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Community league plaza could be impeded by Hawrelak Park rehabilitation: ‘It is a fear’

WATCH ABOVE: A big investment for Edmonton's Hawrelak Park is now in limbo. Sarah Kraus explains.

A large infrastructure development designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Edmonton community leagues could be delayed by a plan to replace Hawrelak Park’s utilities.

The community league plaza has been in the works for eight years.

“The project is about really lifting up the profile of community leagues and all of the work that community leagues have done in the city over the last 100 years,” explained Laura Cunningham-Shpeley, the executive director of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.

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

It’s designed not only to pay tribute to the history of community leagues, but also as a place for people to relax and escape the sun.

The open-air plaza is meant to be used year-round, with picnic style seating centered around a large fireplace.

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The plaza would connect to pathways dotted with interactive art exhibits that run alongside a stream feeding into the lake.

The plan is for the plaza to be built between the Heritage Amphitheatre and the lake in Hawrelak Park.

“It’s in a really high-profile park for a reason. It’s where people come to gather and have fun with their families and their friends,” Cunningham-Shpeley said.

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

After securing provincial funding, the EFCL is hoping to begin construction later this year, after asking city council for some additional money in May.

“Of course we want our plaza to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, as soon as possible,” Cunningham-Shpeley said.

But the notion that Hawrelak Park could be closed for three years for utility replacements is throwing an unexpected wrench into the plans for the $4.5-million plaza. EFCL is looking for some guidance from the city — quickly.

“There’s no point in digging up some parts for our project only to do it differently in two years. So the alignment is really important.”

There’s also some tension with festivals, about noise and access.

The community league plaza would be built on space currently used by Interstellar Rodeo for programming and sponsorship.

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“What we would be hoping to do would be to fence off the structure and sort of use it and make it part of our festival,” explained Interstellar employee Chris Wynters.

“But if we were to fence it off right now, it would cause some traffic problems.”

Watch below: 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.

Potential years-long closure of Hawrelak Park concerns Edmonton festivals
Potential years-long closure of Hawrelak Park concerns Edmonton festivals

The Heritage Festival has similar concerns. Executive director Jim Gibbon has proposed an external pathway around the plaza to keep people moving.

“We just want to make sure that as it moves ahead, that there’s enough space there for the safe movement of people, the safe movement of vehicles and in case of an emergency, people to get out in an emergency,” he said.

Although they think the design could be tweaked, neither festival opposes the development of the plaza.

“I don’t think anybody is against the project,” Wynters said.

EFCL is receptive to the feedback.

“We’re having those conversations now — about what their concerns are now, with the size and growth of their festivals — and do our best to ensure that what we are going to build is not hindering their festivals or getting in the way of it,” Cunningham-Shpeley said.

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She remains hopeful the city, festivals and EFCL can all come to an agreement that is in the best interests of park users, so that the community league plaza can be complete for the group’s 100th anniversary in 2021.