Downtown safety concerns hurting some Edmonton businesses, owners say

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Some downtown Edmonton businesses say concerns about safety are hurting them
WATCH ABOVE: Downtown Edmonton businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic have another hurdle they're worried about: safety in the area. Some say they are battling both real and perceived threats. Sarah Komadina has the details – May 30, 2022

Maria Northern Mexican Cuisine opened during the pandemic. It was a struggle then, and Chef Glenda Colin was hoping it would be better by now.

She said many customers who come in are from nearby offices, but it’s not enough.

“I think that the streets are pretty empty during Sundays, during the week, mostly at night,” Colin said.

“We don’t actually see just regular people, walking around looking for a place to eat. I do think they have a perception that downtown is unsafe.”

Colin also lives downtown and admits when she first moved there it was concerning, but she quickly felt at home.

“I always walk around at night by myself. I get a coffee or beer and I haven’t been personally assaulted or anything, so I think it’s pretty safe.”

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People Global News spoke to, however, said they’ve dealt with many uncomfortable situations. They said they’ve seen open drug use, yelling and screaming in the area.

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Earlier this month, just blocks away in Chinatown, two men were killed.

The city is dedicating more resources to improve safety in Chinatown, but others in the core say the need is broader.

Downtown Business Association’s Puneet McBryan said businesses have told her about harassment, overnight vandalism and robberies.

“It’s a really tough thing to wrap our heads around right now because we are talking about vulnerable people, but we are also talking about violence and criminal behaviour,” McBryan said.

She is hoping the city, EPS and the province will make decisions about what is and isn’t acceptable, and how people will be held accountable downtown.

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“It’s this really messy conversation about what safety means and what level of safety we are trying to get to in our downtown. What we have right now isn’t working for anyone.”

McBryan said while some people may feel uncomfortable downtown, it isn’t a place that people should avoid.

“It’s not some doom and gloom place by any stretch. We have a beautiful city, a beautiful downtown.”

The Downtown Recovery Coalition is a volunteer group made up of businesses and entrepreneurs working to make downtown a welcoming place. Alexandra Hryciw said she hopes the playoffs and festivals coming back this summer will help bring vibrancy and a sense of safety to the downtown.

“We are seeing both the recovery from the pandemic and vibrancy kicking off right at the same time and so both things are clashing,” Hryciw said.

“The saying is, ‘so goes your downtown, and so goes your city,’ and so we really want people from every corner of the city to feel that downtown is a welcoming place.”

Edmonton police have created a strategy called Project Connection to send more officers and enforcement to areas — like the downtown — that are experiencing higher violence, property and disorder-related incidents. The goal is to increase community safety.

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The hope is all of these efforts combined will lead to a downtown people want to come to.

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