Future of West Edmonton Mall footbridge up in the air

WATCH: A pedestrian bridge used to go over 170 Street, connecting West Edmonton Mall and nearby communities. It was in poor condition and was torn down. As Kim Smith reports, there's debate over the rebuild.

The footbridge that connects West Edmonton Mall to the West Meadowlark Park neighbourhood could be gone for good.

The pedway over 170 Street near 87 Avenue has been demolished. The footbridge is the mall’s responsibility and according to area Councillor Andrew Knack, WEM had originally planned on doing some refurbishment work to bring it back up to good condition.

However, assessment work determined refurbishing the existing bridge would be far more expensive than replacing the bridge altogether. The mall made the decision to go ahead with the demolition.

According to Knack, a permit to demolish the bridge was issued by the city with the condition that it be replaced. However, Knack said the mall is currently planning to appeal the condition to replace the bridge to the Subdivision Development Appeal Board.

Knack took to Facebook to update area residents on the status of the footbridge and encourage people to speak up if they want to save the popular walkway.

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“Prior to being on council, I managed a business in West Edmonton Mall. As a resident of Meadowlark and then Jasper Park, I used that bridge five days a week for close to six years as it was a safe and direct way to cross 170 Street,” Knack wrote.

“I know staff and customers use that bridge regularly and based on the feedback I’ve heard in the last few weeks along with my observations when I used to use it regularly, there are many seniors and people with mobility challenges who use that because crossing at 170 Street/87 Avenue is not something they feel safe doing.”

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Knack said the footbridge is particularly vital for areas seniors.

“I’ve heard from some of the residents that even now while they had hoped it was just a temporary closure have had to take cabs from their seniors residence, essentially go around the Misericordia Hospital to be able to access the mall because walking that distance is not really realistic for them,” Knack said Thursday.

Roger Breault lives in the nearby Laurier House, which provides supportive living spaces for people with long-term care needs. Breault uses a wheelchair to get around and is concerned for his fellow Laurier House residents.

“One of the reasons I moved here was because of that bridge. I was able to cross it to get to West Edmonton Mall and I need to go there weekly to do my banking and to do other things.”

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The mall is also encouraging community members to weigh in.

“If you are a resident of the impacted neighbourhood(s), please feel free to email us your thoughts on the bridge — positive or negative,” WEM general manager Danielle Woo said in an emailed statement to Global News.

“Community input is extremely meaningful to us.”

Woo said the mall had been discussing options for the footbridge with the city and said the condition to replace was, from its understanding, not part of the agreement.

“WEM and the city agreed, based on an independent engineering report, that the condition of the pedestrian overpass posed significant risk to public safety and needed to be removed as soon as possible. WEM agreed to undertake the immediate removal of the pedestrian overpass while discussions with the city continued over a number of issues, including who is responsible for the pedestrian overpass and whether a pedestrian overpass is still required given usage frequency, safety, visual clutter and new factors that were not contemplated when the bridge was originally built. One such factor is the elevated LRT bridge being built a block to the south which may potentially alter pedestrian traffic patterns.

“The city department that issued the development permit for the bridge’s removal was apparently unaware of these ongoing discussions, and placed the rebuild condition on the permit that is inconsistent with our discussions with the city,” Woo said.

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She said the mall will continue to work with the city on the pedestrian bridge and looks forward to presenting its arguments at appeal.

What remains after the West Edmonton Mall footbridge was demolished. Thursday, July 26, 2018.
What remains after the West Edmonton Mall footbridge was demolished. Thursday, July 26, 2018. Kim Smith, Global News
What remains after the West Edmonton Mall footbridge was demolished. Thursday, July 26, 2018.
What remains after the West Edmonton Mall footbridge was demolished. Thursday, July 26, 2018. Kim Smith, Global News
What remains after the West Edmonton Mall footbridge was demolished. Thursday, July 26, 2018.
What remains after the West Edmonton Mall footbridge was demolished. Thursday, July 26, 2018. Kim Smith, Global News

Deryck Webb is the president of the Meadowlark Community League and he said the news caught him off guard, but added the fact the mall is appealing the decision is “disappointing but not surprising.”

“West Edmonton Mall ownership, they’re in the business for making money for their shareholders. They’re not in the business of providing public access, pedestrian access,” he said.

Webb also pointed to the need to get people, particularly seniors, across the street.

“I think it is a very useful and necessary channel to get people to the West Edmonton Mall safely,” he said. “It’s just a nice, safe, dedicated space for them to cross safely.”

Coming from a business background, Webb believes the mall actually has quite the opportunity in front of them to do something different.

“They can build something that can be commercial, Las Vegas-style. Signage, lights, really make it something interesting that people will want to take a look at, observe, take pictures with.”

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Webb hopes the city can do something to stop the mall from stepping away from building a new pedestrian access. He believes members of the nearby neighbourhoods will step up to have their concerns heard.

“I’ve talked to at least half a dozen people that are quite upset about it and think it would be a great loss to the communities,” he said.

“As a taxpayer, I would want the city to not just capitulate to the demands. The city provides a great deal of service to the mall and this is a way for West Edmonton Mall to give back to immediate surrounding communities. I wouldn’t want the city to just acquiesce.”

Notices of these types of appeals are only sent to addresses within 60 metres of the site. Knack is encouraging people to attend the SDAB meeting, which will be held sometime in September, to have their voices heard on the issue.

“Any person is allowed to attend an SDAB meeting and speak to the issue. If you believe this bridge should be replaced, consider attending the meeting and registering to speak,” Knack said.

“Speaking at the appeal is the most important thing that you can do because the decision to uphold the condition will not be made by city council or the city administration.”

Schedules for SDAB meetings can be found online.

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