The official opening of the 27-storey Edmonton Tower was celebrated downtown Wednesday. But as celebrations were underway at the old Staples site, attention couldn’t help but shift to the old Baccarat Casino building across the street.
While the core has changed quite a bit over the past few years, the shuttered green and red building on the corner of 101 Street and 104 Avenue, just a stone’s throw from Rogers Place, is a clear reminder of the so-called “old downtown.”
“The infamous Baccarat… we do have plans for Baccarat,” said Glen Scott, senior VP of real estate with the Katz Group.
While tight-lipped on the details of those plans, Scott said they will be unveiled in due time.
“We’ve got plans for it, I guess is what I would say. That’s better than saying ‘taking the site down’ because there’s other things we can do with the site that don’t involve necessarily taking the site down. I think frankly just people are concerned about the look of the building because some people don’t find it attractive,” Scott said.
“Long-term plans certainly call for something more ambitious than what’s on the Baccarat site right now,” added Mayor Don Iveson. “But market conditions will dictate when that’s able to move ahead.”
The comments came on the heels of the official opening of the Edmonton Tower. It’s the first of the Ice District towers to be completed. The building’s main tenant is the City of Edmonton. Prior to moving into this building, the majority of staff members were spread throughout nine buildings in the city.
“It’s a beautiful building and I think that’s what Edmontonians have come to expect,” Iveson said. “There’s a more effective use of time in terms of physically moving around and then more opportunities for people to just bump into each other and build relationships.”
The tower will also house other businesses, including new spaces for a Royal Bank and a Tim Hortons. The tower’s retail space is about 80 per cent leased, according to the Katz Group, and about four of the office floors remain vacant. The cost of the tower came in north of $300 million, Scott said. In total, about 3,000 people will work in the building once it’s full.
“The opening of the Edmonton Tower is a significant milestone for Ice District as the project continues its revitalization of downtown Edmonton,” Scott said. “We have been encouraged and humbled by the support shown by the people of Edmonton for Ice District and look forward to its continued contribution to the city’s growth.”
The opening of the tower comes at a time when the downtown office vacancy rate sits at 12.9 per cent, according to the leasing firm Avison Young. That compares to a vacancy rate of just seven per cent in March 2013.
“Compared to Calgary, we don’t have a serious downtown vacancy issue. It is a little high but the market will respond accordingly,” Iveson stressed. “We’re seeing some landlords really invest in their properties to be competitive in this environment and that’s a good thing to see that reinvestment. And then other buildings, I think will need to be looked into for repurposing and that’s a natural market response as well.
“I think it will balance out over time.”
Further plans for Ice District will be unveiled in the coming months, Scott said, suggesting the next big announcement would involve the property north of Rogers Place.
“I think you’ll see as we work through our plans, we have a major public consultation process we’re going to be kickstarting for lands on the north side of the arena, and I think you’ll be quite excited about some of the developments we’ve got planned for there.”
One noticeable feature of the Edmonton Tower is the massive LED lighting display on the north side of the building. While the screen was tested out in early January, no date has been given for when it will be permanently turned on.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Report by Caley Ramsay