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Alldritt Tower will be a tall order

Rendering of the Alldritt Tower, Edmonton, which could become the tallest building in Western Canada.

Site challenges abound for project that could become Western Canada's tallest building

Edmonton's recently approved Alldritt Tower could become the tallest building in Western Canada, with the zoning potential to reach 80 storeys and a vertiginous 280 metres in height. The developer, Alldritt Land Corp., now has 10 years to start construction on the building, which would redefine the city's skyline.

But before they do, they must first navigate some of the city's most complex subterranean challenges.

"There's a hundred-year-old abandoned coal mine directly underneath the site, which is just one of the many challenges we're going to be dealing with in developing this piece of land," says Brad Kennedy, the architect behind the ambitious project. "There's also a slope at the edge of the river, which is unstable, and a piece of river valley which is part of the boundary. It's a very difficult site to work with."

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The Alldritt Tower will require extensive and costly preparation.

Mr. Kennedy says the development, on the south side of Jasper Avenue and east of the Shaw Conference Centre, is "almost inconceivable" and will require extensive and costly preparation.

"The coal mine is 45 metres from the surface and the pile system for the tower will go down about 75 metres, so we need to inject concrete into the mine to harden and stabilize it so that we can drill through it," he explains.

Mr. Kennedy says, together with the work required to secure the riverside slope, the preparation to get the development above ground "will cost millions."

David Benjestorf, general manager of land development for Alldritt Land Corp., admits the costly site work is one of the main factors driving the height of the tower. He says the total cost of the development will be "a couple hundred million or more."

"Creating an iconic tower for Edmonton has always been the plan but, yes, the height of the tower has been driven, to an extent, by economics. The additional foundation work comes at a cost and we need to spread that cost over more units. To get more units, we have to build up."

The tower's height is further driven by city guidelines that prohibit any structure from blocking views from and onto Jasper Avenue.

"We're making the tower as skinny as possible to work with those city guidelines. It's designed like a shard or a knife-edge, so while it will be imposing from a height perspective, it will be relatively unobtrusive from a pedestrian perspective. It will also have a transparent base for the first three storeys, allowing light through at street level," Mr. Kennedy says.

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The top 60 floors will be residential.

The 60 highest floors of the Alldritt Tower will be residential, while the remaining floors will be hotel and retail space. Mr. Benjestorf says market research currently being conducted will determine the configuration of the residential offering that is eventually brought to market.

Mr. Benjestorf says the intention with the mixed-use project is to create a "fertile environment" for further development in the Quarters; a 40-hectare area east of downtown stretching from 97th Street to 92nd Street "Our expectation, and the expectation of every developer in Edmonton, is that this will be the development catalyst we've all been waiting on for the Quarters downtown neighbourhood," he says.

"The Quarters was the old commercial core but today the city essentially turns its back at 97th street and faces west. Our vision is to bring the excitement and vibrancy of the downtown, east."

A community revitalization levy to the tune of $56-million was approved for the Quarters in 2011, but failed to ignite a significant level of development, which many put down to the area's prevailing poor reputation.

The developers say the project will fuel further development in the Quarters.

"There's been a stagnant discouragement among developers in Edmonton with regards to this neighbourhood," Mr. Kennedy says. "Many of them have written letters of support to council saying this is the level of stimulus we need to turn things around: Somebody making a vote of confidence and spending hundreds of millions on a project to connect 97th street to 96th street with a finished edge.

"One school of thought sees projects like this as a black hole; a place which sucks up all of the density, kills development and doesn't cause anything further to happen," he continues, "but research and experience tell us that projects like this are quite the opposite; they're actually more like the Big Bang; they cause a chain reaction of development."

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"There's a number of landowners assembling land and mobilizing projects now that we've gotten the green light for this development," adds Mr Benjestorf. "Business owners have been waiting for a good news story to invest or reinvest in the Quarters and it's happening."

Mr. Benjestorf says the Alldritt Tower's approval is a win for Edmontonians as well as the neighbourhood.

"Originally the city was looking to acquire our lands and build an urban park on this site, which sounds great, but it would have cost the city millions of dollars and it simply wouldn't have been a catalyst for development," Mr. Benjesorf says.

"Getting the green light to develop the land means they no longer have to buy our land from us. We're in fact buying city lands and paying fair market value," he continues. "They no longer need to build or maintain a park; we're building a substantially larger park and will maintain it in perpetuity. The city is also getting a $1-million cash contribution towards affordable housing and there's going to be up to $3.5-million a year generated in property taxes. Edmonton also gets a hotel linked to its convention centre, which will bring conferences to the tune of tens of millions of dollars to the city. The approval is an amazing result for everyone."

The tower would dwarf every other building in Edmonton.

The rezoning vote was 7-to-5 in favour, with some voicing concerns with the building being out of scale with the rest of the city – something both Mr. Benjestorf and Mr. Kennedy fully accept.

"The Fairmont building in its time was considered out of scale, the CN building was considered out of scale, even the new ice arena. But all of those were bold choices and they've served Edmontonians well," Mr. Benjestorf says.

"I actually agree it's out of scale," Mr. Kennedy adds, "but we're trying to create something with a momentum and a magnitude. It needs to be out of scale, in the short term at least."

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