Building clarity, certainty and cooperation attracts investment

Two new residential towers are under construction in the neighbourhood of Garneau.  

The $220-million project, built by one of Edmonton’s oldest developers, features a tower of student residences, a tower of apartment rentals, and 12 townhomes along 112 Street and 86 Avenue. 

“The location is one of the premier spots in the city,” says Bill Blais, president and chief executive officer of Maclab Development Group

“It’s next to the University of Alberta campus. It’s close to the river valley, which is one of Edmonton’s greatest assets. It’s a really short walk to the LRT—so it’s certainly transit-oriented—and 109 Street is a great connection corridor into downtown and the southside of the city. We just think there are a lot of great things going for our Garneau Project.” 

These high rises also align with the City of Edmonton’s goal to build up concentrated areas of business, employment and residential infill near public transportation. It’s part of the City Plan, which maps out the doubling of Edmonton’s population over many years. The plan intends that 50 per cent of all new residential units be built at infill locations. 

Construction and coordination

As Maclab builds its two towers, the surrounding Garneau area is getting new streets and sidewalks. It’s part of the City’s  neighbourhood renewal program, led by a branch known as Building Great Neighbourhoods and Open Spaces.

To make sure these two major construction projects don’t conflict with each other, a small group of City advisors worked with both to coordinate their schedules. 

This group is known as the Client Liaison Unit (CLU). Alannah Webb is one of its strategic project advisors. “We didn’t want Building Great Neighbourhoods to build something and then have Maclab remove it as part of their construction or have Maclab build something and then have Building Great Neighbourhoods come through and take it out,” she says. 

A rendering of the Garneau Project, looking west on 86 Avenue. Image courtesy Diamond Schmitt/Maclab Development Group.

Helpful support 

The CLU is a one-stop shop for developers and investors who are building large and/or complex industrial or commercial projects in Edmonton. Its team of advisors offers support on everything from development and building permits to nearby City projects that might affect construction timelines. 

With the help of the CLU, Maclab and Building Great Neighbourhoods agreed on a schedule for their projects over the next 18 months. First, Maclab is constructing its towers, then Building Great Neighbourhoods will rebuild and repave the road and sidewalks along 112 Street. The latter will also take care of the boulevard landscaping that was originally part of Maclab’s plans—with the developer covering the costs. 

Maclab’s Blais is happy with the results. “We were able to work with everybody to ensure that the timing of the neighbourhood renewal was pushed back and the road wasn’t rebuilt before we started our project,” he says. 

“We didn’t want to create some damage and havoc on a new road, so coordinating our projects was certainly something that was very helpful.” 

The Garneau Project was designed by architect Ana Maria Llanos of Diamond Schmitt, a firm from Vancouver. Image courtesy Diamond Schmitt/Maclab Development Group.

Clarity and predictability

These and other project details were addressed in Maclab’s biweekly meetings with the Client Liaison Unit. In some cases, experts from other City branches, such as Building Great Neighbourhoods, or utility companies attended. 

These sessions also covered the City’s permitting process. What type of building and development permits did Maclab need to develop and build the Garneau Project? What requirements did those applications need to meet? When (and in what order) did Maclab need to submit its applications? 

“The Client Liaison Unit provides builders, developers and investors with a clear understanding of what they need to do,” says Adam Shamchuk, who leads the CLU. In 2021, the team supported 77 projects, including commercial and residential developments, worth a total construction value of $135 million. 

Blais says Maclab’s regular discussions with the City were invaluable, offering clarity and predictability for its multi-million dollar Garneau Project. It’s one of the largest private student residences to be built in Canada in the last 10 years. Maclab also owns two nearby properties—Campus Tower Suite Hotel and the Sir John Franklin apartment building —along with others across Edmonton. 

“We certainly appreciate that, for this type of project, there’s a one-stop shop where we can reach out and get guidance, get direction or deal with any issues,” he says. “Alannah and her team have been really good at shepherding us through the permitting process, and coordinating all of the various departments has been really helpful and productive. It’s actually made things quite smooth.” 

Bill Blais is the president and CEO of Maclab Development Group. Courtesy Brock Kryton and Maclab Development Group.

Making things better 

Blais believes the Client Liaison Unit is a vital asset to developers and to Edmonton as a whole. The team is always looking for ways to make the City’s permitting services easier to understand, more predictable and efficient, which in turn helps make Edmonton a more attractive place to invest. 

Blais says he regularly hears complaints from developers and builders about the permitting processes in their own cities. 

“When we share the experience that we have with the City of Edmonton and with their team and their constant focus on making things better (even though it’s actually pretty good), a lot of people are really impressed with what we have here,” he says. 

“I think that’s something that both we as a company and the people we’ve dealt with in the Client Liaison Unit and other parts of the city are focused on: How do we make Edmonton better?” 

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows the construction of The Garneau Project on the corner of 112 Street and 86 Avenue on June 8, 2022. 

Learn more about the Client Liaison Unit’s enhanced customer service for major development projects.

Small businesses can also get help navigating the City’s permitting, licensing and regulatory services. Learn more about the One-On-One Support Program for small businesses and how to book time with Customer Service & Support at the Edmonton Service Centre