High Level Line gets initial nod from Edmonton city committee

A plan to link MacEwan University and Old Strathcona with a multi-modal linear park got a boost Tuesday when city council's urban planning committee approved $85,000 in funding.      The High Line Society is proposing a four-kilometre path along the rail corridor from 104th Avenue downtown to the old railway station south of Whyte Avenue on Gateway Boulevard.

The funding approved Tuesday will allow the group to hire an executive director.

Initially the group had planned to ask for $500,000 to do a design study and hire staff but under current fiscal restraints, society president Kevin Dieterman said they revised that to $85,000.

"The writing was on the wall that half a million isn't going to happen right now with the recent provincial budget that has come down," Dieterman told media at city hall. 

He admitted the society doesn't know how much it will cost to start the work and that a design study is necessary to help determine that. 

"But it is a project that's not going to happen overnight, this is going to occur over many numbers of years, through not just public investment but private investment and partnership as well."

Coun. Ben Henderson was quick to praise the volunteers who make up the society.

"A lot of them have brought their professional credentials and professional experience to get it to this point so I think we have to recognize that that in itself is a pretty significant gift from them," Henderson said.

Coun. Mike Nickel, who voted against the funding, said he's frustrated that the committee approved the money and with the society's lack of inroads in getting support from the private sector.

"When I asked them how much money they raised — zero," Nickel said. "I asked them, have you got any endorsements from any property owners along the line? Zero. Then [the committee] just goes ahead and gives them some money." 

But the plan also got the support from Mayor Don Iveson.

"I've been a big fan of High Level Line and what it could do to spur development, create community and link together kind of what have been two solitudes at times in our city," Iveson said. 

He said the designers have done a lot of conceptual work on the project on their own. Iveson expressed optimism that the project could be done in conjunction with rehabilitation work on the High Level Bridge in a few years. 

Dieterman said in the coming year, the High Level Line society will seek partnerships with business owners along the path.

@natashariebe