Edmonton festivals look for options with Hawrelak Park set to close for repairs next year

The City of Edmonton is closing Hawrelak Park for three years for a major overhaul forcing festivals and groups that use the park to find new sites.

Heritage Festival considers venues outside city limits for next summer

Edmonton's Heritage Festival, showcasing about 50 countries and cultures, has been held in Hawrelak Park for 48 years. (Jim Gibbon/Heritage Festival)

The City of Edmonton is getting ready to close Hawrelak Park for a major overhaul next year and one of the region's biggest festivals is still looking for a suitable fill-in home for the next three years.

Plans to rehabilitate the park, starting next spring, are closer to reality after city council's executive committee accepted an environmental impact assessment report Wednesday. 

Jim Gibbon, executive director of the Edmonton Heritage Festival, said there has been no word from the city on finding an appropriate new spot for 2023 to 2026.

"We have nothing today: no plan, no budget, no space, from the city." 

At the end of this year's festival, staff won't be allowed to put equipment back into the barn at Hawrelak for storage as they usually do every summer, Gibbon said.

The Heritage Festival is looking outside city limits for a suitable location that can hold about 60 tents and accommodate 300,000 people over three days, he said. 

"I'm praying every day that we can find a space in the city and move to it but it would be very bad management on the Heritage Festival Association's behalf if we weren't looking at every available site," Gibbon said. 

Gibbon is dubbing this year's event "49 and fabulous," and said he needs to find a location for 2023, a banner year for the event. 

"Next year is our 50th year. We can't not have a 50th festival," Gibbon said. 

150 acres next door 

If Coun. Michael Janz gets his way, the city will negotiate a deal with the privately-run Royal Mayfair Golf and Country Club to free up some of its property for three years. 

"If we are going to be displacing the festivals to a golf course or to another space in the river valley, why can't the Mayfair land be part of that solution?" Janz asked.

Janz plans to ask administration at an upcoming meeting for options to use part of the 150 acres of land next door. 

"When you think the Mayfair Golf Course only has 350 members and that's not a representation of Edmontonians, I think it doesn't align with the best use goals that we have for the ribbon of green and for the river valley," Janz said. 

Janz, councillor for Ward papastew, crusaded against the city extending the club's lease in 2019 for another 18 years at what is considered a bargain price of $870,000. 

Wade Hudyma, general manager and chief operating officer of the Mayfair, didn't say whether the club would entertain the idea to share the property. 

"The golf club has not been approached by the city to consider hosting any festivals during the closure of Hawrelak Park for upgrades," Hudyma said in an email to CBC News Thursday. 

"We have a lease with the COE and have always operated within its stipulated terms and conditions," Hudyma wrote. 

Community leagues let down

Several other festivals are held at Hawrelak each year, including Silver Skate, Freewill Shakespeare Festival and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Under the Sky. 

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues is also lamenting the closure of the park, as it built a $4 million plaza that opened in fall of 2020 for the EFCL's 100th anniversary. 

Laura Cunningham-Shpeley, EFCL's executive director, said the plaza took thousands of hours to design and build. 

"It would be very disappointing for us if it was unable to be used for those three years." 

Cunningham-Shpeley suggested the city should do the rehabilitation work in a staged approach to allow some of the park to remain open to the public. 

Pascale Ladouceur, manager of the city's Infrastructure Planning and Design branch, said a staged approach would take too long, and that the city decided three years is the most efficient plan in terms of cost, schedule and safety. 

"It focuses on minimizing the impacts of the users," Ladouceur said in an interview Thursday. 

"It really allows us to establish the landscaping and is the best option overall for the safety as well as the park users and the contractor." 

Ladouceur said the city meets with festival organizers regularly to come up with alternative sites. 

The city is working with a contractor on the details of the rehabilitation project, and pinning down the subsequent funding, which will be submitted in the city's fall budget session. 

Project parameters

The project is estimated to cost between $50 and $150 million, Ladouceur said. 

It includes rehabilitating and expanding the water distribution system within the park, which is needed to ensure sufficient access to water in the event of a fire.

The entire utility infrastructure needs revamping, including power, gas and telecommunications ability, the project description says. 



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