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A hole in the city

City Hall denies parking lot,
approves dog park

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 fully demolished in 2019. As of 2021, the lot it left behind remains empty.

Tim Shipton, of the Katz Group, which owns the site, has said it would be converted into additional parking for the Ice District, before any residential development could happen. The idea has been met with resistance by City Council, which has denied the application for developing a lot with as many as 310 parking spots. 

Over the course of Don Iveson’s term as mayor, City Hall has made it clear it intends to transform the core into a pedestrian friendly area, with a primary focus on higher urban density and eco-friendly transit. The city can influence this through zoning and bylaws.

However, the Katz Group financed the Ice District, which includes the two largest residential and commercial towers in the city. However, the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group have disagreed on how to utilize the former Baccarat Casino lot for the time being.

For many, a parking lot would not have been much of an improvement over the derelict casino that used to occupy the corner of 104th Avenue and 101st Street. To discourage this plan as a long-term outcome, the city instead approved a permit  “to construct and operate a Public Park on the southwest portion of the Site (sic) for up to five years.” 

‘I’d like to see an end-date attached
to whatever interim use is approved’

It remains unknown what the rest of the sizable lot will include. Since the closure of the casino, as many as 12 retail and residential towers have been suggested, to accompany the Stantec and the JW Marriot towers during the Phase II  development plan. If the dog park becomes permanent, it’s possible these developments could be built around it.  

Ashley Salvador, an urban planner and candidate for city council, says it was reassuring to hear that the city turned down the parking lot, and that something of public benefit with a green space is preferable to an interim use. 

“I’d like to see an end-date attached to whatever interim use is approved, so that we have some degree of accountability that the site will demand the attention of the landholder within a set time-frame.”

The Katz Group did not respond in time for publication to requests for comment. 

The City of Edmonton’s dislike of parking lots goes back to when the Ice District was conceived. In 2014, new plans were formulated to turn parking lots in the Warehouse District – to the southwest of the Ice District – into green space. The plan was to move the parking underground and use the ground level for green space and residential areas.

Concept art of “Warehouse Campus” neighbourhood.

The Warehouse District development is a part of the City’s beautification program known as “Edmonton in Bloom,” which aims to improve the livability, safety, and attractiveness of several neighbourhoods in and around downtown, 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. This is intended to increase public safety and 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. 

Although the Ice District is still developing, the Baccarat Casino lot will remain mostly empty for the time being, aside from the dog park. The importance of the location has not been forgotten by the City of Edmonton, which will continue to encourage something better.

“Longer term, as the city and economy emerge from the pandemic,” says Ward 6 councillor Scott McKeen. “I’d love to see a magnificent piece of architecture, be it residential, office or institutional. That corner is a key entryway to our downtown.

“I think we should demand that the design reflect that stature.”

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