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Potential years-long closure of Hawrelak Park and new plaza concern Edmonton festivals

Potential years-long closure of Hawrelak Park concerns Edmonton festivals
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton's Hawrelak Park sees countless visitors year-round and is home to several major festivals. Now, word of a potential multi-year closure of the park has some users on edge. Sarah Kraus reports.

A planned closure of Hawrelak Park is worrying some of Edmonton’s festival organizers. Many were at Wednesday’s community services committee meeting where the prospect that the park could be fully closed for as long as three years was brought up.

The issue came to a head when city councillors were hearing about a conflict between festivals — like Interstellar Rodeo, Freewill Shakespeare Festival, the Heritage Festival and others — and a plaza proposal from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues that is planned for its 2021 centennial.

READ MORE: Hawrelak Park plaza construction set after $1M grant from province

“What we’re hearing is a little bit of friction between administration starting preliminary conversations around a capital renewal project that they’re looking at in the next budget cycle, or late in this one, and where that is interfacing things with council,” said Councillor Sarah Hamilton, who chairs community services committee.

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Two festivals that Global News spoke with Thursday said they are not opposed to the plaza but feel they haven’t been properly consulted and have concerns about its design and placement.

“We don’t put on a festival so we weren’t included in those discussions,” said EFCL executive director Alan Bolstad.

“Our project was always considered sort of a maybe, it was sort of in the wings but it wasn’t there, so we didn’t get notification of all sorts of sessions that the city had with festival organizations to remind them that we were trying to do this and the implications of our project.”

WATCH BELOW (April 16, 2016): Racing to raise money for a plaza in Hawrelak Park

Racing to raise money for a plaza in Hawrelak Park
Racing to raise money for a plaza in Hawrelak Park

The festival organizers, however, said they were included in discussions about the 10-year Hawrelak Park rehabilitation project, and were pleased to be consulted.

They recognize work has to be done on the park but are also worried about the impact the construction would have on their events.

“We just hope they don’t shut it down,” Jim Gibbon, executive director of the Heritage Festival said. “When it’s time to fix the toilet, fix the toilet. When it’s time to fix the drainage, fix the drainage. Don’t just shut the whole thing down for three years.

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“Even if we do it in partial steps. The way they’re looking at breaking it down — say, for instance, they close the roads for three years. That’s as good as a full closure for us,” Gibbon said.

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“We really need to figure out a way to do it in shoulder seasons, do it in times that we’re not there. Do it in small bursts. Not really make it unusable,” he added.

Gibbon said there really isn’t another location the Heritage Festival could move to. He’s hopeful the festival and the city can come to an agreeable solution.

The city says it has time to plan and construction won’t likely start before 2023.

“We are talking about either partial closure for numerous years or full closure for a few years,” said Pascale Ladouceur, the city’s director of facility planning and design.

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If they completely close the park, the work will last three years. If the park is partially closed and work is done around other activities, the project will take as many as nine years to complete.

But the work is needed.

“We’re talking about 50-year-old utilities,” Ladouceur said, “sewer systems, water distribution, the irrigation network, power lines… We need to dig up, a lot of it will need to be replaced. After that we will need to do rehabilitation of the turf, the roads, everything that will be required to put the park back into operation for both the festivals and the users.”

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“We like having power,” Gibbon said. “We like having water, we like having drainage and we like having clean toilets. So it’s good stuff, it needs it.”

READ MORE: Hawrelak Park hosts two major international sporting events

“How is it [that] one of our signature parks gets so close to imminent breakdown?” asked Councillor Michael Walters, before Ladouceur reassured councillors the repairs are still a few years off, and that the planning has been underway for a year.

“The criticality has been assessed as needing to be addressed within three to eight years, depending on the infrastructure,” Ladouceur said.

“So we feel we are doing it at the right moment.”

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READ MORE: Organizers estimate 345,000 people came to 2018 Edmonton Heritage Festival

Hamilton said the EFCL project is pushing the timeline.

“What we’re hearing is the infrastructure needs to be replaced. It’s a beloved space in the city of Edmonton and we need to upgrade the pipes and roads and all of that, and I think administration has undertaken some consultation with the festivals,” Hamilton said.

“But the EFCL 100-year anniversary project put some pressure on that infrastructure renewal and begs the question of why do this before the infrastructure renewal rather than after?”

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Hamilton said council is in the dark on details because the administration has not given them a formal presentation on the upgrade.

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Walters asked for an update to come later this spring when the budget is reviewed, and in the meantime the city will work with the EFCL and the festivals to sort out any conflicts.

— With files from Emily Mertz and Sarah Kraus, Global News