The Plaza at Jubilee Centre
A gathering place with something for everyone
It’s a crisp and cold winter day in downtown Fort McMurray, the kind of day that has typically meant residents and visitors are bundled up and locked away inside, avoiding frosty fingers and toes. But today is different. Instead of being isolated by the weather, there are dozens of people outside embracing it. Some have come to get toasty by the bonfire, while others have joined forces on their lunch breaks to kick up some snow and get their hearts beating.
Located right in the heart of Fort McMurray on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Hardin Street, the Plaza at Jubilee Centre opened on Nov. 29th. The winter opening was the first opportunity residents and visitors had to engage with the dynamic new space, which was designed to be a gathering place to share new memories and welcome visitors from around the world, get active or simply enjoy a performance.
“The Plaza at Jubilee Centre is the first space of its kind in the community,” said Mayor Melissa Blake, adding that the concept was developed through conversations with residents during the downtown redevelopment planning process.
“One of the key goals of the redevelopment plan was to create a public gathering space downtown,” she said. “From our office window we could see this property, which was perfect for the plaza.”
The plaza is the first in a long line of infrastructure projects designed to create a modern urban core that reflects the diversity and prosperity of our community. People visiting the plaza will be welcomed by different opportunities to engage with the space, from civic celebrations and performances, to urban markets, art installations and other community events.
DESIGNS OF THE FUTURE
From the outset, the Plaza at Jubilee Centre has been designed to be a versatile space that can be enjoyed year-round. Its multi-use approach allows for indoor and outdoor activities, such as outdoor performances from emerging and established artists, as well as multimedia installations indoors during the winter.
“The grand purpose of the design and the plaza itself is to inspire people to get involved in the community here,” said Mayor Blake.
With the largest portion of the plaza being the outdoor space, the design team had a great opportunity to create something unique. One of the most impressive components of the space is the movable wooden stage. The beautifully constructed platform can be repositioned depending on what is required or what is being performed.
The option to recreate the space easily for different performances means there are endless opportunities for engaging with the community. You might attend a cultural exhibition one afternoon and enjoy the openness of the space from one side, then come back in the evening to take in a show with the stage in an entirely different place in the plaza. It’s an impermanent permanent structure that will allow for a wide range of activities throughout the seasons.
Another major feature of the plaza is the weather catcher: a 65-foot, three-dimensional steel structure with complex water features that serves as a centre point of the entire facility.
“We knew we wanted a large visual display,” said Mayor Blake. “The extreme temperatures here definitely influenced its design.”
The weather catcher is a functional art piece that transitions through the seasons, with a range of water features that evolve as the temperature changes.
“When we have hot days,” said Mayor Blake, “residents and visitors to the city will be able to cool off in the plaza. As things transition into fall, then winter, the weather catcher will also transition into an art installation that captures the season, turning itself into a brilliant display of natural elements and ice. Then the new season will bring it out again, into a mist and water installation, bringing out interested parties all year round.”
The outdoor space also has several log benches and green areas for lounging over lunch or relaxing in the warmer months. Over the winter that same space will hold a skating rink for a casual skate with friends, family and kids. And as this a public space, there is no charge for using the rink – just lace up, hit the ice and meet some of the people in our community.
As we all know, temperatures in the north can go way below freezing. With that in mind, the design team also incorporated an area for a bonfire – three big, cozy fires that will help you keep warm after your skate. Residents and visitors will be encouraged to roast marshmallows over the fires and create new friendships and memories while bundling up and enjoying the warmth.
“It’s a real hot spot, so to speak,” joked Mayor Blake.
ENGAGING WITH OUR COMMUNITY
The Plaza at Jubilee Centre is a focal point, a gathering place and recreational space for our community. Community Services is working to develop and grow programs that represent the diversity and multicultural background of our region, as well as the rich history of Fort McMurray.
“We’re going out and meeting with local community organizations and encouraging them to put programs on in the space,” said Community Strategies Coordinator, Arndis Bildfell. “On Friday afternoons we’ll have what are being called ‘Winter Surprises,’ which are outdoor programs designed for children,” she said. “We’re also working on some lunchtime programs, encouraging office workers to get out there and get some vitamin D. Whether it’s building a snowman or skating for 15 minutes, we just want them to get out there and enjoy the weather.”
The programming of the plaza is also designed with the different cultural groups of the region in mind. The space will be made available for different multicultural groups to use year-round.
As well, Community Services is developing programs that will engage with seniors in the region. During the summer months that may mean afternoon tea or chess in the park and in the winter it could be a cozy gathering drinking hot chocolate around the warmth of the bonfire.
It’s also important to note that if some community groups are interested in using the space but haven’t got the capacity to do a full program, coordinators will work with them to make sure they are represented.
“If a youth organization and family organization want to put on a program but neither can do a full one, we’ll help link them together to do it as a team,” said Bildfell.
The grand intention of the plaza is to serve a representation of Wood Buffalo. It’s a place for the community to get together and celebrate the seasons and interact with friends, neighbours, visitors and family from around the region. It’s an affordable community space for social profits and community groups, as well as a great place to cut loose and get some exercise, take in a show or even buy locally produced goods and food at the urban market.
“It’s a way of exposing all the various groups of people in our community to each other, a way to celebrate the diverse and multicultural elements of our city,” said Mayor Blake.
WHAT COMES NEXT
While the outdoor area of the Plaza at Jubilee Centre is open for the winter, there is still a lot more to come, including evolving community programming. The two main features of the plaza – the weather catcher and movable stage – are in the final stages of completion, expected to be finished in the spring of 2015. The plaza’s café is also planned to open alongside everything else.
“We didn’t want to do the grand opening until all the elements are operational,” said Bildfell. In the meantime, that means the winter programming can be used as something of a pilot program, a chance to utilize the public space while engaging with the community for feedback and ideas about programming and the future.
When the grand opening takes place in the spring, the entire plaza will be available for use. The indoor space will house unique installations, such as the regional showcase space, a public attraction for residents, tourists and investors of all ages. This multimedia environment will use creative storytelling technologies such as videos, interactive screens, photo booths, sound and special effects, and much more to showcase everything our region has to offer. The café will also be open for use at the time, and as the summer settles in, the large retractable glass walls will be moved aside in order to create an open-air environment where residents and visitors can come to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a book, meet friends or simply sit back and take in everything happening in the plaza.
The Plaza at Jubilee Centre stands as an example of the creativity and ingenuity of our community, leading to more growth and opportunities for an increasingly stronger community.
“The Plaza at Jubilee Centre has helped kick-start development downtown,” said Mayor Blake. “There is energy in the city centre.”
While work continues on the plaza, there are still a lot of great reasons to head down and enjoy the winter offerings. Grab your skates or bring a hot drink and come see what is happening in your region.