Plans for a future pedway connecting Churchill LRT station and a development north of downtown Edmonton were in danger of collapsing on Monday as councilors debated — and ultimately lost — a proposal to use the $26.5 million elsewhere.
The Pedway is part of a deal with Qualico to build a mixed-use residential tower development along 103rd Avenue just north of the Royal Alberta Museum.
Count Anne Stevenson raised a proposal to remove the padway from the project and suggested that the city use the money to invest in other public amenities, such as landscaping, parks and children’s play areas.
“Paidways are not necessarily the type of public infrastructure we should be investing in,” Stevenson said in an interview with CBC News on Monday.
“They have been shown to detract from street level vibrancy, they take a lot away from what we want to achieve in the city.”
Two teammates supported him – Michael Janz and Jo-Anne Wright – but the council beat the proposal 10 to 3 overall.
Last June, the previous council approved the project, which also includes $24 million in city money to build public convenience spaces around the towers and visual improvements to the streets between 97th and 101st Streets.
Count Tim Cartmel argued that changing the deal would give Edmonton a bad reputation with current and potential investors.
“The damage that is being done to our reputation as a city is really worrying,” Cartmel said in an interview on Monday. “Our job to attract investment to our city became difficult the minute this proposal came to be.”
He said Qualyco, a Canadian company headquartered in Winnipeg, had been developing the plan for several years.
If the council reversed its stance on such a huge investment, Cartmell said the entire industry across the country would be aware of it.
“If something is going wrong with a project in Edmonton from a company in Winnipeg, banks in Toronto certainly know about it,” he said. “That’s how quickly you get a bad reputation for going back on your commitments.”
The Qualico project will be built in several phases, with the first costing $184 million and future stages at $657 million.
Stephanie McCabe, deputy manager for urban planning and economy, said the padways can be controversial.
“Our plans acknowledge that padways can detract from livability by creating negative microclimates, blocking vistas and pulling pedestrians away from street level,” McCabe said.
McCabe said the projects will create thousands of construction jobs and contribute to revitalizing nearby Chinatown.
Count Ashley Salvador said she is not a fan of walking, but is looking at the project from a broader perspective.
“I’m a fan of more people living and working in the city,” she said. “I’m a fan of watching investments on this site,”
Salvador said the project meets the city’s goals of building denser, more walkable communities.
He is confident that there will be a return on investment for the city, even if the entire project has not been built.
“I would have liked to see a better cost-sharing arrangement built into the terms that provides greater certainty and risk-mitigation on the city side.”
$26.5 million is a capped cost for the city, so if the price goes up, the city will have to negotiate with Qualico or another partner to build the pedway.