From the river valley, the building seems to keep going up forever.

Will the under-construction Pearl condo tower, at Jasper and 119 Street, never stop adding floors? Is it a latter-day Jack’s beanstalk?

The Pearl has just now maxed out at 36 stories, vying with ManuLife and the EPCOR Tower as the city’s tallest building.

The Pearl is the start of an exciting new trend.

An astounding 27 new high-rise condo towers are in design, permitting or construction stages, the vast majority over 20 stories, about 10 heading north of 30 stories.

These towers are elegant, modern, skinny, twisty and all-glass, far removed from the upright shoe boxes of just seven or eight years ago.

What’s caused this explosion of risk-taking in new, up-in-the-sky urban dwellings?

First and foremost, population growth thanks to a buoyant economy. Educated young adult Canadians are moving to Alberta and Edmonton. We are accustomed to saying Alberta’s population is three million. Not true. It just hit four million.

Socio-economic factors: A friend put his condo in the ICON towers on 104 Street up for rent. Within hours he had 10 inquiries, and leased out the 900 sq. ft. space later that morning for $1,700 a month. “Younger professionals want to live downtown,” he says. “I think they’re renting first, and if they like the life, then they’ll buy.”

An improving downtown: The downtown is finally in the midst of renaissance. People want to live in the city centre! The pre-build sales brochures for all these condos make downtown Edmonton sound like Paris. They are half-right.

No more crap: Mayor Steve Mandel’s emotional words about Edmonton architecture in 2005 truly caught fire. Edmonton demanded good-lookin’ buildings. The Edmonton Design Committee, reviewing plans for aesthetic value, was given teeth. Market forces went to work. If the developer didn’t build something interesting, it wasn’t going to sell.

Other government policy: With the impending closure of the City Centre Airport is coming the end of height restrictions due to flight paths. Municipal incentives to build downtown have helped prime the pump.

The bandwagon: Railtown’s brave new urban housing happened 15 years ago. Then came the elegant Omega Tower at the top of the 105 Street hill, then the game-changing 30 and 35 floor ICON 1 and II towers on 104 Street. When the two beautiful condo towers in the heart of the downtown proved hits, other developers jumped on board.

Where are these new, elegant, skyline-transforming condo towers going?

1. Downtown: On 103 and 104 Streets between Jasper Avenue and 104 Avenue, under construction are the 32-floor Ultima, the 40-floor Encore Tower and the two (28 and 35 floor) Fox Towers. Plus the recently completed Quest. Not included is development on the arena property.

2. North of downtown: The Edmontonian tower has 42 floors proposed at 101 Street and 106 Avenue. The long-stalled Aurora project at 103 Street and 106 Avenue is rumoured to be for sale.

3. Downtown river valley: New towers are planned on either side of 97 Avenue in the valley, the 26-floor Opus, 26-floor Parkwood Tower, 31-floor Abbey Lane Tower and the elegant 32-floor Symphony Tower.

4. Bellamy Hill: The last sites on the winding road to the Chateau Lacombe have been taken, with architect Gene Dub’s 25-floor futuristic “cubist” condo hi-rise, Procura’s 17-floor Azure Lofts, and the skinny 32-floor Residences on Bellamy Hill.

5. The Quarters: Around the dome of St. Barbara’s Cathedral at Jasper and 96 Street, the last undeveloped scenic view in all downtown Canada will soon be history. Going up are Vinterra’s 16-floor Valleyview Tower and the proposed 22-floor Corner 1 Tower.

6. Jasper Avenue East: South of Commonwealth Stadium is the big Edgewater development with two future towers at 26 and 32 stories. Then there’s the 26-floor Tango Tower at Jasper and 84 Street, and a proposed 21-floor tower at Jasper and 82 St., all with unimpeded valley views.

7. Jasper Avenue West/Stony Plain Road: The mighty Pearl and several smaller new condo towers will be joined by the ritzy 23-floor Clifton Place across from Original Joe’s at 126 Street. South of the Clifton is the proposed and oft re-designed 26-floor Concert Property condo building. Around the corner from the Lemarchand Mansion is the proposed but controversial 32-floor tower on 115 Street overlooking the valley. At Stony Plain and 142 Street, the first of the Glenora Skyline’s five towers is now being built.

Condo-building is a risky business. Developers can get caught in both over-heated and cooling-off economies, and Alberta is all about boom ‘n’ bust. Nothing is worst, for the developer, than a condo tower going up while the economy is going down. The long-delayed Century Place and Aurora projects, for instance, were hammered by the 2008/09 recession

But even if half these towers are built as envisioned, along with expected new office towers and hotels in the downtown, Edmonton will/is becoming a changed city. Much for the better!



(Courtesy of, CMHC, Edmonton Real Estate Board and Canadian Home Builders Association. All are estimates.)

Proposed and confirmed new condo towers to be built in the next two to three years in central Edmonton, 27.
Number of those buildings over 20 stories high, 17.
Number over 30 stories, 10.
Expected number of new living units in those condos, 3,000 to 4,000.
Current market price for new downtown condos, $350 to $400 per square foot.
Average size of condo units, 900 to 1300 square feet.
Financing: Normally dependent on pre-building sales commitment from unit buyers, with a non-refundable deposit in the $5,000 range.

Hicks Biz Communications : Commentary