Downtown redevelopment underway in Red Deer
Alberta’s third largest city plans to simultaneously celebrate its past and forge a new future by reconnecting its downtown to the river. Red Deer’s Greater Downtown Action Plan, adopted by City Council in February 2009, creates a conceptual framework for converting former industrial areas into high density mixed use urban districts. It also calls for new street and pedestrian connections to the riverfront, and a new pedestrian bridge linking parks areas to the developed city centre.
Three districts hold the keys
Red Deer’s greater downtown is a large area, approximately 1.5 km in diameter, consisting of most of the river valley south of the river. It includes not only the traditional business core but attractive older residential neighbourhoods, significant parks and recreation spaces and, perhaps most significantly, some light industrial areas that are in transition.
The plan is titled Progress and Potential, reflecting the sense that much has been done in the greater downtown but there is much more that can be done. One of the challenges of the plan was to establish priority action areas for the diverse district.
Public input identified three priority zones within greater downtown: Historic Downtown (including the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone), Riverlands, and a district tentatively known as Railyards.
The plan recommends that downtown (referred to as Historic Downtown in the plan) remain the focal area for offices, commercial and public buildings. Neighbouring districts - Riverlands and Railyards – are seen as mixed use areas with medium to high density residential and a diverse riverfront with visitor and convention facilities and attractions. Each district would have a distinct character and would complement the other districts.
Changes in Historic Downtown will lead the way, with the development of new public plazas, a new emphasis on retail laneways, and allowances for easier pedestrian and bicycle travel. Previous downtown plans have helped ensure that Red Deer’s civic centre didn’t experience the sharp decline of some urban centres. New office construction is underway, the City will be expanding its offices, considerable progress has been made with low cost housing, and higher end residential condos have sprung up.
The Riverlands district, west of Taylor Drive, and Railyards (tentative name) west of Gaetz Ave. and north of Ross St., are the two districts where the greatest change will occur. Both were formerly light industrial / commercial areas, with few public space amenities like parks and sidewalks, and both border Waskasoo Park on the river. Waskasoo, a linear park featuring 80 km of paved and shale trails, straddles the river from the QEII highway on the west end through to the north-east corner of the city and regularly tops lists of the city’s best assets. Reconnecting the greater downtown to this popular recreation and green space was a priority of the plan.
In the plan, Riverlands will become a riverfront residential and urban gathering district, featuring an expanded public market, restaurants, a hotel and possibly a convention centre. The concept plan shows a district with significant public spaces and numerous water features.
Railyards will become a high density residential district, with a blend of commercial, public service and retail spaces to support urban living. The preferred development style will be ‘point and podium’ residential, with active streetfront uses on the main floors of all buildings: townhomes, retail, restaurants and other urban services.