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HACKETT: Casino project stumbles

The City of Red Deer just can’t catch a break. Or maybe they’re trying so hard that nothing seems to break their way.

The City of Red Deer just can’t catch a break. Or maybe they’re trying so hard that nothing seems to break their way.

In the span of 24 hours this week, the city found itself on the short end of pointed criticism from the community, with a decision on the Jackpot Casino and another development in the endless shelter site search.

The first, to be fair, isn’t entirely their fault. They swung and missed, landing on a temporary setback.

The casino project is far from dead and no, the bars are not coming back. Sorry folks.

An issue appeared to be a lack of parking in the area, which to those of us with eyes and anyone who drives along Gaetz Avenue regularly, seems like a farce.

The design group asked the city to approve a reduction beyond the minimum number of parking stalls. A small decrease, about 26 less than required. It seems like a negligible difference, between 577 and 551, but I’ve never walked through a parking lot counting stalls. The city said, based on their analysis, the site requires 773 stalls. There’s a lot of math involved in that number, based on hotel guests, casino guests, events centre guests and so on.

The casino report disagrees with that need, saying there isn’t a shortfall. (Guests who use the hotel also use the casino and/or restaurant, so they’re double or triple counted in the numbers.)

Either way, it sure seems like there is a lot more parking than that available right now. This, of course, leads one to believe that the casino project will be expanded beyond the original structure. When it was first discussed, the proposal or idea was to demolish the two bars and make that parking, using the existing structure to build the casino.

This new proposal is not that.

In the new idea, the demolished bars will be replaced by a brand new, two-storey events centre. “Modernized,” it’s called in the report. The old events centre becomes the casino. That part of the development wasn’t where the hangup lies.

Parking is where the hang-up sat for the Municipal Planning Commission. This commission consists of the mayor, two councillors (Lawrence Lee and Kraymer Barnstable) and four citizen representatives. In the agenda packet, a report from Bunt Associates says that the city requested a parking study to confirm that the parking supply is appropriate for the site’s needs.

As mentioned before, that report says it falls well short of what is required. Even still, it recommends the project be approved.

“In Bunt’s opinion, the proposed parking spaces are adequate for the needs of the site,” that report states.

“The peak demand may be overstated and the identified parking deficit may not eventuate. Therefore, the City is urged to approve the parking relaxation requested by the applicant.

“The City is also urged to grandfather the portions of the existing parking layout that are not being altered as part of this project.”

The report from an outside design firm says that to offset the potential deficiency, that a parkade is being considered, but will also be required to accommodate parking, according to the report presented to the MPC.

“One potential location under consideration would be to develop the parkade on the 3210 50 Avenue parcel which is currently a parking facility already. Parkade development on this location would not result in increased lot coverage at 3310 50 Avenue.”

Essentially a large parking structure in front of the casino at the corner of 50 Avenue and 32 Street.

Also considered in the report is using “off-site parking,” using the downtown parking structure or the lot at Westerner Park, in which case a shuttle would be used. The report indicates those spots would be available as soon as this summer. That is just temporary and doesn’t sound like a very appealing option.

“Parking accommodations are essential to the business’s success and are therefore in the best interest of the Red Deer Resort and Casino,” the report reads.

“Simply put, if customers are turned away due to lack of parking accommodations, the business will face a loss in revenue. That said, if the rental agreement between the Westerner expires and is nonrenewable, options include development of a parkade, or leasing or purchasing land at another location.”

So, a non-issue. And yet, the committee was not satisfied. Mayor Johnston and Barnstable voted to approve the permit and the five other members opposed it.

Their reason?

“The lack of reasonable access to sufficient parking onsite to accommodate the potential uses would unduly impact the use or enjoyment of neighbouring properties and create impacts to traffic flow. Site use intensification may also create need for more parking regardless of overlapping uses outlined in the recommendation.”

How dare this beautiful landmark hotel be covered by a parking structure! How dare they. A 26-stall difference, or a 200-stall difference two different groups said would be negligible at best, halted the project.

If I’m a neighbour, sure I’m upset about a large event centre moving in next door. Except for the fact there already is one, just a bit further away. And they used to be next to a bar! Two bars, in fact, which were raucous until 3 a.m. multiple nights a week. I highly doubt a casino is bringing that kind of noise that often.

It’s absurd this whole project is getting held up over a couple of parking spots.

Surely there’s something beyond the cursory look I’m able to provide, but on the surface it seems ridiculous to quibble over a few parking spots for a project that will bring a ton of a revenue to the city.

The city so desperately needs some good news. And yet another major development is ground to a halt over a couple of parking stalls.

“It is our opinion that the proposed redevelopment of the Red Deer Events Centre is crucial for the community and Central Alberta,” the design report concludes.

“Retaining this vital facility at the capacity that the local community and the Highway 2 corridor have become accustomed to may outweigh the perceived notion that the modernization of the events centre is an overdevelopment of the site.

“Ample parking located offsite, and the accommodation of shuttles, and valet parking is a creative, solution to the inevitable parking conundrum this site will perpetually face until such time as a parkade is developed to accommodate parking on site.”

And I’m sure the city recognizes all this, but they were unable to pull the trigger this time around so here we are, left waiting again.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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