Rebooting Century Park
A new version of the transit-oriented Edmonton project will be significantly denser, with a focus on serving the rental market
The long-stalled Century Park residential development in South Edmonton looks set to resume, more than a decade after buyers lined up overnight to buy the first condos there.
The 42-acre site of the old Heritage Mall, northeast of 23rd Avenue and 111th Street, was originally planned as one of the city's first transit-oriented developments. During the zoning process, the city expedited the southward expansion of the city's Capital Line to serve the 5,000 future residents of the community.
"People were excited; more than a hundred camped out overnight to buy the first condos," recalls developer ProCura's president and chief executive, George Schluessel. "It was something Edmonton hadn't really experienced before."
All 204 units in the first residential tower sold in just six hours in the fall of 2005. The second tower followed in 2006, selling 90 per cent of its 184 units during launch weekend. It was completed in 2008, at which point the real estate market crashed and further development on the site was put on hold.
"Back in 2005, we were competing for sales with small wooden frame homes in the suburbs. Condos had become fashionable and we sold well," Mr. Schluessel explains. "The world kind of changed in 2008, and afterward the market was very different in Edmonton
"By the time the next oil boom came around in 2013, people wanted different things. Currently we're marketing to the 'now generation.' They have student loans and different priorities; property ownership isn't such a concern, neither is having a car."
The new master plan is still being finalized, but it will be entirely rental units, which ProCura will own and control. The floor plans will be smaller and the density higher.
It will consist of Central Tower: A 19-storey, 176-unit, multifamily glass tower that has already been approved; Time Square, a three-tower complex up to 18 storeys consisting of 436 apartments and 14 townhouses; and The Louvre, a mid-rise with 500 residential units. It will also house 500,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of grade-level retail.
The proposed development will take 10 years to complete and could eventually house up to 9,000 people.
"We were originally building 2,800 units, up to 1,300 square feet. Now we're looking at 4,500 units averaging 700 square feet," says Mr. Schluessel.
"Most people don't need a 900-square-feet apartment; the bigger the apartment the more work it is to take care of it, property tax is higher. This is a European model of community building – more amenities, more social spaces, more walkable."
The development is additionally challenged with integrating a substantial volume of parking, equal to the existing 1,200 stall park-and-ride surface lot that is currently sublet by the city.
City councillor Michael Walters says the "changes to the plan are significant," but his "primary concern is not the tenure but the integrity of the project and ensuring the changes enhance what is already there, and the developer is committed to build.
"It's an exciting opportunity for the city," Mr. Walters says, "but it's been an exciting opportunity for the last 10 years. We held up our end of the bargain and delivered an LRT to the doorstep of the community a long time ago, now we want to see the developer make this happen."
Mr. Schluessel says "timing is critical" with large-scale developments such as Century Park, where "opportunity and challenge are equally great."
"I've been doing this since 1979," he says, "I've been through many boom and bust cycles in Alberta. When times are hard, your product has to be right and it has to be competitive – full-size appliances, granite counter tops, triple-glazed windows."
Mr. Schluessel says ProCura's most recent development to hit the market, The Mayfair on Jasper Avenue, is proof that there is demand for high-end rental units in the city. The luxury 238-unit rental tower a few blocks from the Arena District is 45-per-cent leased in just two months. It features a concierge, smart technology throughout and will be the first residential building in Edmonton with a co-generation energy system.
"Most of Edmonton's rental units were built 40 years ago. They're dated and in short supply. There's a market in Edmonton right now who want the lifestyle of a renter but the quality and finish of a property they own. That's true of young professionals and down-sizers."
Councillor Walters agrees. "Edmonton has changed significantly in the last decade; the city's getting younger and it has a growing population. The condo market is challenged right now and I'd agree that quality affordable rental properties are needed to support ongoing growth."
In addition to meeting market demand, Mr. Schluessel says rental developments are also easier to finance currently.
"Banks are demanding more equity down and more presales than they used to for [condo] developments. They used to want 50 per cent of the development to be presold; now they want 65 or 70 per cent. CMHC [Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp.] are trying to create a slowdown in the residential market, which works for Vancouver and Toronto but not so much for Edmonton.
"Financing for rental developments is easier because it's based on location, quality, track record and who your contractor is," Mr. Schluessel says. "It's easier for financial institutions to work out the odds of renting than calculating the possibility of selling."
Mr. Schluessel hopes zoning can be approved for the new Century Park master plan early in the new year.