Downtown Edmonton looking up: business association

Puneeta McBryan, executive director of Edmonton's Downtown Business Association, on Dec. 19, 2022. McBryan says downtown Edmonton improved in 2022 but Edmontonians are reluctant to visit. Global News

The situation downtown is looking up, but many Edmontonians remain reluctant to visit the core.

That’s according to Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association (DBA).

“Perception takes a long time to catch up to reality,” she told 630 CHED Afternoons’ J’lyn Nye in a year-end interview.

LISTEN: A 2022 year-in-review with Puneeta McBryan on 630 CHED Afternoons with J’lyn Nye

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“A lot of Edmontonians are still thinking about (how) maybe they came downtown at some point in 2020 or 2021, and it was really bleak and dark, and quiet. It’s not that anymore.”

McBryan said this year, there were up to 60 per cent of office workers back in buildings and she often saw restaurants full and crowds heading to hockey games, live concerts and comedy acts at Rogers Place.

“(This year) it just felt like there was always something to look forward to. There was always lots of great activity,” she said.

She also highlighted new condos under construction. One of her big priorities for the year ahead is attracting people to live downtown.

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“We’ve got about 13,000 residents downtown right now and we want to get to 20,000 within the next decade, hopefully sooner than that,” said McBryan.

She said there are more than 60,000 students attending the two post-secondary schools downtown — Macewan University and Norquest College — and she wants to see more housing options built for them downtown.

Click to play video: 'New opening date for long-awaited downtown Edmonton grocery store'
New opening date for long-awaited downtown Edmonton grocery store

She’d also like to see retail stores that support the residential base come to downtown.

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“My dream is to see an urban Canadian Tire or Home Depot, and more of those stores where you can actually have a complete community downtown where everything is walkable,” she said.

She said now that a grocery store opened downtown in November, the neighbourhood is one step closer to being truly walkable.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton business owners fed up with social disorder in downtown core'
Edmonton business owners fed up with social disorder in downtown core

But she said there’s still work to do.

“Our biggest challenges facing our downtown are society’s biggest, most unsolvable problems right now,” said McBryan.

She said the task force recently formed by the province to tackle social issues in Edmonton is a promising sign.

Click to play video: 'Downtown Edmonton issues and the municipal budget'
Downtown Edmonton issues and the municipal budget

The problems facing downtown Edmonton aren’t unique to the city, said McBryan.

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“I’ve had the privilege of visiting a few other cities over the last year and connecting with my counterparts from downtown associations all over North America. We’re not alone in the issues that we’re facing,” she said.

She said she’ll always advocate on the issues of homelessness, addiction, crime and mental health, but also focus on what the DBA can control.

“We’re really here to be the chief optimist for our downtown, and put on great events and market all the great businesses that we have.”

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