After tens of millions of dollars have been spent to beautify it, you would think a stretch of road – just east of downtown Edmonton – should be on easy street when it comes to bouncing back from years of neglect.
But a four-block stretch of 96 Street – between Jasper Avenue and 103 Avenue – needs much more work for the already significant investment funnelled into it to pay off.
“The work here actually started in 2006 in terms of planning,” Mary Ann Debrinski, with the City of Edmonton’s real estate and housing and sustainable development departments, said. “It will be the backbone for all the other streetscape improvements that we see.”
The street – in an area known as The Quarters – has had $27 million of work done on it, plus more than $12 million for an upgraded sewer pipe to make way for new high-density development.
But aside from a groundbreaking ceremony held four years ago for a soon-to-be-completed hotel, the city has yet to see the street bear the fruits of its labour.
Coun. Scott McKeen says the city does have some potentially viable developments in the works for The Quarters, however.
“We’ve been having some discussions with a small builder to a pilot project using a different kind of housing technology,” he said.
McKeen also says a developer is looking into plans for a possible hotel and condominium tower while work is ongoing to secure funding for an artists’ residence and studio space.
“Once the Arts Hab gets going, once the hotel is open, then we’ll see more interest in it,” he said.
The Quarters isn’t the only part of central Edmonton in search of private investment to help spur urban renewal: an ongoing push to revitalize the downtown itself continues, a town square for shops and businesses is being planned for the old airport site in Blatchford, Northlands is mulling over an idea to develop residential and retail space on the southern part of its grounds; the list goes on and on and does so during a time of economic uncertainty as oil prices are only slowly beginning to recover from their collapse two years ago.
“If oil gets back up to a decent price again in the next year, we may have no worries,” McKeen said. “But it’s in my nature to worry.”
The Quarters also faces an additional challenge of being located in an area that suffers from negative perceptions, something McKeen acknowledges.
“If we can help those very vulnerable people get into the proper housing where they can live with dignity and start to heal, then the communities can heal and they’ll heal rapidly,” he said.
But the city is moving forward, planning an LRT station for the area and city planners are working on a $43-million plan to acquire more land in the area and to build a park.
“There are things that are happening,” Debrinski said.
Despite its granite crosswalks, public art pieces and freshly-planted trees – for now – that grand stretch of road east of the downtown is still waiting for the grand plan for it to come to fruition.
-With files from Vinesh Pratap.