A hole in the city

Edmonton pushes back on converting
Ice District parking lot

Facing northeast, the sizable downtown lot exceeds the area formerly occupied by Baccarat Casino. (Chris Ranta)

By Austin Schuster

THE BACCARAT CASINO was closed in 2016, and demolished three years latter. The lot, owned by the Katz Group, remains empty.

Katz Group spokesman Tim Shipton  mentioned that the lot would be converted into additional parking for the Ice District, before any residential development can occur. This idea has been met with resistance by the City Council.

Over the course of Don Iveson’s leadership term, the city has made it clear that they intend to transform the downtown core into a pedestrian friendly neighbourhood, with a primary focus on higher urban density and eco-friendly transit. The city can influence this through zoning and bylaws, but the decision is not entirely in their hands.

The deep pockets of the Katz Group have helped the city actualize the creation of the Ice District and the two largest residential and commercial towers in the city. However, the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group disagreed on how to utilize the former Baccarat Casino lot for the time being.

‘I’d love to see a magnificent
piece of architecture’

Since the closure of the casino, up to 12 retail and residential towers have been suggested to accompany Stantec and the JW Marriot towers during the phase two development plan.

On the topic of a parking lot, City Councillor Scott McKeen said, “Sadly, over the next few years the lot will be used as an interim parking lot.” 

For many, a parking lot is not an improvement from the derelict casino that used to occupy the corner of 104 Avenue and 101 Street. To discourage this plan as a long-term outcome, McKeen also said,

The City of Edmonton’s dislike of parking lots has gone back to when the Ice District was first conceived. In 2014, new plans to turn parking lots in the Warehouse District to the southwest of Ice District into green spaces was conceptualized. The plan was to move the parking underground and use the ground level for green spaces and residential areas. 

Concept art of “Warehouse Campus Neighborhood.” (Edmonton.ca)

The Warehouse District development is a part of the City’s beautification program known as “Edmonton in Bloom,” aiming to improve the liveability, safety, and attractiveness of several neighbourhoods in and around the downtown area, McCauley and Queen Mary Park included.

The City plans to convert downtown parking lots into public parks to reduce darkened alleys and parking lots at night, to increase public safety and to encourage daytime socialization in more pedestrian-friendly areas. 

The entire Ice District was included on this report, as it has received both municipal and private funding. 

Despite the wide open spaces to exist in the main square of the Ice District, the location has already lost a potential mixed use area and green space due to economic challenges

Although the Ice District is still developing overall, the Baccarat Casino lot will remain empty for the time being. The importance of the location has not been forgotten by the City of Edmonton, who will continue to encourage something better through sunset zoning clauses. McKeen concluded his statement by mentioning an ideal example for future use, if it were solely up to the city.  


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