Edmonton’s downtown is supposed to be on the path of recovery, but detours, road closures and a sea of orange signs are deterring some customers from even entering many businesses.
The latest construction challenge comes after the COVID-19 pandemic already shut down many businesses.
“It’s project on top of project on top of project,” said Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Downtown Business Association.
“It makes it almost impossible to operate a business anywhere near any of it.”
She says overlapping projects — like Reimagine Jasper Ave, Valley Line LRT and Epcor work — mean many spots are simply in survival mode.
“When you’ve got multiple projects concentrated in the same locations, it becomes really, really challenging for residents and businesses.”
McBryan says the city does a great job of consulting stakeholders about upcoming construction projects but she says there’s a gap in taking that feedback. The consultation doesn’t often change what the plans are, she says.
“It’s more of an FYI.
“It’s like, ‘OK, great. You let us know it’s happening and now we can figure out if our business can survive these next two years.’ It really does come to that.”
The DBA would like to see the city take businesses’ feedback into account, especially when it comes to signage, the orientation of road closures and reducing the impact on pedestrian routes.
McBryan says businesses around 97 Street and Jasper Avenue have been particularly hard hit.
“To say that they’ve lost business is an understatement. It becomes almost impossible.
“So then, it’s sort of a damage control thing. How do we get better signage? How do we get the word out to our customers?”
The Underground Tap and Grill was so cut off by construction that when it reopened after the health restrictions, one of its own employees wasn’t sure it was really open.
“I thought we were closed,” said Maliya Phillips. “So I couldn’t image what customers would think walking by.”
She said the area was essentially inaccessible for weeks — no cab access, no parking, very few pedestrians.
“It was pretty slow for a while, for a few weeks straight for sure,” Phillips said.
“There’s a lot of businesses being affected, even on the other side of Jasper. There’s no way to get into them. It’s really hard and people don’t want to be bothered by the inconvenience.”
Once construction cleared a bit last week, customers are starting to visit again, Phillips said.
“We definitely get a few more people walking by and coming in for a drink… Our regulars are coming back.”
Another issue, McBryan says, is the visual deterrent of construction equipment, pilons and hoarding.
“One of the biggest problems is we don’t have uniform requirements for what construction hoarding looks like,” she said, adding it can be really unsightly clutter than is left on site even when work isn’t being done, and can really detract from the downtown experience.
“I would love to get to a place where the hoarding itself doesn’t look so oppressive.”
The city’s construction map shows about 17 ongoing projects within a several-block section of downtown.
A city spokesperson acknowledged there is a lot of work happening downtown right now.
“We’ve recently rescheduled some of our city projects to accommodate private developments and ease impacts to Edmontonians,” Adriana Amelio told Global News in an email on Wednesday.
She said planning for projects involves “mitigating impacts, including adjusting traffic signalling, rescheduling bus routes as needed, looking at traffic impacts and planning detours.”
The city said it wants downtown to attract people and is committed to supporting development that offers a range of housing, commercial and amenity options, incentives and “streamlined development processes.” The city said it’s also committed to expanding the “availability and uses of public spaces.”
“During construction, wherever possible we schedule work so that any one area is not impacted by multiple major projects at a time,” Amelio said.
“We also maintain pedestrian pathways around construction sites where possible, while balancing the needs of all modes of travel, including pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles.”
Impacted businesses are notified in advance of work beginning, she said, and “city staff work to manage the impact by providing wayfinding signage, and setting up pedestrian/cyclist detours to support access to impacted storefronts.”
Transit is rerouted and traffic signal timing is adjusted during construction.
The city is offering 30 minutes of free parking downtown in an effort to support local businesses.