Proposed Edmonton river valley gondola gets city nod to begin design, council to vote Tuesday
The proposed five-stop gondola connecting both sides of the river from Downtown to Whyte Avenue would be funded, constructed, operated, and maintained by Prairie Sky, which does not request any funding from the city.
in the photo: Drawing of a proposed gondola station next to the Rossdale Power Plant as part of Prairie Sky Gondola’s plan for a gondola connecting Downtown and Old Strathcona. Photo by SUPPLIED
A 2.5-kilometer privately-funded gondola through Edmonton’s river valley is viable, the city says, recommending the sky-high project advance to the design stage.The City council will need to approve a proposed agreement framework between the city and Prairie Sky Gondola for that work to continue.

In a report released Thursday, the city said the river valley gondola and partnership with Prairie Sky align with the goals outlined in the City Plan and, as a result, is recommending future planning work go ahead.

The proposed five-stop gondola connecting both sides of the river from Downtown to Whyte Avenue would be funded, constructed, operated, and maintained by Prairie Sky, which does not request any funding from the city. Prairie Sky estimates the cost of construction will be between $132 million and $152 million, with annual operating costs around $13 million.

If the gondola plan goes ahead, the city estimates construction for the project could add up to $118.9 million to Edmonton’s gross domestic product, with full-time employment creation between 780 and 920 jobs during construction.

Prairie Sky president and CEO Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson said he is happy with how his team has worked with the city to develop a working agreement for how the project will be governed and is hopeful for the council’s support. As for how it will get off the ground, he said the group is speaking with various investors.“We’ve been having conversations with significant institutional partners and investors on debt and equity from quite literally over the world. So we’re very confident that we have that capital stack quite organized; what we need now is the formal endorsement from the council on that framework,” he said.The next steps involve sorting out land agreements to lease the city-owned property to the developer. Four of the five gondola stations and 19 of its 20 towers would be on city property, providing a lease obligation to the city of about $1.2 million.

The two parties also need to work through whether Prairie Sky will be obligated to remove the stations if the leases are terminated.

Under the current plans, gondola cars would head out every 20 seconds and have the capacity to take up to 1,800 people across the river in a single direction every hour.

Some river valley advocates offered concerns about the possible development after hearing some trees will need to be removed. Raquel Feroe, a member of the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition, argued the project isn’t necessary to improve transportation options across the central river valley. It’s not worth any possible negative impacts on the environment.

“I think when people try to monetize the valley and take advantage of opportunities to commercialize our valley, they don’t realize that they’re losing the very thing that they’re trying to monetize,” she said. “If people understood how well our river valley functions as a biodiversity corridor if they understood what they were losing every time they try to insinuate commercial opportunities into the valley, I think they’d stop doing it.”An environmental impact assessment and a tree protection plan will be necessary as part of the ongoing work. For one tower on the south side of the river near Queen Elizabeth Park Road, Prairie Sky has already said that trees will need to be relocated or removed in that “heavily forested, environmentally sensitive area.”Hansen-Carlson said the team is doing its best to mitigate tree removal as much as possible and will work with the city on how to move forward in those instances.

“We are going to have to work with the administration to develop a plan, not just to remove the trees but to provide something more meaningful back,” he said. “There’s a cost to that; we recognize that, but overall … the footprint it has in our river valley is as minimal as any piece of infrastructure that there ever was.”

Council’s urban planning committee will debate and vote on moving forward with the proposal Tuesday.

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