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Our View (Editorial)

Time for downtown vision

reprinted from Red Deer Advocate (John Stewart) July 20, 2010
Does the strength of a downtown rest with its human element or its construct?

In Edmonton, the debate rages over the proposed $450-million downtown arena complex and all that it represents to a downtown that in many ways is socially bereft, culturally diminished and economically deprived.

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz is expected to lay the foundation for the project with $100 million of his own money.

He wants the city to mortgage the remainder and pay it off, ultimately, through a community development levy, made up of property taxes generated by increased development in the surrounding area.

The theory is that an arena centrepiece will draw the people of the suburbs back to downtown Edmonton after workday hours, and spark a downtown revival that will include more construction and commerce. Events that draw huge audiences, like hockey games and concerts, spill over to restaurants, hotels and bars with little effort.

Essentially, as novelist W.P. Kinsella would say, if you build it, they will come.

In Red Deer, the process has been more modest and still needs a centrepiece -- or two.

At this point, the revitalization of downtown has focused on office space, parking, upkeep and social housing. Each project -- from the new $21.3 million Sorensen Parkade and bus depot to the renovated Buffalo Hotel and the soon-to-be-renovated and expanded The River Valley (to provide affordable housing in the old Rancher's Valley Inn) to the multi-storey, $27 million Executive Place office building -- gives downtown Red Deer greater stability.

Each time something as detrimental as the Arlington Inn is demolished, we make progress, even if simply by eliminating the roadblocks. In time, when a new project fits the economic conditions, that project can be part of the building blocks. (Certainly other roadblocks still exist, like the lots between 47th and 48th Avenues that have been vacant for years.)

And there are great long-term plans to turn the area west of Taylor Drive into Riverlands, complete with condos, restaurants and nightclubs.

And still, as downtown gains in character and attractiveness, the crying need is for a venue (or venues). The city's omnibus Rotary Park proposal has all the earmarks of a tremendous family social gathering place, centred on recreation and activity. It is in the embryonic stages of a great plan.

Then final building block should be a culture centre, with a performing arts venue, a project that council is rightly reluctant to endorse now because of economic concerns.

In the biggest of dreams, that centre would also house cultural groups, a new museum and archives and galleries, and perhaps a new library.

When those two projects are completed, the downtown would have a soul to go with its infrastructure and business machine.

The pressure is on now; the next boom will outstrip our resources, and something as revolutionary as high-speed rail will ramp up the demand for critical recreational infrastructure.

But all of that takes planning, vision -- and money.

The latter ingredient is in short supply right now.

But Red Deer voters should be prepared to ask council candidates in the fall about their vision for downtown. And platitudes won't get the job done. After Oct. 18, we need a council that is prepared to map out a downtown plan that shows creativity, function and durability.

And then, the human element will thrive.

News articles related to historic downtown Red Deer redevelopment
(the original vision of the Forth Junction Heritage Society included an attraction in the new downtown
Riverlands but this vision was modified to have one destination close to the city and active rail line):

       Commentary: The Greater Downtown Action Plan progress and potential (Red Deer Express May 2013)
       News article: Riverlands development ready for debate
(Red Deer Advocate Sep.2011)
       News article: Railyards: Open house on a 20-year plan for downtown
(Red Deer Advocate June 2011)
       News article: Riverlands: Strong turnout for open house
(Red Deer Advocate March 2011)
       Commentary: Red Deer could use more bold visionary landmark designers
(Red Deer Express Sep.2010)
       News article: Paths to change (Rotary Recreation Park) (Red Deer Advocate Aug.2010)
       News article: Big expectations for downtown Red Deer (Red Deer Advocate June 2009)
       News article: Chance of a lifetime (Red Deer Advocate Jan.2009)
       Editorial: No San Antonio but hope left for Big Wow (Red Deer Express Nov.2008)
       News article: Canal plan jettisoned (Red Deer Express Nov.2008)
       News article: Red Deer - Alberta's next great city (Red Deer Express July 2008)

Downtown Red Deer Ground Transportation Themes

Michael Dawe articles related to railway heritage of downtown Red Deer:
       Looking back to when Red Deer landed city status (Red Deer Express March 2013)
       Prosperous times for New Year's, 1912 in Red Deer
(Red Deer Express Dec.2011)
       An early community landmark - the Michener Fountain (Red Deer Express June 2011)
       Lots of street name debate in City's history (Red Deer Express Sep.2010)
       Region celebrating century of railroad heritage (Red Deer Express March 2010)
       CPR Station Park once shining jewel of Red Deer (Red Deer Express June 2009)
Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge now 100 years old (Red Deer Advocate June 2009) 
       Red Deer's downtown hotels have celebrated history
(Red Deer Express June 2009)
       The history of Red Deer's CPR station
(Red Deer Express April 2007)
       Red Deer becomes a divisional point for CPR
(Red Deer Advocate Special March 2007)


 News articles about the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
World-class destination centre still in the works 11/13       Praise today's big dream 01/12       Forth Junction targets county 12/11 
Forth Junction pulling toward a new station
12/11        A volunteer on the right track 12/10        Tourism board supports rail project 10/10
Forth Junction rail project seeking charitable status
10/10        Rail tourist attraction idea gets rolling 07/10        Railway heritage 06/10
New idea for Riverlands worth an Olympic cheer 02/10       Happy to hear more talk on large-scale attractions 02/10
One-time opportunity 02/10       Tourism proposal facing obstacles 02/10       World-class attraction proposed for Riverlands 02/10

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