But that, I predict, is exactly what is going to happen, and soon.
Admittedly, the evidence for this is entirely circumstantial – but what the heck, if that’s good enough for a real courtroom, why not the court of public opinion?
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, consider the recent report of the Mayor’s Task Force on St. Albert’s Downtown Revitalization, released on March 16. It doesn’t say a word, not a single word, about a new civic building.
But consider what it does say!
Speaking of St. Albert Place – the justly famous landmark, one of the first major works by renowned Alberta architect Douglas Cardinal – and the role it plays in keeping our flagging downtown viable, the Task Force comments: “Citizens love the architectural style of St. Albert Place. The general sentiment seems to be that it should be used to house even more arts and cultural groups and to relocate most of the civic employees to another location.”
This reminds me of the curious incident of the dog that did nothing in the nighttime. As Sherlock Holmes remarked: “That was the curious incident!” This dog may not have barked, but an unasked question nevertheless jumps off the page: Where are those scores of civic employees going to go? Not, presumably, to ATCO trailers on the parking lot behind Servus Place!
Nothing more of this is mentioned by the Task Force. But if you ask me, where they’re likely to go is into a new civic building in the parking lot across St. Anne Street. Indeed, it’s only in this context that the Task Force’s major recommendation, the seemingly crazy plan to close St. Anne to traffic, makes a perverse kind of sense. It explains the push to advance an idea that has flopped in something like 200 other communities.
Of course, with Grandin Mall parking slated to give way soon to condos, if you use the only remaining parking lot downtown as the site of a new building, you’re also going to need some new parking stalls. So add $5 or $10 million for the hidden parkade the Task Force recommends the city build and own.
The last time this scheme was on City Hall’s front burner was just before the 2008 civic election. When taxpayers howled and it became a convenient target for opposition-minded city council candidates, it was quickly shelved as too expensive in the wake of Servus Place and the West Regional Road. The issue fizzled.
Now, circumstantial evidence suggests it’s about to make a scary reappearance. Don’t worry, we’ll be told, thanks to the recession, construction costs are down a little. The idea of a public-private partnership – under which we taxpayers get to pay for the building, but not to own it – may even rear its head again.
Despite such assurances and the Task Force’s reported “general sentiment,” I suspect municipal taxpayers will be less than entranced with the idea of St. Albert Place filled with arts and cultural groups while an expensive new building rises across an unused mall.
This will be especially so if taxpayers start thinking about how they’ll pay for such an extravagance in wintertime while heating their homes without a natural gas rebate.
But if I’m right about this, someone at City Hall is betting voters will have forgotten all about it by the time the next municipal election rolls around in October 2010. Remember where you heard it first!
It was right before my eyes, but I missed it. Alert reader Bob Hartley points out that there is in fact an explicit reference to a plan for a new civic building in the Task Force report. On page 43, the report states: “Consider building a new civic building on the corner of St. Thomas Street and St. Anne Street to house civic employees with an underground parkade.” Clearly, the game’s afoot!