Advocates for Edmonton’s Chinatown seek money to start not-for-profit to spur revitalization

The Harbin Gate will be moved from its home of 30 years, to make way for LRT construction.
The Harbin Gate will be moved from its home of 30 years, to make way for LRT construction. Shallima Maharaj, Global News

A group of volunteers is asking Edmonton City Council for as much as $1.2 million in seed money over four years to start a not-for-profit to revitalize Chinatown. The goal is to change perceptions of what has become a run-down area.

Sandy Pon, one of the volunteers with the Chinatown Economic Task Force that appeared before city council’s executive committee Monday, said she got a good vibe from the questions and comments that were made.

“I think we got a yes in there,” she told reporters. “Now we’ve got to put together the business plan and be specific on the roles of the stakeholders.”

One of the not-for-profit group’s youth volunteers, William Lau, said they got a glimpse of the area’s potential last summer when a series of food tours attracted 300 visitors.

“We initially planned to run one each month, but requests kept coming in.”

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Watch below: Some videos about Edmonton’s Chinatown.

READ MORE: Dining Week aims to bring more visitors to Edmonton’s Chinatown

The belief, Lau said, is the not-for-profit can generate enough revenue they won’t need the entire $1.2 million.

“It starts with de-stigmatizing the neighbourhood and allowing Edmonton to better understand it,” he said.

“With the rich food and culture, we’re confident in our ability in building Chinatown to be an attractive tourist destination,” Lau told the committee. “Down the road, I hope that we, the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative, can even be developers for the community and play a more proactive role in shaping it and develop Chinatown for business between Alberta and Asia.”

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Pon said Chinatown is only three blocks from Ice District, yet it seems distant and they want to make it a place people will visit before and after events at Rogers Place.

“People are going to be spending their money,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the residents. It can be the tourists and the people that are enjoying themselves after hours, or enjoying the concerts and all that. So let’s make this wraparound strategy work where everybody wins.”

READ MORE: Councillor says Edmonton has ‘every intention’ to rebuild Harbin Gates amid murky future

The group has made two requests of city council. On top of the seed money for the not-for-profit, Pon said they are still in discussions on what to do with the Harbin Gate that was removed for Valley Line LRT construction. They are proposing erecting a new one on 97 Street at 102 Avenue, however, 97 Street is three lanes too wide.

“The gate is almost 40 years old,” Pon said. “So for someone to put it back together, it would be very hard. It just makes economic sense to build a brand new one, and it’ll last for a long, long time.”

There is no firm cost estimate yet, but it could get into the millions of dollars because of the intricate ceramic tiles on the original.

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Council will consider both requests this fall as part of the budget talks.