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The Quarters is groomed for grand development plans

Click to play video 'Millions spent on ‘The Quarters’ redevelopment, but is it paying off?' Millions spent on ‘The Quarters’ redevelopment, but is it paying off?
WATCH ABOVE: It's perhaps the most elegant-looking street in Edmonton, where tens of millions has been spent. But most people don't know about it. A lot of work has been done in an area just east of downtown called The Quarters, but more is needed to ensure the investment pays off. Vinesh Pratap reports. – May 30, 2016

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.

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Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on beautifying a stretch of road east of downtown Edmonton in an area known as The Quarters.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on beautifying a stretch of road east of downtown Edmonton in an area known as The Quarters. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
A boarded-up building is shown in The Quarters, an area just east of downtown Edmonton.
A boarded-up building is shown in The Quarters, an area just east of downtown Edmonton. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
A view of a stretch of road in an Edmonton area known as The Quarters.
A view of a stretch of road in an Edmonton area known as The Quarters. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
This sculpture is one of several public art pieces in The Quarters.
This sculpture is one of several public art pieces in The Quarters. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
A stretch of road in The Quarters features granite crosswalks.
A stretch of road in The Quarters features granite crosswalks. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
A public art piece is shown in the foreground of The Quarters Hotel, east of downtown Edmonton.
A public art piece is shown in the foreground of The Quarters Hotel, east of downtown Edmonton. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
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The City of Edmonton has spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading an area east of the downtown known as The Quarters.
The City of Edmonton has spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading an area east of the downtown known as The Quarters. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
The City of Edmonton is hoping public investment will lead to more private investment in The Quarters.
The City of Edmonton is hoping public investment will lead to more private investment in The Quarters. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
A view of The Quarters Hotel, east of downtown Edmonton.
A view of The Quarters Hotel, east of downtown Edmonton. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
In 2012, developers held a groundbreaking ceremony for The Quarters Hotel, a 12-storey development.
In 2012, developers held a groundbreaking ceremony for The Quarters Hotel, a 12-storey development. Vinesh Pratap/ Global News

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.

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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.

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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.