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Downtown Edmonton office vacancies see developer calling for action

Downtown Edmonton office vacancies see developer calling for action
WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton developer is speaking out, calling for more to be done when it comes to all the empty office space cropping up downtown. Vinesh Pratap reports.

A building on the corner of Jasper Avenue and 109 Street is undergoing a transformation.

“We were very aggressive,” explains George Schluessel of ProCura Real Estate Services as he talks about WSP Place, a 12-storey building undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation.

“I think that the location speaks for itself, having the LRT [right there],” Schluessel says.

The work commenced after the developer secured a lead tenant.

In the last several months, there have been big changes in downtown Edmonton. Two new office towers opened and a third remains under construction.

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As tenants moved, older spaces have been vacated. The musical chairs, coupled with the economic downturn, has made it more difficult to fill the vacuum.

According to one real estate-leasing firm, the downtown office vacancy rate is above 12 per cent.

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“Changes have to come fast and quick,” warns Schluessel, who is worried some landlords may turn to lower rents to entice tenants; something which could result in lower building values.

WATCH: What will happen with vacant downtown Edmonton office space?

“Property taxes will be appealed and appealed and appealed and ultimately, the city is going to lose fortunes in property taxes.”

“We just have a good corner here,” says Edmonton entrepreneur Peter West.

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At the street level,  West has a unique vantage point. He runs the independent coffee shop Coffee Bureau on Jasper Avenue.

The business relies on a steady stream of office workers to pay its bills.

“We’ve noticed that we’ve had a few of our customer bases being transferred to more suburban, cheaper office space,” West tells Global News, as he works behind the counter of his business.

“What we’ve come to learn is it all comes out in the wash at the end of the day.”

“We have to look long term,” Schluessel says.

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Schluessel would like to see more collaboration between the city and the development industry when it comes to attracting business and investment in the core.

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READ MORE: As downtown booms, will Edmonton have too much office space?

He points to plans for the city to build a park as one example of what can be done, saying it will attract people.

“That kind of feeding on itself creates a development frenzy.”

In the meantime, the renovations are nearing completion on WSP Place. The building is nearly full.

“I think at the end of the day, good quality and value will always prevail,” Schluessel says.