Medicine Hat Construction
Addresses Roads, Culture

The Esplanade begins to take shape in downtown Medicine Hat.

-City of Medicine Hat Photo


Medicine Hat Branch
Executive Member

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 proven unsuccessful.

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 2005.

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 arts centre.

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 was decided.

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 venue.

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 50-to-100-year-old trees.

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.


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