The Esplanade begins to take shape in downtown Medicine
-City of Medicine Hat Photo
BY SHELDON E.
DATTENBERGER, P. ENG.
Medicine Hat Branch
Construction activity in Medicine Hat is still going strong.
Two of the more significant projects are underway, following
completion of the Allowance Avenue Overpass.
The overpass is the largest construction project in the city
in many years. But also impressive are construction of the
13th Avenue interchange on the Trans-Canada Highway and construction
of the Esplanade, which will be a combined museum, art gallery
and new performing arts centre.
The provincial government announced that construction of
the 13th Avenue interchange would finally proceed after a
two-year delay caused by transportation spending cuts.
Those who have travelled through Medicine Hat or regularly
use the intersection of 13th Avenue S.E. know firsthand of
the traffic back-ups on the left-turn lanes, the poor sight
lines on turning traffic, and the rutting problems.
Inherent to the stop-go traffic on the super-elevated section
of highway, the rutting can be reduced, but only by a limited
amount, through traffic light timing manipulations. As well,
numerous attempts to reduce it with asphalt cements have
Initial functional planning for the project began back in
the early 1980s, when it was decided that an underpass would
be the way to go. Planning was revisited around 2000, after
the province removed ownership and construction responsibilities
of the Trans-Canada from the City of Medicine Hat.
Planning and detail design was completed, a construction
tender was put together and awarded, and construction began
in the late summer of 2003. An early snow and cold weather
put an end to intentions to close the main highway and
divert its traffic onto newly constructed off-ramps while
bridge construction occurred over the winter months. Still,
with any luck, the project will be complete by September
Another major project currently underway – one that’s
proven to be quite controversial – is the completion
of the Medicine Hat Esplanade. It will be home to the Medicine
Hat Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and a new performing
The project was initiated in 1999, with the implementation
of a steering committee and the hiring of a consultant to
proceed with feasibility studies. From the onset, the city
sought considerable public input on a wide variety of issues,
ranging from what the building should include to where it
should be. Early in the process, the current line-up of tenants
Harder to determine than that was where the structure would
be built. There was a lot of support for a central, downtown
Esplanade location. Nonetheless, the idea proved to be contentious
because there were few locations available for such a substantial
One of the initial preferred locations was next to City
Hall, adjacent to the South Saskatchewan River. Among advantages
are the magnificent views of the river valley, architectural
continuity with the existing City Hall and Provincial Courthouse
buildings, and an ability to combine underground parking
with the existing City Hall.
But these were outweighed primarily by the public's concern
over a park with historic value being removed. Esplanade
construction there would have required the relocation of
Remembrance Day memorial objects and the destruction of numerous
As well, proximity to the railway tracks would have required
additional construction costs to reduce noise and vibration.
Downtown won the day. The chosen location did, however, require
the destruction of a few buildings. An 84,000-sq.-ft. centre
is not easily squeezed into a fully developed downtown core.
The performing arts theatre size and the overall cost of
the project were also controversial.
Many people felt that a theatre significantly larger than
700 seats would be required to bring big-name events to Medicine
Hat. The city lacks a large facility with the proper acoustics
for big-name performances.
Ultimately it was decided, through considerable review, that
the medium-scale, 700-seat theatre would be used far more
frequently. That would alleviate a backlog of demand for
medium-scale performance areas, and provide an impetus for
more community-based performing arts.
The price tag raised the question of whether such a large
project was necessary or financially viable in Medicine Hat.
Cost estimates ranged from $25 million to $45 million.
Fortunately, provincial and federal grants in the order of
$9.5 million lowered the city’s share. Community fund-raising
and contributions, to the tune of $3.5 million (plus $400,000
in materials from a local brick company), showed that there
was significant local support.
The remaining construction money would be obtained from the
city’s land development and utility revenues. Current
projected cost is $32.1 million.
Scheduled for completion in 2005, the Esplanade should enrich
the cultural scene in Medicine Hat, act as a catalyst for
continued downtown revitalization, and provide a significant
and much-needed venue for the performing arts.
Visit the City of Medicine Hat website