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Thursday, May 14, 2009

edmonton city centre airport debate.

Anyone who has paid attention to the recent debate about whether to close or continue operations at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport (ECCA) likely will have noticed how much the debate has been based on anecdotal arguments and testimonials.

Supporting the ECCAs continued operation, the Alberta Enterprise Group (AEG) has proven effective at collecting stories from local business people in support of the ECCA. While the buzz AEG has been able to generate is impressive (with the exception of a cheesy media stunt), their arguments have yet to contribute objective figures or solid facts supporting the continued operation of the ECCA.

On the other side of the debate, many of the members of a facebook group supporting the closure of the ECCA have provided the same style of anecdotal evidence, and weighing in with some needlessly adversarial responses to AEG and ECCA supporters.

While it's hard to have sympathy for the company President or CEO who would be inconvenienced by an extra fifteen to twenty minute drive to his or her private company jet, I am still waiting for the City of Edmonton’s ECCA assessment report (which will hopefully include actual facts and numbers) before I decide whether to take a side in this debate. The report is due to be released in June 2009.

Last week, in his State of the City address, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel challenged supporters of the ECCA to come up with better arguments.

“Please understand that environmental costs will have to be paid either way. Don’t tell us that your business status entitles you to special consideration, and that treating you like every other Edmontonian is somehow an affront.”
I agree with Mayor Mandel's point, but it's hard not to notice that he doesn't appear to apply the same argument to other controversial development proposals (including the proposed construction and public financing of a new downtown arena for the Edmonton Oilers).

I recently attended a presentation by hosted by the City-Region Studies Centre at the University of Alberta where two American city planners talked about the creative regional transportation planning used by planners in Portland, Oregon. While learning about Portland’s approach to planning, including the heavy role placed on the balance of quality of life and economic development (never one at the expense of the other), it occurred to me that, if closed, the 217-hectare land sitting below the ECCA could present Edmonton a unique opportunity.

While I haven't decided whether or not I support the continued operation of the airport, new development that included mixed-income walkable communities could provide a smart counterbalance with distinctive character to the endless cookie cutter suburban neighbourhoods that have become an increasingly normal sight on the now sprawling edges of Edmonton’s city limits.


Debra Ward said...

Thanks for sparking some more questions about this issue Dave.

I too am not fully decided on the issue but mostly I just want a decision! A well-thought out, supported by facts and not obscured by "stunts" or fear mongering decision that will be best for the majority of Edmontonians -- now and going into our great future.

Kyle G. Olsen said...

I just want them to open it up to scheduled service again. LRT to the city airport and a short hop in a Dash 8 or a CRJ to Vancouver or Calgary would be great.

No point of half measures like it is currently, either close it, or open it back up fully.

Myles C said...

I have to admit that Cal Nichols' peace offering did a lot to change my mind. He took me to see his facilities as well as for a flight to red deer and back. In retrospect I was wrong to hold the position I held. We are risking too many businesses and jobs for no good reason. I say keep the airport open.

To admit that one have been misinformed about something is a noble act. I will apologize to no one.

RichardS said...

You're right Myles. I was wrong too!

Anonymous said...

Notice how practically the only people who REALLY want this thing to remain open are city outsiders and rich business people?

That should tell us something.

Just close the damn thing.

Eyes Wide Open in Alberta said...

Take a closer look at the Alberta Enterprise Group and the Alberta government before making any assumptions.
The government fleet hangs out at the muni, and provides a free air taxi service to all kinds of events for the premier, LG, ministers and back benchers on their way to token meetings and pc fundraisers.
AEG has now managed to hold 2 'foreign trade missions' which the taxpayers of Alberta contributed mightly to through attendance and hosting. The first was in Washington in Jan. 2008 and the most recent was the prime event on Eddie's recent European Adventure.

Anonymous said...

Hey but what about hockey? How about getting rid of the airport and building a new arena. Hockey is way better than airports and politics.

Jeff J. said...

The primary reason for recommending closure of the City Centre airport was that there was a belief that it's operation affected growth at the Edmonton international, whether this was true or not is now irrelevant as the International is now the fastest growing airport in Canada. That is a fact.

Therefore the question should be this: should we be putting more money into growing the international airport, or should we now look at options supporting the City centre.

From a very basic standpoint, i fail to see how having 2 airports is a bad thing for Edmonton.

