Sometimes politics is like playing a game of chess. Other times it’s more like making sense of a 1,000 piece puzzle. And on rare occasions – like last night – you feel like you’re doing both simultaneously.
Before the lights were finally turned off, City Council passed a motion that set some parameters for any next steps on the Galleria project. It was an intentionally cautious step, one that was designed to ensure the project lead – the Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre Foundation – has all of their third-party commitments secured before we would contribute city dollars.
The motion was in two parts, with the first pertaining to finding partners for the underground pedway connecting the Royal Alberta Museum and lands immediately north of 103A Ave. But it’s the second part that deserves the most attention. Within the wording is an important set of caveats on next steps for land transactions: ‘…subject to the City receiving written confirmation of financing and financial commitment for the Galleria Project from the Province of Alberta for the University of Alberta, a major office building tenant, other office building tenant and retail tenants…’. Those key words are how we will ultimately ensure the project is viable, and therefore that the risk to the city is minimal. It also ensures the full vision for the project can be realized. Building our downtown into a vibrant core is something all of council believes in, and having the University of Alberta in its heart is an inspiring idea. But the City requires certain assurances of financial viability to make our involvement viable too.
Over time, the pressure to make or break this project has come to be viewed as a decision of City Council. In reality, Council has never been at the forefront of this project. Last night, Council reaffirmed that we are in a position to support this project, but only when other more significant players have stepped up.
Regrettably, a large portion of the discussion around the Galleria has occurred in private. I think I speak for all members of council when I say it drives us nuts when we have to go into private, but we simply have no choice. Last night, we were discussing third party financial information (i.e. the proponent’s business case), and we are bound to privacy by provincial FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) legislation.
Going forward, I encourage the Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre Foundation to continue its important work to ensuring this project is truly viable and can deliver on the incredible vision it sets out. There’s no question of the contribution it would make to our ever-emerging downtown story.