David Staples: Ambitious plans would transform Bonnie Doon mall

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Which major transformative project planned for Edmonton is most likely to succeed?

The downtown arena district is the early leader. It will be hard to beat. But there’s a major new contender on the south side, a new vision for a residential and commercial development where Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre now sits.

This project has a number of things going for it. At the top of list is a single private owner with a clear, community-oriented and economically feasible vision.

The concept includes retail, gardens and park space, cafes, patios, bike paths, newly created streets, rental and condo towers with at least 1,000 units, all of it built off the hub of the coming Bonnie Doon LRT station.

“This isn’t like anything you’ve seen in Edmonton yet,” says project planner Brian Murray of B&A Planning Group. “It’s a complete neighbourhood right here on the site, fully integrated with the community, not creating an island, but truly creating a hub.”


Artist rendering of Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre redevelopment.

Supplied

Bonnie Doon mall is owned by Morguard Investments, a Canadian firm that owns or manages $18 billion in real estate. It’s managed Bonnie Doon mall since 1994, with the owner being Morguard’s partner, Canadian Pension Funds. 

Major pension funds are now looking at Transit Oriented Development (TOD) as a solid investment, says Margaret Knowles, senior vice-president of Morguard, who was in Edmonton recently for the unveiling of the new LRT cars that will run from downtown to Mill Woods, with a stop at the mall.

When Bonnie Doon mall lost two core tenants, Sears and Target, it was either time to sell or come up with a new long-term vision, Knowles says. “If we weren’t doing this, there are 20 other organizations in the background that would see this site as so opportune, so ready for redevelopment.” 

TOD has been almost non-existent in Edmonton, save for downtown, but Knowles says the Bonnie Doon project is different and will proceed because Morguard controls 12 contiguous hectares on a transit line minutes from downtown.

Old tenants can be repositioned into new commercial development as its built, Knowles says, adding re-zoning and securing development permits will take a couple of years. The earliest date new construction will happen is 2020.

The mall, with its anchor of a Safeway grocery store, will stay open during the redevelopment, but parking lot space and pieces of the mall will slowly be redone.

“This site will be redeveloped in phases, and the most logical place to start is close to the transit location, where you’re going to look for your highest density under TOD guidelines,” Knowles says.

City council rejected a recent redevelopment plan for Holyrood on the same LRT line because of community concerns that the residential towers were too tall, but Bonnie Doon, especially along the LRT tracks on 83 Street, has the advantage of being set back two city blocks from the houses along 85 Street.

“Obviously, 85th is not where you’re going to put your super highrises. You’re not going to be looking to shadow that community. You’re going to put lower rise type of development there,” Knowles says.

In the past, several Edmonton malls have been reluctant to work with the city on LRT stations, but Morguard is the opposite, seeing the station as a crucial component of the project. In Coquitlam, B.C., Morguard lobbied hard to have a station put in at a major mall, both so the mall could get more customers and the mass transit line could get more passengers. To entice the city, Morguard offered free land and a subsidy to the local government. 

It’s key that the train is running at ground level, Knowles says, as opposed to being elevated, which would greatly limit accessibility: “The feel of it would be totally different.”

That vision is being worked on by both Morguard, but also the community, which is being asked for input.

“We want to understand better how we fit in here and how we can be better connected … because then we’re going to be able to attract local retailers, the local cafes and bakeries and such to be part and parcel of our development,” Knowles says.

If the Bonnie Doon project takes off — and that’s my expectation — it will be a major boost for city council’s LRT ambitions. Just maybe the $3.8 billion investment in the Valley Line will pay off in a denser, more livable city.

dstaples@postmedia.com



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February 11, 2018 |

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