Edmonton is launching a 20-point action plan to revitalize its Downtown with the city slated to provide $5 million in funding.
The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the economy of Edmonton’s Downtown with fewer people working and visiting the area. Up to 60,000 office workers moved to home offices, about 35,000 post-secondary students transitioned to online learning and major events and performances were cancelled.
There were 74 events in the neighbourhood in 2019 — that dropped to only three last year. Office vacancy rates slightly increased to 20 per cent and the percentage of residents who feel safe Downtown fell to 31 per cent from 40 per cent.
In a presentation to council’s urban planning committee Tuesday morning, city principal planner Claire St. Aubin said the two-year Downtown Vibrancy Strategy is intended to urgently support economic growth and bring people back to the core. Actions in the strategy include expanding public spaces, creating an incentive welcome package for new residents and businesses to the area as well as enhancing safety.
The plan is expected to cost anywhere between $7 million and $28 million depending on the scope and scale of each action taken and investment from private partners. The city will provide $5 million to get the strategy up and running that will be funded through cost savings found in the existing budget.
“Downtown is the heartbeat of the city. They say that as your Downtown goes, so too will your city. This strategy is an opportunity for a collective, intentional response to the impacts of COVID-19 on Downtown and for a return to the bustling, lively and safe place we know Downtown to be,” St. Aubin told councillors Tuesday. “Partnership is key. The city is one player in this work and it is the sum of our parts that will make us effective.”
Downtown Business Association executive director Puneeta McBryan said the organization wholeheartedly supports the proposed strategy and will leverage its much smaller $1-million budget to the best of its ability to advance as many actions as possible. Success of the Downtown doesn’t only impact those who live there but the entire city, McBryan said, pointing to the fact that it represents nine per cent of the city’s tax base but only one per cent of area.
“If we’re to build a Downtown that can support and enable our economic aspirations and our city plan aspirations, we need to be continually investing in programming and activating our public spaces, intentionally building community Downtown, fostering and increasing our diversity, driving and measuring foot traffic, creating an exceptional street level and active transportation experience and prioritizing an innovation mindset,” McBryan said, noting these are all reflected in the planned strategy.
Work has already been underway since the pandemic began with more than $271 million of investment toward relief initiatives in the Downtown. This includes the city’s economic recovery construction grant, which to date has provided funding for seven construction projects with a value of $324 million and the creation of 1,254 residential units and 2,614 construction jobs.
Since 2014, more than $4.4 billion in private investment has been made Downtown and already $1 billion has been approved for planned developments in 2021.