Chamber still interested in downtown building and parkade

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The St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce is still interested ub constructing an office building and parkade downtown.

But it will have to go back to the drawing board now that the city voted against contributing to the project through its Capital Partnership Program.

“Certainly it’s something that St. Albert needs so I highly doubt that’s the end of it,” said Mike Howes, chair of the chamber’s building committee.

“We will just have to regroup and figure out what we are going to do.”

The chamber first presented a proposal for its five-storey office building to city council in February. The building was planned to sit across the street from St. Albert Place along St. Anne Street, where there is now a surface parking lot.

It was expected to include 40,000 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail space and a parkade for 500 cars.

The cost of the project was estimated at $50 million and the chamber had asked for $5 million from the city through the Capital Partnership Program.

The program aims to build more capacity in St. Albert and applicants can receive funding for one-third of a project or up to $5 million.

On Monday, city council voted against funding the project after a review committee recommended that the project not proceed to the next stage, which is preparing a more detailed business case.

Among other things, the committee report said the chamber relied too heavily on city research for office space and parking demand and had not demonstrated a clear need for parking.

Howes called that “a little bit absurd” considering that the city research shows a need for more parking.

“That part kind of hurts the most to me,” he said. “I don’t think there is a person that I could stop in downtown St. Albert that would say ‘oh no, we have more than enough parking.’”

He said the city is already short on parking spots and now also stopped the angle-parking program, which provided extra spots.

There are also plans for new buildings in the city’s downtown area redevelopment plan (DARP) and those will need parking, too, he said.

“I challenge you to take a look at DARP and all the new lots and tell me where you would like to park and where your patrons will park,” he said.

In a previous interview, Howes had said that the chamber always wanted to have its own building downtown. But it did not have the money to build it.

The chamber building is now located south on St. Albert Trail, by the Superstore, where it manages the city’s visitor information centre. It also rents the building from the city and the land from the province.

When it first presented its building project to the city, the chamber thought it could combine the need for a parkade with a building of its own, he said.

It had also hoped to get other not-for-profits to commit to leasing space, and to rent out parking stalls to the city and businesses downtown.

That revenue would one day pay the mortgage from the bank. The rest of the building funds would hopefully come from city and government funding and grants, such as the capital partnership program, he had said.

But now that council turned down that option, Howes is not sure whether the project can still move ahead as planned.

He said the building committee would likely discuss this in the near future.

“Whether or not those two concepts will come together in the future or whether we come up with two individual ideas … I can’t really say,” he said. “They both have merit in our eyes and need to be done.”

“It’s just too bad we couldn’t pull together on this one.”

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