Mall project will create downtown boom, say business owners
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Thursday, Mar 27, 2014 06:00 am
Amacon’s plans for redeveloping Grandin mall will create a new boom for downtown St. Albert, said the chair of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce.
Paul Quantz attended a meeting between downtown businesses and Amacon last week to hear about the company’s new plans for their Grandin Park Plaza site.
Amacon is planning to develop an urban village with 17 buildings, including three high-rise towers, boutique shops, a grocery store and underground parking. Construction is expected to take 10 years and bring about 2,800 new residents to the area.
Most of the mall will be demolished.
Quantz said the project will have a very positive impact on downtown businesses.
“The size of the project and the number of people that are going to be brought into this downtown area can’t help but be a positive thing for any of the downtown businesses,” he said. “It will create a whole new marketplace.”
Boost for business
Amacon had originally planned to redevelop its Grandin mall site in 2008 but was held back by the recession. Quantz said the chamber is happy to see development moving forward now and is looking to aid the company in its plans.
The Perron District has long suffered from too few residents living and frequenting in the area, he said. That will change with more apartments and shops moving there, he said.
“I can’t imagine anybody saying don’t bring more population downtown,” he said.
Bob Zechel and Angela Phelps couldn’t agree more.
The owners of Cloud Nine Pajamas (Zechel) and Cranky’s Bike Shop (Phelps) attended the meeting with Amacon last week and agreed that the plans will create positive change for businesses in the area.
For Zechel, Amacon’s long-term plans were among the reasons he moved into the Perron District. A major residential and commercial development will be a critical factor for creating more foot traffic in downtown St. Albert and boost local business, he said.
“I think it will be good to have more residents downtown to help boost the retail businesses down here,” she said. “Something new and modern will make St. Albert more attractive.”
Criticism and applause
Simon Taylor, development manager with Amacon, appeared before city council Monday evening to introduce some of the company’s plans before holding a public meeting on Tuesday night.
He also faced some criticism by Coun. Sheena Hughes.
Hughes wondered how Taylor knew that Amacon could sell 1,200 units, as other projects in the city, such as the Tenor on the River, have not been able to sell all of their units.
She also questioned Taylor on his understanding of the unique character of St. Albert, and whether he thinks high-rise towers fit into the community.
“I can tell you, when I talk to people … they like low-rises, they like the community charm, they like the quaint feel,” she said. “And what I am not sure about is how a 27-storey building fits into a quaint feel in St. Albert considering it’s the same size as the CN Tower.”
Taylor responded that the project is being proposed for downtown St. Albert and said that, in order to move forward, Amacon needs to create a downtown feel. He added that the company was previously approved for five towers and has decided to build only three as this will mean that less light is being blocked in the development.
“But in the interest of time and the rest of it, this project is long-term,” he said. “So it’s not like we’re going to put towers like this up right now.”
He added that Amacon has studied the market since 2011 and found that high-rise towers are common and popular buildings that often aid the development of a city’s downtown. The company had put the development of its Grandin mall site on hold because of the recession and could not compare it to other projects and market strategies, he said.
He later said that Amacon wants to attract some of the snowbirds looking to downsize, and young professionals who are not able to afford living in the city now.
“We want something affordable to the masses,” he said. “We are very confident that people will move into the tower.”
Coun. Gilles Prefontaine said he was happy to hear about the development.
“I’ve heard many people looking forward to higher density housing in St. Albert, and looking at affordable housing and looking at different types of housing,” he said. “So I know there is a lot of excitement around this.”
Noise, dust and parking
Getting on with the first phase of development on the site is extremely important, said Mayor Nolan Crouse in an interview Tuesday.
The mall site has been neglected for the better part of 10 to 15 years and most residents in the city will agree that it’s time something happens, he said.
“I don’t want to sound overly dramatic but the current state of the mall … the single blight on our city is that mall,” he said. “Because the attic is empty, the roof is leaking, it’s in disrepair.”
The downside is the proposed height of the buildings, he said.
Crouse said he was in favour of the towers in the previous downtown area redevelopment plan and he will likely be in favour of the towers this time. But he is aware that high-rise towers come with the negative connotation of being a big city, he said.
While the construction will create a lot of noise, the development will also bring a lot of tax revenue to the city, he said.
He expects that city council will hear a lot of negative reactions from the public in the coming weeks. Council will have to weight public input versus stopping urban sprawl, he said.
“This is one that’s going to test us a bit,” he said.
Among some of the concerns addressed by business owners last week were worries about increased parking pressure in the downtown, said Quantz. But Amacon is planning for underground and on-site parking for residents and shoppers, he said.
Regarding any worries about dust or noise, he said there are always some inconveniences and nuisances created by construction. Amacon told them that they have plans in place to meet the city’s restrictions, he said.
The company told council on Monday that it is putting together a construction management plan to mitigate noise and dust.
“I think for the residents, there is always some give and take,” Quantz said. “But ultimately if (Amacon) continues as they plan with the full development of that property it will make this best city in Canada even better.”
Amacon’s project requires city council approval and a public consultation session. The company expects to appear before council in April.