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Councillor sees Edmonton gondola as potential key to Rossdale development

Frustrated that redevelopment of West Rossdale has taken a long time, the chair of Edmonton city council’s urban planning committee hopes talk of a gondola will spark new ideas from developers.

Councillor Michael Walters will be asking questions Tuesday, about the potential of private money to get something going, after the area has been studied for several years.

Walters said in an interview that a gondola could ignite development.

“I’m not just going talk about the gondola as a gondola at committee,” he said. “When thinking about the gondola, if it is one way to ignite the development, those are questions that we have to ask, and be open to. What I care about is that West Rossdale becomes a vibrant, amazing residential-commercial district that not just Edmontonians will love but tourists that come here from all over the world will also love and it’ll be a big part of our city.”

“You know, I think we have to be more aggressive in trying to sort out a positive future for that part of town, because it offers so much promise. Having just been in Halifax and seeing the harbour front, that takes good planning coordination between city and private sector developers and that’s kind of what Rossdale can be for us. It’s just frustrating that it’s taking so long for us to get anywhere.”

Walters wants to look at the bigger Rossdale picture, after the August 2013 decision by city council when it unanimously voted to invest $3 million to stabilize the Rossdale power plant over a 10-year period. Construction work to stabilize the building’s roof and exterior walls began in spring of 2015.

“And then we have a question about when the power plant becomes property of the City of Edmonton. I don’t want to sit around on that thing forever. I don’t want to sit around on just a planning exercise for West Rossdale forever either. It’s an incredible opportunity for the city that is something we need to move more quickly on.”

Gondola schemes aren’t new. Michael Zabinski proposed an idea in 2015 as part of his graduate thesis at Dalhousie University, approaching Rossdale from 104 Street.

This latest flurry came out of the Edmonton Project competition, where last August, Gary and his wife, Amber Poliquin, won the contest. He said private sector interest has grown since then, including from Triovest, who suggested to him that the originating station downtown should move from city-owned land by the Shaw Conference Centre to land they have invested in by the ATB building and Telus building west of there.

“They’ve actually wanted to have the station there,” said the owner-operator of Big E Tours. “We’ve had a number of private developers approach us saying, ‘If this goes, this could potentially encourage us to move forward with plans.'”

It is anticipated that the next move by council’s Urban Planning Committee is to ask for a feasibility study. Poliquin, who will endorse the gondola idea to the committee, said he’s heard a price tag for that next step.

“I have. I’d rather not say. I know the number, I know the ask. It hasn’t been publicly put in.”

The Edmonton Transit System advisory board recommends further study into the possibility, said the report the committee will be debating.

Even Premier Rachel Notley has weighed in, telling reporters in Red Deer she doesn’t have any issue with a proposal. Notley, whose constituency includes Old Strathcona, said she’d also like to see a few more pedestrian bridges crossing the North Saskatchewan River.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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