— The Urbanist —

Losing Green

Proposed tower puts Frank Oliver Park future in question

A developer’s intentions to erect a tower beside one of the core’s most spectacular historic buildings has put the future of a beloved green space in question. Toronto-based development company Great Gulf and Calgary-based ProCura have jointly applied for a re-zoning permit to build a 55-storey, mixed-use building — equal in height to the current JW Marriott — on what’s currently Frank Oliver Park, just north of Hotel MacDonald.

The application leaves the future of the small but much-liked green space uncertain. According to a letter provided by engineering firm Stantec, on Green Gulf’s behalf, “[t]he proposed development will… still [retain] publicly accessible open space on the south portion of the site.”

Chris Buyze, president of DECL, said the land the park currently occupies is privately owned and was sold by the owners of Hotel MacDonald. Still, he said, many who live downtown feel a connection to it. “We have a lot of residents who have concerns about [Frank Oliver Park] being developed,” Buyze said. “I do think that any new development has to be better than what it’s replacing.”

Despite this, Buyze said DECL has not taken a formal stance on the potential development or sought community feedback. The proposed tower raises questions about the future of Frank Oliver Park — a park whose name has been controversial in some communities for decades but has come to be known by the mainstream to be problematic in recent years, too.

Some see this as an opportunity, however.

Jennifer Ward, an Umpqua-Algonquin woman and a sessional instructor in education at the University of Alberta, said the park’s name is a colonial artifact. “Frank Oliver, as we know, historically, he was a major player in the reason why the Papaschase First Nation lost their territory,” Ward said.

But Ward also said she sees redevelopment of the park as an opportunity for reconciliation.

“I think development is good. And I think there can be some positives with development and looking at, ‘How do we develop space that’s conducive to the land? And not just art. Art is one thing and art is beautiful, but I think we need to move beyond that.

I just think participation by Indigenous peoples and communities go a long way.”

Stantec and ProCura did not respond to requests for comment.