Our View (Editorial)
Time for downtown vision
reprinted from Red Deer Advocate (John Stewart) July 20, 2010
Does the strength of a
downtown rest with its human element or its construct?
In Edmonton, the debate rages over the proposed $450-million
downtown arena complex and all that it represents to a downtown that
in many ways is socially bereft, culturally diminished and
Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz is expected to lay the foundation
for the project with $100 million of his own money.
He wants the city to mortgage the remainder and pay it off,
ultimately, through a community development levy, made up of
property taxes generated by increased development in the surrounding
The theory is that an arena centrepiece will draw the people of the
suburbs back to downtown Edmonton after workday hours, and spark a
downtown revival that will include more construction and commerce.
Events that draw huge audiences, like hockey games and concerts,
spill over to restaurants, hotels and bars with little effort.
Essentially, as novelist W.P. Kinsella would say, if you build it,
they will come.
In Red Deer, the process has been more modest and still needs a
centrepiece -- or two.
At this point, the revitalization of downtown has focused on office
space, parking, upkeep and social housing. Each project -- from the
new $21.3 million Sorensen Parkade and bus depot to the renovated
Buffalo Hotel and the soon-to-be-renovated and expanded The River
Valley (to provide affordable housing in the old Rancher's Valley
Inn) to the multi-storey, $27 million Executive Place office
building -- gives downtown Red Deer greater stability.
Each time something as detrimental as the Arlington Inn is
demolished, we make progress, even if simply by eliminating the
roadblocks. In time, when a new project fits the economic
conditions, that project can be part of the building blocks.
(Certainly other roadblocks still exist, like the lots between 47th
and 48th Avenues that have been vacant for years.)
And there are great long-term plans to turn the area west of Taylor
Drive into Riverlands, complete with condos, restaurants and
And still, as downtown gains in character and attractiveness, the
crying need is for a venue (or venues). The city's omnibus Rotary
Park proposal has all the earmarks of a tremendous family social
gathering place, centred on recreation and activity. It is in the
embryonic stages of a great plan.
Then final building block should be a culture centre, with a
performing arts venue, a project that council is rightly reluctant
to endorse now because of economic concerns.
In the biggest of dreams, that centre would also house cultural
groups, a new museum and archives and galleries, and perhaps a new
When those two projects are completed, the downtown would have a
soul to go with its infrastructure and business machine.
The pressure is on now; the next boom will outstrip our resources,
and something as revolutionary as high-speed rail will ramp up the
demand for critical recreational infrastructure.
But all of that takes planning, vision -- and money.
The latter ingredient is in short supply right now.
But Red Deer voters should be prepared to ask council candidates in
the fall about their vision for downtown. And platitudes won't get
the job done. After Oct. 18, we need a council that is prepared to
map out a downtown plan that shows creativity, function and
And then, the human element will thrive.