Open for business: City of Edmonton’s Client Liaison Unit works with developers, builders and investors

To build a city, you need to build relationships.

Building trust in human relationships is just as important as building with concrete, steel and glass. Working together is essential when it comes to developing complex and multi-million dollar projects such as high-rise towers or manufacturing plants.

The City of Edmonton is helping to build those relationships and to make business easier.

“The City is making its permitting, licensing and regulatory services easier to understand, more predictable and efficient,” says Kim Petrin, Branch Manager of Development Services with the City of Edmonton.

The Client Liaison Unit (CLU) is one of the teams dedicated to that mission. Its advisors help investors and developers with large, complex industrial or commercial projects navigate the City’s development process. 

“The City wants to work with you” 

Open Sky Developments, is one of the CLU’s clients. The Vancouver firm is building a $34-million, 17-storey residential tower, The Jameson, on 102 Avenue and 121 Street in the Oliver neighbourhood.

“When you work with the City of Edmonton, you know they’re open for business,” says Robert Horvath, principal with Open Sky. “With a lot of other municipalities, you might apply for a building permit and it goes into a giant stack of other applications or you need some help and people don’t respond to your phone calls or emails. In Edmonton, you know the City wants to work with you and that’s refreshing. 

“The Client Liaison Unit has always helped with anything we needed. They also told us what was expected of us and what we needed to do to file a quality application. If we’re not doing a good job, that doesn’t help the City. It works both ways.”

Future site of The Jameson, a residential tower, in Oliver.

Supporting investments

As part of the CLU’s enhanced service, the team provides a point of contact at the City for any questions or issues, meetings to discuss potential project challenges and solutions, and predictable timelines for zoning and building permits. 

In 2021, the CLU supported 77 projects, including institutional, industrial and mixed-use high-rise developments, worth a total construction value of $135 million.

“We work with partners in a collaborative, transparent fashion,” says Petrin.

 “We find it’s very effective in building relationships with investors from within the city, across the country and around the world. We want them to feel supported by the City of Edmonton in their decision to invest and build in the city.”

Kim Petrin, Branch Manager of Development Services at the City of Edmonton.

Making an impact

The CLU supports projects based on construction value, complexity, potential job creation, number of dwelling units, tax revenues, and locations that align with the City of Edmonton’s goals. (These areas include Jasper Avenue and other commercial main streets, established industrial areas, or near a transit route.) 

Some of these projects include: 

  • A $5-million net-zero retrofit of the Sundance Housing Cooperative, a series of affordable housing units in Riverdale. 
  • A 27,870-square-metre (300,000-square-foot) industrial building for pharmaceutical manufacturing, owned by McKesson, one of the 10 largest corporations in the U.S. 

A $69-million expansion of Labatt Breweries, which added a 2,787-square-metre (30,000-square-foot) warehouse, a new ready-to-drink production facility and 25 new jobs.

The Sundance Housing Cooperative in Riverdale.

“Complexity navigators” 

Carman Christie is one of CLU’s strategic project advisors. She initially meets with clients to  discuss the scope of their projects, the development and building permits needed, and the requirements for successful applications. 

“Depending on the project, we need to know things like: Do you need to rezone the land? Are there any unique servicing requirements for your project?” she says. “What’s your targeted construction start date?”

Regular follow-up meetings are scheduled to discuss project updates or address any challenges or opportunities. 

“We’re with the client every step of the way,” says Christie. “We know when they need what they need. We also identify opportunities that they may not know about: How will nearby road or LRT construction affect the timing of their project? We’re there to help facilitate conversations and solutions. We’re complexity navigators.” 

Predictability is essential 

The CLU also offers predictable timelines for shovel-ready projects with a target construction date. In 2021, the number of median days to receive a development permit was 42. To receive a building permit was 20. 

That term “shovel ready” is key, as is the need for the client to come in with a clear understanding that the City is both serious about attracting investment and dedicated to the sometimes less apparent but equally vital rules for health and safety developed over years of practice.

“The timing depends on each project,” says Christie. “A multi-use tower is a very different project from a spec-build warehouse in an industrial zone. For any project, the developer or investor must prepare applications for development or building permits. The more comprehensive, accurate and complete those applications are, the smoother and more predictable the development process.”

Predictable timelines are essential, says Vancouver developer Horvath. “You take on a large amount of risk when you buy a property,” he says. 

“It can take months to secure a deal, then you have to go through the rezoning process and get your development permit. In a lot of jurisdictions, that can take three or four years—and that’s before you’ve even started to build. The City of Edmonton is very helpful in setting predictable timelines and taking away some of the risk.”

Robert Horvath is a principal of Vancouver’s Open Sky Developments.

Economic growth

Minimizing risk also means maximizing opportunities for Edmonton. 

Panattoni, one of North America’s leading industrial developers, is able to secure funding from institutional investors (Manulife Investment Management) for future local projects, thanks in large part to the CLU’s predictable timelines. One of Panattoni’s latest developments is a 50,922–square-metre (548,000-square-foot) industrial facility in northwest Edmonton.

“We’re attracting the attention of big Bay Street investors that will allow the City of Edmonton to more easily land the kind of needle-moving projects that will have a big impact on our economy and our regional economy overall,” says Adam Shamchuk, Client Liaison Unit Lead. 

“When you can unlock that kind of capital, the projects your city can land go from tens of millions to hundreds of millions (in terms of construction value). These are big city moves we need to encourage as the population of Edmonton grows by 250,000 over the next 10 years.”

Former Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson toasts the Labatt Breweries expansion made possible by a development permit in 31 days and a building permit in 37 days. Photo courtesy Edmonton Global.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows an artist’s rendering of The Jameson, a proposed 17-storey residential tower in Oliver. 

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
The One-On-One Support Program is one of the City’s many ongoing initiatives to make business easier in Edmonton. Other initiatives include Open Option Parking, a Zoning Bylaw Renewal and a new Business Licence Bylaw, which provides clearer, more consistent regulations to help reduce barriers for businesses. It also allows the City to respond more quickly and decisively to new and emerging business types.