WATCH ABOVE: We got our first look inside the newly-renovated Federal Building today, which will soon be home to several hundred government employees and MLAs – but that is already home to much debate. Tom Vernon reports.
EDMONTON — Former Alberta premier Alison Redford’s so-called sky palace had its grand coming out party Friday, but in its revised role as a buttoned-down meeting room.
The penthouse suite was opened to the media as part of a tour of the renovated Federal Building on the legislature grounds.
The suite, on the 11th floor, does not have furniture or all the finishings yet, but is nevertheless an impressive series of rooms done over in wood and glass with panoramic views of the city to its outskirts. (See pictures below).
Its legacy is a public relations headache for the government, going millions of dollars over budget and years past its deadline.
Infrastructure Minister Manmeet Bhullar admitted that if the government could do it all over again, it probably wouldn’t have renovated the 1950s art-deco style Tyndal stone structure.
“The needs and priorities of the people of Alberta are schools, health infrastructure or road infrastructure. That’s where I would have made this investment,” Bhullar told reporters prior to the tour. “This is a fine building, I’m not arguing with that.
“(But) it is what it is. The prudent thing now is limit cost increases.”
Work began in 2009 with an original end date for 2012.
The original $356-million budget was immediately ratcheted back to $275 million when oil prices dropped, then crept back up again over the years to the current price of $403 million on a budget of $410 million.
Those costs secretly took another bump starting in 2012, when Redford’s office began secretly ordering up changes to the penthouse to convert it from meeting rooms into a swank apartment retreat for her and her daughter.
The “premier’s den” – modelled after the blue chip Hay Adams Hotel in Washington D.C. – was to have bedrooms, bathrooms, a dining room, lounge area, room-by-room temperature controls, a fireplace, a powder room and a butler’s pantry.
Redford had quit as premier just before the project, later dubbed sky palace, became public last March.
The government said only preliminary work had been done on the penthouse before it was secretly cancelled in January 2014 at a total cost of almost $240,000. The Opposition Wildrose has said, depending how you crunch the numbers, the actual cost could be four times higher.
Redford quit amidst an escalating spending scandal and, in the months that followed, sky palace became a symbol of self-entitlement and a focal point of black humour, public scorn and confusing government behaviour.
Two cabinet ministers, Ric McIver and Wayne Drysdale, each announced they had killed the penthouse, but at different times. That prompted the Wildrose party to rename it the zombie sky palace.
An Alberta gaming company even created an app for gamers to move an Alison Redford figure toward the sky palace while leaving behind a trail of burned taxpayer dollars.
After the penthouse was cancelled, it became a hybrid suite with meeting rooms next to showers, leaving an incongruous visual invitation to shower off after meeting with government officials.
Under Premier Jim Prentice, the showers were taken out.
Prentice has said he has never set foot in the penthouse and likely never will.
Redford has never explained what happened on her watch, except to say “mistakes were made.”
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