Edmonton’s 2021 mayoral candidates are in the home stretch of their campaigns and one of the biggest issues is how they will support downtown.
“I think the future of Edmonton is our downtown and it’s great that downtown thrives. Edmonton will thrive,” explained Chris Buyze, president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League.
He said through the course of the pandemic, issues downtown have compounded.
“Issues of safety, cleanliness and maintenance and also supporting our businesses downtown that have struggled.”
Residents downtown are also tired of struggling to get around road closures and detours.
“There is some concerns right now around construction and how hard it is to get around downtown, and we need the next council to coordinate that a bit better,” Buyze said.
For businesses, the issues are quite similar, explained Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Downtown Business Association.
“Whether it is community safety, whether it’s the economy and jobs, whether it’s arts and culture and tackling climate change, downtown’s future is at the centre of all of those issues.”
She noted downtown provides 10 per cent of the city’s overall tax base.
“So whatever happens downtown over the next three to five years has a massive impact on our entire city, on the future of our economy, on our ability to attract and retain talent and attract and retain investment,” McBryan said.
Global News took spoke to a number of the candidates running for mayor in Edmonton about the issues downtown and what they plan on doing to address them: Amarjeet Sohi, Cheryll Watson, Kim Krushell, Michael Oshry and Mike Nickel.
Here’s what they each had to say.
“I just can’t imagine a thriving city without a thriving and vibrant downtown,” Sohi said.
He noted he’s laid out a 10-point plan to address the issues plaguing downtown.
“That includes improving safety, improving cleanliness, building a strong relationship with business leaders and the downtown business association,” Sohi said.
This proposed plan builds on the city’s existing downtown vibrancy strategy, recently approved by the outgoing council.
As for how to help vulnerable Edmontonians, Sohi say’s he’ll look for vacant buildings that can be transformed into affordable housing units, and call on Jason Kenney’s government to fund housing initiatives.
“Press on the provincial government that investing in homelessness, mental health and addiction recovery and support for the most vulnerable Edmontonians is essential for the economic success of our city.”
Another thing Sohi intends to do is build up community gathering places for inner-city residents.
“Amenities in the downtown like a skateboard park or a basketball court or getting the warehouse park built as quickly as possible.”
Sohi said it’s also important to entice residents from other parts of Edmonton to enjoy the core.
“Supporting arts and culture, to activate our back alleys and parking lots, to bring in more festivals downtown by working with multicultural communities and Indigenous communities.”
Cheryll Watson is optimistic downtown can be transformed.
“The saying goes: ‘So goes your downtown, so goes your city.’ Right now, when you look around our downtown, there’s lots of opportunities and potential and a need for it to be better.”
She said the biggest problem right now is safety.
“We need more community policing. Our campaign truck was broken into. Our campaign office has been broken into a number of times.”
As for addressing homelessness, Watson said she’d also like the province to pay its share.
“The most important way we’re going to make housing first work is if we rebuild our relationship and build a positive relationship with the provincial government, because they are the main funder when it comes to affordable housing,” Watson explained.
As for the city, she said council should encourage the development of more public washrooms and drinking fountains.
To entice businesses and residents downtown she wants to see infrastructure like roads, alleys and sidewalks improved.
Watson also proposes the city increase the free street parking grace period from 30 minutes to one hour.
Kim Krushell says the numbers detail exactly how integral downtown is to Edmonton’s tax base and financial stability.
“So it’s critical for all of us that our downtown is successful. But it’s also critical for the reputation of our city.”
“We need to be successful on the business side with the jobs and opportunities. At the same time, we need to understand that we have a vulnerable population that needs help.”
Getting Edmontonians to work, live and play downtown is a major priority for Krushell.
She said Edmonton needs to ensure that proper supports are in place for the homeless.
“It’s important to make sure we have wraparound services for folks because they are in trauma, they’re suffering from mental illness. We need to make sure we have 24/7 shelter space available.”
She said she wants to see more community policing with social agencies helping the homeless.
“Working with the agencies on a collaborative funding model to make sure that we are providing services where people are. Not all of our people without homes are in the core.”
Michael Oshry also said downtown has a huge role to play in Edmonton.
“Without a vibrant downtown and an interesting downtown, we really don’t have an interesting city.”
He also listed safety as a main concern.
“We need to ensure that people feel safe and we need appropriate policing downtown.”
He said he’s supportive of the work previous council did in developing a plan for the city’s core.
“The vibrancy strategy for downtown was a great start. The last seven years, there’s $4.5 billion invested in downtown, so we need to keep going.”
In terms of addressing homelessness, he said he’s committed to continuing to build supportive housing: 200 units a year.
To ramp up the economy, he wants administration to prioritize approval of permits and licences downtown.
“Let the private sector do what the private sector does best and so we’ve got plan around putting permitting and business applications front of the bus for the city.”
Oshry also thinks the core would benefit from fewer construction detours and roadblocks.
“Cleaning up the construction. The city looks like it’s being renovated downtown and it’s enough. It’s hard to get around whether people are walking, driving or taking transit.”
Mike Nickel said while downtown is important, it’s been the focus for a long time.
“We have plunked in tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions into the core. So how about we just utilize the assets we’ve got, and better – and then we can pay attention to the suburbs.”
In terms of his top priority downtown, he said that’s addressing the crime and safety concerns.
“The first thing we have to do is stream the homeless into treatment. You’ve heard me talk about it many times. Because they can’t stay there, it’s not compassionate,” he said.
“If you don’t have safety, you can’t have a marketplace, people can’t run their businesses, they can’t pay taxes. If you don’t have taxes, you can’t have nice things.”
Nickel also spoke about improving shelter standards, something he’s spoken about while on council.
To attract businesses, Nickel said he would get on a plane and fly around, trying to land business deals for the city.
“That’s why you need lower taxes, that’s why you need to cut the red tape. You need to move at the pace of business, not at the pace of bureaucracy.”
Election day is Oct. 18.