An envisioned park in downtown Edmonton that's been in the works for 13 years could soon become reality after city council approved a request to rezone the area.
Council will still need to approve the $40-million budget next month to build the park.
The city plans to finalize the preliminary design of the Warehouse Park by the end of the summer, said Geoff Smith, a general supervisor in the open space, planning and design department.
"This park is really an opportunity to bring much-needed green space to the downtown," Smith told CBC News last week. "We have lots of hard surface festival and event spaces in the downtown."
City council approved a request to rezone the land to park space and to close a portion of 107th Street at a public hearing Tuesday.
"The rezoning of these properties is an exciting milestone in the development of Warehouse Park," Coun. Anne Stevenson told CBC. "This is going to be an incredible asset in the heart of our city. I look forward to the final design coming out … and the start of construction in spring 2024."
The future park covers about 1.47 hectares and stretches from Jasper Avenue to 102nd Avenue and from 106th Street to just west of 107th Street.
The area is currently a swath of parking lots, which Downtown Edmonton Community League president Cheryl Probert says is an eyesore.
"Certainly aesthetically, it's not good," Probert said in an interview last week. "I look out over those parking lots where the park is going to go, and nobody parks there or hardly anybody."
Probert said the league wants to see a multi-functional public green space with retail shops and restaurants lining the perimeter — amenities that would attract people to the park as a destination.
$40 million price tag
In addition to benches, walkways, trees and bushes, the draft design of the park includes an off-leash dog area, a children's playground, a washroom building, a plaza with a warming zone, and water features like a fountain.
The plan also has a hard surface court area and an open lawn feature on the northeast corner of the park.
Smith said it's estimated to cost $40 million to build. His team will ask council to approve the budget at an upcoming capital budget adjustment session in mid-June, for construction to begin in early 2024.
"It's an ambitious construction schedule but we are confident that we will be able to complete and open the park by the end of 2025," Smith said.
Smith said if council rejects the request, it would be a challenge to continue with the plan, adding that he believes it's a priority for city council.
From global to local
The city planned to hold an international design competition in spring 2020 for the park but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the plan.
"It certainly would have provided an opportunity to really showcase Edmonton and really would have been great for the city's brand and reputation to have had that international recognition," Smith said.
Smith said staging a competition would have required international travel, in-person meetings, and convening a jury of design professionals, so the city proceeded with a traditional procurement process.
The city chose gh3* from Toronto to be the prime consultant and the architecture lead, Claude Cormier and Associates CCxA from Montreal as the landscape architecture lead, and AECOM from Edmonton as the engineering team and local landscape site architect.
Twenty/20 Communications from Edmonton is the communications and public engagement team.
Probert said she too was looking forward to a global contest.
"Initially, we probably were a little bit disappointed about the fact that it was no longer going to be this big international splashy affair," she said. "In the end, we're pleased that we're going to be able to support Canadian talent and Canadian artists and Canadian designers."
The vision for the park dates back to 2010, when it was identified in the city's capital plan.
Smith said it's not taking that long, considering the logistics and the location.
"It's located within the centre of what is Canada's fifth largest city. I would say that it's unprecedented to — or at least very unusual — to be able to assemble this much land in the centre of an established built-city."
Probert is optimistic that a collection of initiatives currently underway will make a difference in tackling social disorder downtown.
Those include working with the downtown business association, downtown recovery coalition, police and the city, and making sure things are being reported to 311.
"We expect that hopefully by the time the park opens, we'll actually be seeing less of that general disorder downtown as a result of some of these medium and long-term initiatives."