City launches strategy to bring life back to Edmonton’s downtown

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Strategy to bring life back to Edmonton’s downtown
The COVID-19 pandemic hit downtowns hard across Canada. For Edmonton, it came at time when the city says good things were happening to the core. As Sarah Komadina reports, as things start to return to normal, the city is planning for ways to once again stimulate vibrancy. – Jun 15, 2021

Deserted downtowns drained of life became a common sight everywhere when the pandemic hit.

In Edmonton, it came at a time when there seemed to be a positive economic turn. The city is moving forward with a plan to see downtown bounce back.

The Downtown Vibrancy Strategy is a two-year plan aimed at supporting businesses, visitors and residents.

The city said it will focus on four pillars to re-energize and reactivate the “heart” of Edmonton:

  • downtown as a home
  • downtown as an economic hub
  • downtown as a destination
  • downtown as a safe, welcoming place

The city worked with multiple partners including the Downtown Business Association. Executive director Puneeta McBryan said the strategy will help groups like the DBA to do work they have already been doing.

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“This plan will allow us to do at least most of the things we need to do in the immediate short term.”

“Cross our fingers and hope everything bounces back post-pandemic. There is quite a bit of work that needs to be done to make sure that people are coming back downtown and that workplaces open and bring people back on a voluntary basis, that people truly want to come back downtown,” McBryan said Tuesday.

The city will allocate $5 million to the strategy, but completing all of the items could cost in the range of $7 million to $28 million, and the hope is other investors contribute.

“We need tens of thousands of people working downtown. We need our vacancy rates to get back below 20 per cent for office space. We need our retail space to be filled. There are so much bigger indicators we really need to solve before we can actually say, ‘Yes, we are back on track,'” McBryan said.

“I do hope there will be real initiative to look at investments once we really see what 2022 looks like.”

The city said Edmonton’s downtown generates nine per cent of the city’s property taxes in only one per cent of its area and more than $4.4 billion in private and institutional investment.

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“If this plan wasn’t going forward, if we weren’t making these investments and doing this work to preserve the vibrancy of downtown, the impact on the entire city could be staggering,” McBryan said.

“If we do start to lose large employers from downtown, if we lose any more retailers, if we fail to attract any businesses downtown, that’s when property values start declining and that is when the rest of the city has to pick up the bill.”

Coun. Scott McKeen was happy to see city administration take initiative to look at ways to help downtown post-pandemic.

“Downtown is critically important in displaying to visitors, to investors, to potential university students or professors… or (whoever) it is checking this place out they are going to go downtown… And so our downtown has to be a reflection of our values and our prosperity,” McKeen said.

The city said the strategy builds on steps the city has already taken to support the area, which include the shared street initiatives, free parking promos, and economic recovery and downtown construction grants.

“It was a very positive report and had some real strategies to move forward, and we just need some time to see if it works,” Coun. Bev Esslinger said.

“The strategy moving forward has some really specific actions for us to move forward, and I think if they can implement that strategy, and to know that they are all in this together… They often say how your downtown goes is the life of your city, and we hear that a lot, and we know it’s important to have a strong downtown.”


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