enough new taxes to pay off the city’s commitment to the arena.
Iveson estimated the new Stantec tower alone would provide $4 million to 5 million in taxes a year.
City manager Simon Farbrother said about $6 million a year will be needed to pay off the city’s arena debt. “When we were in front of council, it was about making sure we could viably cover the cost of the arena and public commitment to it,” Farbrother said. “With the investment that’s taken place in both towers, clearly that is covered. It’s sweet.”
Said Iveson of new downtown investment: “When you add all that up … I think it’s going to pay back the CRL in a timely fashion, which sort of exonerates all of the questions about that.”
The arena always looked like a great investment in Edmonton’s downtown, but it’s still a relief to hear that the numbers are working out. It’s time to move on from old wars, and this skyscraper and all the other developments in our downtown will certainly take our full attention.
Stantec is a remarkable Edmonton success story, and it’s going to build the downtown a remarkable building. For one thing, it will have lights that run from its base to its top, where a massive lighting system will crown the tower. When an Oilers game is on, the lights will be copper and blue, then green for Eskimo games, and red for Canada Day, said Stantec chief executive Bob Gomes. “That will be the beacon of what’s going on in the city of Edmonton. … You’re going to be able to see it from Calgary.”
It’s a fitting notion, the idea of this skyscraper as a beacon. The Stantec tower certainly fits the bill. It’s a beacon of Edmonton’s growth, of old fights ending, of new-found unity and of a better future for our downtown.