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Old June 30th, 2005, 06:58 PM   #1
OMEGA here i come
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Twin 30's for Edmonton

Big, new storeys for downtown?
Developer touts twin-tower condo plan as upscale replacement for gravel lot

Paula Simons
The Edmonton Journal

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The vision of turning historic 104th Street into downtown's vibrant residential and retail neighbourhood has always been a bit of a dance: two steps forward, one step back.

Grand plans are frequently announced, but don't always come to fruition. Despite the success of several loft redevelopments, the burgeoning farmers' market and the construction of a new condominium, the street still has gaping holes, including the boarded-up Cecil Hotel, and the big, ugly, gravel-topped parking lot behind it.

Now, the final pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place.

Edmonton lawyer John Day, who owns the Cecil and the adjoining properties to the west, is currently fine-tuning plans to knock down the derelict hotel and redevelop a parcel along Jasper Avenue as a two-storey commercial retail project. Watch for a formal announcement later this summer.

Meanwhile, Langham Properties Ltd., an Edmonton-based condominium company, will soon announce plans for a boldly ambitious residential development, the Icon, on that gravel lot north of the Cecil and east of the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel.

Langham president Reza Mostashari and his partner, Medi Nasseri, are proposing to build twin towers, each 30 storeys high. The first tower would have 142 condominium apartments, while the second phase would hold 160 units.

The draft designs for the Icon show two, tall, slim towers, set far back on a four-storey brick-faced pedestal, to create the effect of a heritage building at street level. The first level would hold pedestrian-friendly retail space for shops and restaurants. The next levels would house 20 open-concept lofts. In all, there would be about 322 units, ranging in size from 54 square metres to 360 square metres and priced from $160,000 to $1 million.

Mostashari hopes to sell the Icon to people across the market spectrum.

"I genuinely want to be building downtown," he says. "Edmonton doesn't have the core that a city of a million people should have. If the whole city is like a suburb, it doesn't develop a character."

A development of this height and density -- the biggest, tallest residential project the downtown core has ever seen --will provoke controversy, especially in a heritage neighbourhood, where fiercely protective residents are passionately committed to preserving the street's unique cultural legacy.

This January, city council passed strict new zoning regulations, which require any new development to conform to certain heritage design standards. At the time, some developers complained, and loudly, that the rules would make any new buildings too costly.

Langham, though, intends to comply with all the new regulations, without seeking any concessions or variances from the city. Mostashari, who has been working closely with city planners, says he welcomes the tough design rules, because they'll encourage him to build a better building and they'll protect the special nature of the street, allowing his project to hold its future value.

"I think that 104th Street is a very charming place, even though it is in the middle of downtown. It has a residential feel to it, but it's very close to all the downtown stores and restaurants. It feels like you're in New York or another big city," he says.

"There are not many sites of this calibre left in our city. Since this is a unique site, I thought the development should match it in terms of uniqueness. This building won't just be attractive by Edmonton standards. It will give you the feeling you live in a world-class city."

The towers, Mostashari promises, will be "works of art," with gently curved sides and glass curtain wall construction, the reflecting glass tinted a delicate shade of gold.

The buildings would be carefully angled so as not to block each other's sight-lines.

The architect for the Icon is Fraser Brinsmead, who designed Langham's last major project, the Omega, a handsome new blue-and-white, 64-unit condo at 105th Street and 99th Avenue, now almost complete. When Mostashari started work in 2002 on the Omega, his first highrise, more seasoned developers questioned the wisdom of gambling on such a building downtown. But Mostashari says the Omega's strong sales vindicated him and inspired him to launch the Icon venture.

While other developers have been leery of building high-end condos downtown, Langham obviously sees potential in this long-barren site that others haven't. Perhaps that's because Mostashari, who arrived in Edmonton from his family's home in England at the age of 17 to study electrical engineering at the University of Alberta, represents a new generation of young developers, one more willing to take risks, less spooked by the ghosts of Edmonton's boom-bust history.

"I don't remember the National Energy Program," he says, with a smile.

"It's good to be cautious. But you have to base your plans on objective economics, not on the chance of some calamity. I'm not saying this is going to be a slam-dunk. It's going to be a challenge. But the economic indicators I see all look very positive."

If Langham does pull this off, if the Icon really lives up to its architectural billing, this project could gives our city centre the critical mass it needs to truly blossom. We need both population density and architectural elegance downtown. Mostashari is promising both. His is a big dream, but then, our downtown needs big dreamers.

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Old June 30th, 2005, 08:55 PM   #2
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Mostashari says the Omega's strong sales vindicated him and inspired him to launch the Icon venture.
Ah, cold, so we have you partly to thank for this.
I can't wait to see these buildings, they sound fantastic.
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Old June 30th, 2005, 08:58 PM   #3
OMEGA here i come
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Edmonton
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^hahaha...something like that.
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Old July 2nd, 2005, 11:17 PM   #4
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no pictures!
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