It it weren’t sitting north of the Legislature Grounds, the architecturally beautiful Federal Building would cast an ominous shadow over the capital landmark in Edmonton. Abandoned after the Government of Canada relocated to Canada Place in the early-1980s, the beautiful art deco building sat empty after 1989 until the Government of Alberta began renovations in the late 2000s. The building was originally expected to be reopened and house government employees and MLAs in 2011 but the project was delayed and costs are overrun by $100 million. It is now expected to be reopened in 2015.
But the most public elements of the renovated building appear to have been quietly removed from the construction plans. According to a report from the Edmonton Journal, plans to include a new ice skating rink, lower plaza and improved landscaping were cancelled in April 2013. The skating rink would have been built above the renovated building’s 650-car parking lot and provided a stunning view of the Legislature Grounds. The proposed landscaping would have included improved fountain pools north of the Legislature.
Located between the two most densely populated neighbouhoods in Edmonton, the new ice rink, plaza and landscaping would have provided activities for the general public to enjoy. Cutting the public elements, including a Zamboni to maintain the ice rink, are reported to have only removed a meagre $10 million from the expected $375 million project.
If the Federal Building sounds familiar, it is probably because it was the location of the much-loathed 11th floor Skypalace private penthouse suite that Premier Alison Redford had secretly planned to occupy. The penthouse, built as a residence for the former premier and her teenage daughter, would have included a library, dining area with a butler’s pantry, and a private elevator from the ground floor. Government documents show that contractors made more than $760,000 in changes to the 11th floor in June 2013 to build the private suite.
Former Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale and former Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver both claimed to have cancelled the Skypalace project at different times, but Premier Jim Prentice told reporters in September 2014 that no more money would be spent renovating the penthouse. The already modelled residential suite is now expected to be used as meeting space instead.
But back to the public space. It is a shame the PC Government chose to, more than a year ago and in secret, axe the elements of the renovated Federal Building and the Legislature Grounds that could have become a destination for the general public and an important part of the revitalization that is happening in downtown Edmonton. Hopefully they will see the error of this short-sighted decision and re-introduce the public elements in future renovations. Our Legislature Grounds are beautiful and we should be striving to create new ways to make it a more vibrant gathering spot for Albertans.