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No design changes after 'off the rails' Millennium Park workshop

St. Albert city council held an unusual workshop on April 4 to make changes to the conceptual design of Millennium Park, however, after two hours of discussion, no motions were put forward nor were any changes unanimously agreed to. 
St. Albert city council held a special committee meeting on April 4 to make last minute changes to the pictured preliminary design of Millennium Park. CITY OF ST. ALBERT/Screenshot

St. Albert city council held an unusual workshop on April 4 to discuss changes to the conceptual design of Millennium Park. However, after a two-hour discussion that Mayor Cathy Heron described as having "gone off the rails," no motions were put forward and no changes unanimously agreed upon. 

Millennium Park, which has been in development since 2016, would transform the public area behind St. Albert Place into an interconnected green space featuring a pavilion building and a four-season water and ice amenity.

Last month, both Heron and Coun. Mike Killick  said they were underwhelmed by the design of the park space, given the project's substantial cost. 

The budget for the park is $15.8 million, although about $5.25 million is set aside for contingency, meaning the completed project could come in at $10.6 million. The pavilion building alone is estimated to cost $6.8 million.

“The current plan just did not seem to meet that 'wow' factor for me,” Killick told the Gazette in March. “I just wanted to see a much bolder plan for St. Albert and make it a real focal point.”

Council held the workshop nearly a month after it was agreed changes could still be made to the preliminary design without causing major delays, as the city has had a request for proposals for design and landscaping work drafted since January. This design and landscaping phase of the project, which has a budget of up to $337,100, is scheduled to be completed before the end of the year.

During the workshop, both Heron and Killick said they were dissatisfied with the design, in which the heavily treed area separating the Sturgeon River and the St. Anne Promenade would remain in place, rather than be cut down.

“This huge chunk (is) completely unusable,” Heron said. “Why would we invest $15 million on this, that's what I'm saying.”

“This, to me, would be an opportunity just to open it up for sightlines to the river,” added Killick.

Although outside the scope of the workshop, several councillors also expressed doubt about the four-season water and ice feature currently planned for the park.

“It wasn't something that people in the surveys even asked for, they wanted more of a meeting (or) entertainment space,” Coun. Shelley Biermanski said.

“I, for one, don't see value in $2 million for a small little ice patch and water area either, so that's kind of the blocking point for me in the whole plan.”

Coun. Sheena Hughes said she also thinks the ice and water area would be too small for residents to enjoy. 

“If you're going to skate in that you're going to get dizzy, because it's just too small of a lap,” Hughes said. “I understand the intention, but if you asked me that's the element that we're missing downtown, is we don't have a plaza area that has that level of appeal.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Natalie Joly spoke only a few times throughout the two-hour workshop, and neither councillor expressed much desire to make changes to the park plan. 

“I'm happy with the plan administration put forward. I also just see it as an extension of the downtown celebration zone, I'm not too fussed about packing 2,000 people into Millennium Park specifically, but certainly ... we want to welcome lots of people downtown,” Joly said.

“As long as it's set up for all-season use, I'm delighted.”

The workshop ended with Heron saying she did not want the project to be further delayed, nor did she want administration to draft three new conceptual designs to present to council at a later date as was suggested during the meeting by the city's interim manager of recreation facility development and partnerships, Manda Wilde. 

“I'm super frustrated right now because this has gone completely off the rails,” Heron said. “The intention was to let (administration) hear a little bit of concerns about trees and sightlines.”

“We have an approved project charter, we have money in the budget to go on this Phase 1, we're talking years in the future when we put in buildings and so ... let's get it ready for 'spectacular' and we can scale it back when it comes to the time.”

The workshop ended with administration being directed to release the request for proposals to have this year's project work be completed on time, and to provide frequent updates to council on the project moving forward. 

Council voted to accept the workshop discussion as information, with only Coun. Biermanski opposed. 

“Every time we just vote for information, then it just goes forward the way it's planned,” Biermanski said.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

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