Proposal would transform Rice Howard Way into licensed entertainment district

Click to play video: 'Edmonton looks to create Rice Howard Way licensed entertainment district'
Edmonton looks to create Rice Howard Way licensed entertainment district
People could soon walk down Rice Howard Way while drinking a beer if Edmonton council approves a plan to turn the street into an entertainment district over the summer. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports. – Apr 29, 2024

Edmonton’s Rice Howard Way could be transformed into an alcohol-licensed, pedestrian-friendly area every Saturday starting June 1.

The city’s community and public services committee decided Monday to present the proposal to council in May.

The hope is that the Entertainment District bylaw would be amended to allow alcohol consumption from licensed establishments in the district in public.

“Picture when you’re walking through a European city and there’s just little café tables out sort of lining the street, there’s not cars there anymore,” explained Puneeta McBryan, president of the Downtown Business Association.

“It’s not rocket science. You should be able to just have a glass of wine or a beer and stroll around and put out seats in the street and treat it more like a plaza,” she added.

“We’ve seen this kind of thing in a lot of different cities done really well and it’s shown to attract a lot of people and make a really big difference on things like vibrancy and safety and good for the local economy.”

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Entertainment District Rice Howard Way. Courtesy/City of Edmonton

Currently, the proposal sets the district as Rice Howard Way (101A Avenue) from the west side of 100th Street to the east side of 101st Street, including all city-owned spaces like roads, sidewalks and parkland.

“I think it’s a street that works really well for this use,” McBryan said. “It’s lined with businesses already, there’s not a ton of residents nearby who would be impacted. There’s been a lot of talk about 104th Street. That’s obviously one that we’re thinking about.

“We do events there as well where we shut down the street and we have the same problem there right now that we have on Rice Howard Way, which is: without the entertainment district bylaw, we have to set up a beer tent, and there’s one seller of alcohol and you put up the fences.

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“This is really just hopefully a gradual move towards a more relaxed, less fences, less red tape — let’s just open up the street and have events there whenever it makes sense.”

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McBryan explained that any time a street is closed for events — like the downtown farmers market — there are requirements for signage, on-site staffing and security and traffic management. The same would apply for the entertainment district on Rice Howard Way.

“The really big difference is literally just where you can buy the alcohol and where you can walk with it,” she said. “It’s just going from a beer garden model to a much more open and accommodating model with all the staffing and everything else.”

The all-ages entertainment district would be activated on Saturdays only, starting June 1 and continue at least until the end of August.

Rice Howard Way would be closed to vehicles from 7 a.m. on Saturdays until 10 a.m. on Sundays. Vehicle traffic would still be allowed on 100A Avenue and 100A Street.

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Two people spoke in favour of the amendment: Jordan Beatty from the Sherlock Holmes Group and Stephen Raitz from Paths for People.

Supporters and committee members believe the project would improve the energy and economy downtown, increase pedestrian traffic, bolster business and reduce red tape for events.

The change would eliminate the need for individual event licences.

“This bylaw will make it so we can activate downtown, we can activate Rice Howard Way,” said Beatty, adding that the area hasn’t quite recovered from the pandemic.

“We’ve activated Rice Howard Way before. We’ve done it successfully. We’ve done it for families, for events. We’ve done it safely and we really want the opportunity to do it again.

“We want people to have a reason to come downtown,” Beatty said. “This will give us an opportunity to showcase exactly what we can do and how safe downtown truly can be… We just want to see it go through.”

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The area has already hosted successful events with outdoor licensed areas and fenced beverage gardens, like Downtown Spark and the Canadian Hydrogen Convention, committee members heard.

Under the proposed amendments, people could walk around with alcoholic beverages from licensed bars or restaurants in the district. Personal alcohol would not be permitted.

“I was really pleased to hear the commitment from the Downtown Business Association, from the city, to work with residents, respond to their needs,” Coun. Anne Stevenson said.

“Otherwise, I think it’s going to be great. I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition to the area. I think Rice Howard Way is really becoming a central gathering point already. This just helps support and accelerate that.

“We have huge attendance at our summer festivals. Right on Churchill Square, we see tens of thousands of people every summer for every event,” she added. “This is a really great opportunity to expand some of that, to support the businesses that are here year-round.”

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The cost to implement the changes — about $200,000 — would be covered within existing budgets, mostly the Downtown Vibrancy Fund.

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