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By: DAVID STAPLES
New legislature ‘Capital Plaza’ is halfway to succeeding
The gorgeous new fountains on the massive new ‘Capital Plaza’ before the Legislature building started flowing at 7 a.m. on Canada Day. They represent an exclamation mark on a costly beautification and redevelopment project.
Taxpayers paid $18 million for the work done on Capital Boulevard, also known as 108th Street, between the spires of Grant MacEwan University and the dome of the legislature building. We paid another $57 million for the plaza in front of the Federal Building.
Did we get our money’s worth? Will the changes transform what used to be a dull zone into a people place?
To dig into these questions, I toured the area with Brian Allsopp, a leading Edmonton architect.
To succeed, the new plaza and revamped boulevard must solve an old problem: for 100 years the legislature has been cut off from downtown. The new plaza and boulevard are to act as a key pedestrian connection and a swanky welcoming mat. They are to build on work started in the 1970s when the Alberta government put in a park with concrete reflecting and wading pools immediately in front of the legislature.
The park has since become a popular hangout for families, but largely failed to connect the legislature to the downtown proper, Allsopp said. The legislature grounds are much lower than the downtown, surrounded by trees, and separated from the downtown to the north by parking lots and a concrete wall. There was no visual connection to the legislature.
“It always felt isolated,” Allsopp said. “It never became a major way to approach the legislature.”
The new plaza provides a much better sightline to the legislature, but the plaza is still high above the old wading and reflecting pools area. There’s no staircase down. Such a staircase was part of the plaza’s original plan, says landscape architect Doug Carlyle, who was part of the design team, but was cut due to cost.
“It would be very nice,” Carlyle says of the missing staircase. “It’s almost essential, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is.
There are also other problems. Allsopp says the granite stone plaza will last hundreds of years and provides a vast public meeting area. It’s a huge area, Allsopp says, but will have to be programmed with public events to bring it life. The water fountains will be excellent, but they will only run from late May to mid-September. For much of the year, this will be a barren area.
The plaza has two attractive gatehouse buildings, one to eventually be used as a café. The other is to be a change room. It was also meant to house a Zamboni, but a $1-million skating rink for the plaza was also axed. Too bad, as that would have given this area life in the winter.
“It’s an improvement,” Allsopp says of the plaza. “But I still don’t see it as a very successful space.
“It’s like an empty container right now. It needs something to fill it to animate it.”
“It’s obviously a huge scale. It lacks some seating, it lacks some public art, it lacks some of the things a plaza of that size needs to animate it.”
As for the city’s work on 108th, a number of strong changes were made: the curbs have been taken out to blur the pedestrian and automobile realms; benches for sitting, light poles with bases made out of lovely Tyndall stone, and trees have been put in; the street is paved with red concrete paving stones; islands with plants have been put in, both as ornaments and to slow down traffic.
“They improved a street that needed it for a long time,” Allsopp says. “108th Street was a forgotten street in the middle of the warehouse district with nothing going on, particularly north of Jasper Ave.
“I applaud the city for taking the first steps that they have.”
As for the plaza, Carlyle says 90 per cent of the work is complete.
I say it still needs that skating rink and main staircase.
“You can use it now, but the last 10 per cent in some way is the most important part and it’s not yet there,” Carlyle says.
Nonetheless, Carlyle is still pleased. “It’s fabulous. To think about what it once was and to think about what it came to be, it’s a huge improvement.”
It is indeed a huge improvement. If some future Alberta government can add that missing 10 per cent, it will be a home run.
Have a good and healthy season.
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Source: Edmonton Journal