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Council approves $16.6M Millennium Park design

New plan will see removal of more than half of park area's trees

St. Albert city council's committee of the whole approved the highest-cost design option for Millennium Park, which will see 19 per cent more trees in the park cut down than in the original design. 

The original design saw 37 per cent of trees getting cut, but council wanted to see more open space in the park, so the new design will see a total of 56 per cent of trees in the park area removed. 

The committee was choosing between three new conceptual designs of Millennium Park on Dec. 12 after council shot down the original design plan earlier this year. 

The new designs, which stem from a motion council passed in May, represented three different price points: high, medium, and low cost.

Heading into Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting, the existing Millennium Park design, which received initial council approval in 2018, featured a pavilion building, a water feature doubling as a public skating space in the winter, and open green space.

Council discussed its displeasure with the existing design at several points this year, and the main issue identified by multiple members of council was there wasn't enough open space, or any clear views of the Sturgeon River from the park, which is the undeveloped area separating St. Albert Place and Lions Park.

The high-cost option the committee voted in favour of has a budget of $16.6 million, which is slightly cheaper than the $16.9 million budgeted for the existing design. 

The new design will require cutting down 19 per cent more trees to improve river views and increase the amount of open space in the park by nearly 6,000 square metres, according to a report to council written by Manda Wilde, a city supervisor of parks planning and stewardship.

A pavilion building and water feature are still included in the new design, as is a new playground and picnic shelter, although the pavilion is slightly smaller than the original design.

The new medium-cost option entailed a drastically smaller pavilion building and no water feature, and the same level of tree removal. This option's budget was $13.8 million.

The low-cost option featured no pavilion building or water feature; however, fewer trees would have had to be removed to increase the amount of open space by almost 5,000 square feet. This option's budget was listed as $9.5 million.

On Tuesday the committee heard from administration, as well as consultants from ISL Engineering, that the high-cost option opens the doors for many different types of events in the park, such as concerts with 4,000 or more attendees, festivals, and space for groups to host private events.

The pavilion, the committee heard, will also have space for lease for businesses selling food and drinks.

Mayor Cathy Heron said on Dec. 12 that she thinks residents will be “very happy” with the design.

“When you're building something like this, which will be probably quite significant for this council, you don't want to do half a job, you want to do the best job you can do for your community,” Heron said, adding she expects Millennium Park to be busy “all the time” once it's developed.

Likewise, Coun. Ken MacKay said he thinks Millennium Park will have lasting benefits for the community.

“We see our greatest kind of community involvement around our downtown, particularly around our Farmers' Market, or our Children's Festival, or our Snowflake Festival, so this just builds on that and it gives us an opportunity to actually grow,” MacKay said. “I recognize costs, but I think that there's going to be a long-term benefit to our residents.”

Speaking against the new design, and the project as a whole, was Coun. Shelley Biermanski and Coun. Sheena Hughes, who both voted against the design.

“There's a lot we could do with $17 million,” Hughes said. “There's a lot of soccer fields we could build, there's a lot of pickleball courts we can build, there's a lot of baseball diamonds that we need to [build] ... and we don't have that much money that we can continue to put into borrowing.”

“Instead of addressing the other community needs, we're building this.”

“I can't support the high-level intent on this project, it's just too much cost to the public at this time,” Biermanski said.

Coun. Mike Killick, who throughout the year was the most vocally opposed to the existing design of Millennium Park, said on Tuesday the new high-cost design “ticks off a lot of really positive boxes.”

“It fits with our downtown vibrancy strategy [and] it meets our environmental strategy by keeping our mature trees stands, and in fact opening them up to actual use, rather than just a bunch of trees,” Killick said. 

“It was exactly what council had asked previously [and] I think we've had good discussion that shows this is maximizing the use of the site.”

As a result of the committee's decision to move forward with the high-cost option, administration has been directed to bring forward a corresponding borrowing bylaw for council's consideration at the Jan. 23, 2024 council meeting.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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