June 5, 2018 7:52 pm
Updated: June 5, 2018 8:35 pm

City committee inches debate forward on Edmonton river valley gondola idea

WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton council committee voted to get more information on the proposal that would link the north and south sides of the North Saskatchewan River by gondola. Vinesh Pratap has the details.

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It’s a debate that has left Edmontonians divided and it will continue for the foreseeable future after a council committee looked for more information on the gondola proposal.

During the city’s urban planning committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors asked to see what the costs would be for a feasibility study on the project with a caveat that no tax dollars be involved in the project itself.

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In a city report, the Edmonton Transit System advisory board recommended further study into the possibility of stringing urban cable cars across the North Saskatchewan River.

It suggests the gondolas could run from downtown on the river’s north side through Rossdale to Whyte Avenue, a popular street with bars, restaurants and boutiques in the south-side Old Strathcona neighbourhood.

READ MORE: Gondola proposed across North Saskatchewan River in the middle of Edmonton

The motion asked administration to report back on the cost of a feasibility study, including an analysis of the value a gondola might bring to future redevelopment in Rossdale and the River Crossing Project.

The motion also asked administration to look at commitment from private investors and communities to fund the proposed gondola.

“This project has garnered a fair bit of interest,” Councillor Michael Walters said.

“The proponents have suggested it can be paid for by private investment. Whether it actually helps Rossdale is a big question for me. What it means for our transportation even if it’s privately funded. Why wouldn’t we integrate it into our transportation system?

“Ultimately, there’s going to be some staff involvement,” Walters said. “This first step is just to help us understand what that’s going to cost and who’s going to pay for it.”

“It just moves the ball a little further down the field.”

READ MORE: Idea to have Edmontonians commute by gondola takes another stride as it reaches for the sky

Councillor Tim Cartmell, one of several councillors expressing concern, said he was worried the gondola issue was taking city council off course.

“I just don’t see the point” of a feasibility study, he said.

However, Councillor Scott McKeen said there are congestion challenges between both sides of the river and this could address some of those.

“I encourage committee members to support it,” he said.

READ MORE: Gondola over the North Saskatchewan River wins the Edmonton Project contest

A group of investors who started The Edmonton Project put out a call last August for residents to submit their ideas for an attraction in the city.

A gondola connecting downtown and Old Strathcona was proposed by Gary and Amber Poliquin, two local runners. The idea won the contest and led to a renewed debate in the city.

“I’m pretty excited because three months ago, who would have thought we’d already be here?” Gary said.

“To be at this point and it’s still moving forward, we’re ecstatic.”

He added private investors have already sought them out to say they’d be interested in contributing to the project.

READ MORE: Gondola to River Valley put on back burner

No exact cost has been determined, but The Edmonton Project has estimated a river valley gondola route could run between $50 million and $100 million.

“I was a little surprised by the emotion [from councillors]. I think this is an idea that came from a pretty creative and happy group of citizens who want Edmonton to be a pretty cool place. They bring us an idea, I think the least we can do is hear them out.”

Amber encourages councillors and investors to think of the future.

“To me, this is the perfect time for us to get in there and fit in with the reworking of the buses and the reworking of Rossdale and help the city move forward.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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