City of Edmonton to build $26M pedway as part of private multi-tower project

The plan for a future pedway linking the Churchill LRT station and a future development north of downtown Edmonton was at risk of collapsing Monday as councillors debated whether the city should spend $26.5 million to build it. 

City council votes 10 to 3 to uphold pledge to build pedway from LRT to Station Lands

A mixed-use tower development near Chinatown in downtown Edmonton anticipated to house 5,000 people. (Qualico/City of Edmonton)

The plan for a future pedway linking the Churchill LRT station and a development north of downtown Edmonton was at risk of collapsing Monday as councillors debated — and ultimately defeated — a motion to use $26.5 million elsewhere. 

The pedway is part of a deal with Qualico, which is building the mixed-use residential tower development along 103rd Avenue, north of the Royal Alberta Museum. 

Coun. Anne Stevenson raised a motion to remove the pedway from the project and suggested the city use the money to invest in other public amenities, such as landscaping, parks and children's play areas. 

"Pedways aren't necessarily the type of public infrastructure that we should be investing in," Stevenson said in an interview with CBC News Monday. 

"They've been shown to detract from street level vibrancy, they take away from a lot of what we want to achieve in the downtown." 

Two peers sided with her — Michael Janz and Jo-Anne Wright — but council as a whole defeated the motion 10 to 3. 

Last June, the previous council approved the project, which also includes $24 million of city money to create public amenity space around the towers and streetscape improvements between 97th and 101st streets. 

Coun. Tim Cartmell argued that changing the deal would give Edmonton a bad reputation with present and potential investors. 

"The harm it's doing to our reputation as a city is really distressing," Cartmell said in an interview Monday. "Our job to attract investment in our downtown got harder the minute this motion was made." 

Qualico, a Canadian company with headquarters based in Winnipeg, had been developing the plan for several years, he noted. 

If council reversed course on such a large investment, Cartmell said the entire industry around the country would be aware. 

"If something is going haywire with a project in Edmonton from a company in Winnipeg, the banks in Toronto certainly know about it," he said. "That's how fast you get a bad reputation for reneging on your commitments."

The Qualico project will be built in several phases, the first costing $184 million and $657 million for future phases.

Pedway problems

Stephanie McCabe, deputy manager of urban planning and economy, said pedways can be controversial. 

"Our plans acknowledge that pedways can detract from vibrancy by creating negative microclimates, blocking vistas and by pulling pedestrians away from street level," McCabe said.

The projects would create thousands of construction jobs and contribute to revitalizing nearby Chinatown, McCabe said.

Coun. Ashley Salvador said she's not a fan of pedways but was looking at the project from a broad point of view. 

"I am a fan of having more people living and working downtown," she said. "I am a fan of seeing investment on this site," 

The project fits the city's goals of building denser, more walkable communities, Salvador added. 

She's confident there will be a return on investment for the city, even if the entire project isn't built out. 

"I would have liked to have seen a better cost-sharing arrangement built into the terms that provided more surety and risk-mitigation on the city side." 

The $26.5 million is a capped cost for the city so if the price goes up, the city would have to negotiate with Qualico or another partner to get the pedway built.