Edmonton city council approves 55-storey tower on Hotel Macdonald’s doorstep

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Edmonton city councillors approve 55-storey tower on Hotel Macdonald’s doorstep
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton city council has approved a new tower in the core that could stretch up to 60 storeys high and will be on one of the smallest green spaces in the downtown. Quinn Ohler has the details. – Sep 23, 2019

The developers behind a long talked about apartment and retail tower, to be built on the park site in front of Edmonton’s Hotel Macdonald, got approval to go ahead with the project from city council on Monday afternoon.

City council, by a 9-3 vote, has approved zoning on the small, privately-owned green space at the corner of Jasper Avenue and 100 Street that has sat as Frank Oliver Park for decades.

READ MORE: Should Frank Oliver’s name be removed from public spaces in Edmonton?

The downtown Edmonton site was originally rezoned by a previous city council years ago.

“What most people don’t know is, there’s been a tower approved there since the 1980s as part of the deal to save the hotel,” Mayor Don Iveson told reporters after the vote, which saw opposition from councillors Ben Henderson, Jon Dziadyk and Aaron Paquette.

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Iveson said the amount of money needed to do so has prevented the city buying the park from its owner.

“There have been conversations about buying it over the years, but the cost of it was always based on the development rights for a 39-storey office tower there, which is just prohibitive for the city to acquire,” Iveson said. “So in my mind, it’s a change for the better… and you can see in the pictures… [what was previously approved was] a pretty nasty hulking building.

READ MORE: Little park in front of downtown Edmonton’s Hotel Macdonald could be site of tall tower

“What is proposed and has now been approved is a much more elegant slim tower, set further away from the Mac.

Henderson said that the decision council made in the 80s to allow the park in front to be sold, was made because it was seen as the only way to make the hotel viable at the time.

While he said he doesn’t regret the Hotel Macdonald being saved, he does regret that the city had to “pay the price of losing basically what people, I think, are used to, which is the view of it from Jasper Avenue and that park that goes in front.”

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Watch below: (From Sept. 27, 2018) A proposal for a tower across from the Hotel Macdonald could mean a part of a little downtown park might be built over. But, it was never intended to be a permanent park. Kendra Slugoski explains.

Click to play video: 'Tower could be built on park near Hotel Macdonald'
Tower could be built on park near Hotel Macdonald

Geoff Mathews, senior vice-president of development for Great Gulf, who along with development partner Procura said they will build a taller, narrower tower at 55 storeys that will still give plenty of access to the Hotel Macdonald’s entrance.

“The importance of the Hotel MacDonald is not lost on us,” he said after the vote.

“It’s a critical piece of historic infrastructure for the city,” Mathews added. “For us to be able to create a development that is respectful of that beautiful heritage asset, and allows the public to enjoy that space for generations to come, that was what was most important for us.”

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The tower proposed for 9955 Jasper Avenue. Courtesy: City of Edmonton

Concerns raised in the public hearing included that a 55-storey tower could cast a shadow as far away as Churchill Square and potentially block the view of the hotel’s entrance.

That’s why Mathews said they will position the tower and the retail space, at the base closer to Jasper Avenue, allowing a path of green space between the apartment entrance and the Hotel Macdonald.

READ MORE: Edmontonians call for an end to unsightly vacant lots

Mathews wouldn’t go into the economics of the decision by the Toronto-based developer to proceed with the project, however, he was bullish on Edmonton’s economy and the need to build rental inventory as opposed to condos.

“They are both important housing forms for different needs for different people, depending on their jobs in terms of if they are living in the city for the long term or short term, or if they just are looking to make a lifestyle change,” he said, “if they are moving out of a house to simplify their lifestyle.”

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“We see Edmonton growing immensely, especially in the core,” Mathews added. “Rental, to me, and to our team, seems the best and appropriate use for this cycle that we’re in in the market here, and there’s no shortage of interest for people’s need for housing in this growing city.

“We’re feeling comfortable that rental would be the most suited use for this building right now.”

“The market has really shifted,” Iveson agreed.

“Condos are harder to finance as a construction project and I think with the tighter mortgage rules, people are making different decisions — have different options — so I think we’re going to see more rental, just as an overall trend.”

READ MORE: 12 towers proposed near Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton’s Ice District

By the mayor’s estimation, city council this year has approved zoning for 3,000 housing units in the downtown.

“What [Great Gulf] had to say about their assessment of the market and the economy here, relative to let’s say other large cities in the west, I thought it was very positive that investors from central Canada are really seeing the merits of the city, and this is not the first of those conversations that we’ve had,” Iveson said.
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“There’s quite a bit of growing interest in Edmonton’s long-term potential in our economic strategy, so that’s very, very encouraging.”

Mathews said they hope to begin construction late in 2020, after working with city planners to finalize designs.

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