And Dave, the real motivation behind the closure isn't the land itself, that is a common misconception. The real issue is the height limit on downtown buildings. The new Epcor tower for example was forced to cut 3 floors from it's original design in order to meet the height requirements imposed by having a city centre airport.

So, in my humble opinion, I believe the real movitation to close the downtown airport is that the City of edmonton has been lobbied hard by certain "business" interests who want taller downtown office buildings/condos, etc.

This is one debate that has many layers. Let's leave the airport open for now. It can always be closed in the future and then developed. However once the land is developed we cannot go back and try to build an airport there.

Anonymous said...

Jeff J- You are wrong. The height of the original proposed Stationlands tower was always within allowable guidelines. It was shortened because Epcor didn't need the space. This is just another example of misinformation used by the pro-closure folks. If I am wrong, get it in writing from Ken Cantor and Qualico. BTW...this tower was proposed to be built in 2001. The market didn't need it till now. No one else is proposing to build other new towers. Get it?

What other misinformation do we have from the pro-closure folks???

1.We had a referendum to shut down the Muni in 1995. This is crap. The referendum only asked if 'scheduled air service should be consolidated at the Intl?'

2. "It's only used by rich people". Ugh...I personally knew an outstanding young man who scrimped and saved while working at KFC to take flying lessons. He wanted to be a pilot. He got his wish. Dam capitalist pig.....who does he think he is???

3. "We need the space". This is the most bizarre of them all. The city auditor lists a total of 70 empty city blocks in the downtown core alone. You'd have to be blind to not notice them. It was reported yesterday that 'The Quarters' isn't attracting a single developer. Century Park is still a giant empty field 6 years later. WTF.....we don't need the land!

4. "Developers are just waiting to pounce on the land" There has been zero, nadda, nothing proposed by any developer to date. Even Mayor Mandull recently admitted development couldn't start for 10-25 years as we have a glut of space downtown. Check the Journal folks.

Now if this pro-closure group would just pfo and let the hundreds of people employed by the airport live in peace...

Jeff J. said...

Wow anonymous, i'm in actually in favour of keeping the airport open...good to know the pro-airport group is so friendly and accomodating....

Anonymous said...

I try...

Anonymous said...

I like visiting Edmonton as much as the next Calgarian, but flying into Edmonton is not at all convenient. It is cheaper for me to drive and you don't save any time.

Get to the Airport, Spend 1 hour and a half at the airport, 35 minute flight.

Land in Leduc, Spend maybe half hour at the most in total at the Airport, catch a cab to wherever your going, god forbid if its any-wear north of city centre. $80 zillion dollar cab fare later and a lot of time from the airport to your destination and your in Edmonton.

Not good for day trips. Meanwhile the convenience of flying into City Center is good.

RichardS said...

Strange, I have never seen this site but somehow I typed something am admitting I was wrong? Wrong about what exactly? I was forwarded this link by someone who has seen people "sock puppeting" as me on other sites as well.

I am not impressed at this absolute misrepresentation of my character. Whether or not I am for an expanded airport or closure is not the point. What is the point is that my name is being used to represent an apology and admit a wrong that I am not guilty of, and that is slander, period.

I have a very well stated opinion on the city center airport. To my knowledge, I have not been proven "wrong". I am and have been a strong proponent of General Aviation and have proposed solutions to this airport debate that have landed me in hot water with the closure crowd as well as some of the more extreme members of the airport crowd. However, I have yet to see one single solitary person tell me or prove me "wrong".

I also know that the comment attributed to Myles C is additional slander. He has a very well published opinion that has not changed, nor has he met Cal. His opinion has remained stable.

I will contact you seperately Dave to discuss next steps.


la-mort said...

Anonymous... Just close the damn thing

Depths Of Death

Mags said...

I would love to see the city centre airport closed. I live in Alberta Ave and we constantly have planes flying over after dark. It can be quite disturbing to wake up to low rumbling overhead. I can't imagine what it was like when large jets used to fly overhead. No wonder this area degraded to the state it was in 10 years ago. Who would have wanted to a buy house where you couldn't get a good night sleep?
I personally think that closing the airport would encourage more people to buy houses in the core and surrounding areas, and actually live in them rather than just rent them out. That would help with the revitalization of the inner city; encouraging a sense of community because more house owners would actually live in the area, and would have pride in their neighbourhoods. If they were to convert the airport lands into a higher density (not strictly condos, but also European style walkups where each apartment has a door to the outside), walkable community with many local businesses, it would definitely be enticing to young professionals, families and retirees. If you look at successful European, and even North American cities, they usually have inner cores that are vibrant with walkable streets, that provide interesting shops, restaurants and activities, as well as office space, artist studios, schools and jobs. I do think that if planned well, the development of these lands provide an outstanding opportunity to be a leader for higher density urban, eco-friendly planning of west-central North American cities. It would be amazing to create a community where most residents would not have to rely mainly on personal vehicles to fulfil their daily routines. Getting people out on the streets encourages knowing your neighbours and employees of local businesses, which in turn reduces crime and increases community participation.

Bill said...

Dave: I agree on most all of your points. About the "poor CEO..." if you own a company and you or your employees use a car (or an airplane) regularly for work, would you prefer to have that car close to your business, or 20 minutes away? If you were thinking of opening a new office, would you put it close to where you can park the car, or far away?

I totally agree that Mayor Mandel should be putting the same challenges to other City funded developments.

Anonymous: "Just close the damn thing." That's pretty selfish. Just because I choose not to use City owned parks doesn't mean I think they should all be sold and filled with highrises. Oh, and most of the people who REALLY want the airport to remain open are regular NON RICH working folks!

EYES: Yep - the government fleet hangs out at the Muni. And it's regular tax-payin working people that work there and support the fleet. Do you really think the free rides for politicians, etc will change if they move the fleet to the International? The only thing that will change is that the chauffeur-driven limo ride will be 15 minutes longer.

Mags: Nice dreams. If your neighbourhood has become run down, it is not because there is an airport nearby. Higher density housing will NOT get people out on the street meeting their neighbours, or make them take pride in the neighbourhood. What percentage of those condos do you think would be owned by the people that live in them?

Sorry to hear that airplanes keep you awake at night. But airplanes have been flying overhead since long before that house was built, and I doubt very much that they are the reason your neighbourhood has degraded so. (So, why do you choose to live so close to an airport?) Personally, I like the sounds of aircraft flying overhead, it's the loud motorbikes on my street that bother me.

This airport serves a market that cannot be met by the other airports in the area. And it is not just the rich who use it, anymore than it is just the rich who can afford to golf or go to hockey games!

Mark said...

I would like to say to everyone before they decide about keeping the airport open or close it is to visit the Air museum on Kingsway Ave. There is alot of history about the airport dating back to the 1930's. That way people can decide if tearing up the airport and creating condo's is worth the history that will be lost.

Anonymous said...

Bill, you may not be correct in your assumption that the airport was there long before the house was. Back in 1950 when the International was being built, it was intended to REPLACE the Municipal airport. Is that not anough reason to assume the airport was closing.
I also disagree with your statement that it serves a market that cannot be met by other airports. Exactly what market does it serve that cannot be handled by one of the other airports and heliports around Edmonton?

Bill said...


The airport opened in 1927, so I will concede that it is theoretically possible that there is an older house in some neighbourhood surrounding the airport (but I highly doubt it). The International was conceived in 1955 to facilitate new aircraft that were on the horizon (pun intended). I can't say whether or not that it was intended to "replace" the Muni. The International opened in 1960. At that time, the Muni had been operating for more than 30 years - why would anyone assume that it was closing? And THAT event was 50 years ago - I think it's safe to say that there should be no surprises to anyone living within earshot of aircraft using the CCA.

The niche market that the CCA serves that cannot be met by other airports:
- the student pilot who is scrimping and saving every penny for flying lessons, and therefore does not own a car; (what if the average university student suddenly had to take the non-existent bus to Villeneuve?)
- the business owner who set up in Edmonton and uses an airplane because that is what makes the most sense for moving people around the province or the country
- the flight schools who have tried setting up in Villeneuve and couldn't make it work
- the out-of-town or out-of-province pilot who comes to CCA for building flight hours and/or to spend some time and money in Edmonton (personal experience here)

There are no public heliports in the Edmonton area (except for one small single helipad in Leduc). The local helicopter companies use a regular airport.

Bill said...

In addition to what Mark said - I urge both pro- and con- ECCA people to check out the Alberta Aviation Museum. Also, their Airfest is next Sunday (June 28). This is the only annual aviation event within several hours' drive. And you can even take public transit to the front door! (This unique event WILL be a casualty if the airport closes!!!!)