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'Feeling pretty dire': Downtown coalition implores change to make Edmonton's core safer


A group of downtown Edmonton business owners and neighbourhood leaders says the core desperately requires safety solutions, or the area is at risk of permanently losing investment.

On Thursday, the Downtown Recovery Coalition shared a list of goals, varying from short to long-term visions, including more security enforcement at LRT stations and improved crisis diversion response times.

The independent group representing downtown businesses, residents, developers, social agencies, and arts organizations was formed in 2016 to help integrate the downtown arena and bring investment to the area.

Over the pandemic, the coalition, led by a 25-person steering committee, pivoted to promote economic growth in the city's core and ensure businesses recovered.

Now, Alex Hryciw, coalition chair and Edmonton Chamber of Commerce strategy director, said the downtown area is in a bad state and requires significant support from all levels of government to deal with social disorder.

While businesses recognize the work the Edmonton Police Service does in the area, Hryciw says more beat cops and patrols are needed.

"It's one answer to social disorder," Hyrciw added. "It's not the only appropriate solution."

Kevin McKee, CEO of Pangman Developments and coalition member, said visitors to the area do not feel safe, and investors and business leaders are taking notice.

"We are very much at risk of losing the trust of institutional investors," McKee said. "Their capital is mobile, and they will be invested where they believe safe opportunities exist. Without urgent action, these groups will leave, and many will choose to never come back."


Chad Helm opened The Helm Clothing store in 2012. This July, the downtown business moved to a new multi-level location.

"We decided to stay (downtown) because this is where our roots are, and this is where we call home," Helm explained. "We couldn't imagine operating anywhere else."

He shared how the business suffered its first break-in six months ago, after a decade of no problems. Since then, there have been two more.

"If you look around at all the plywood covering our downtown retail spaces, I'm not the only one who's had to deal with this," Helm added.

Social disorder and open drug use downtown have become a daily occurrence, Helm said, that is "overwhelming" for both his customers and staff.

"I don't believe that this is sustainable if we want a vibrant downtown core."

Anand Pye, coalition vice chair, said once infrastructure maintenance, safety and security are addressed, longer term, the city can explore creating larger projects to transform downtown further.

"It's key to our image as a city that we improve downtown," Pye said, who is also Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP) Edmonton's executive director.

"Almost 10 per cent of the tax assessment comes from just one per cent of the area here downtown," Pye added.


"And it's the first place investors see. But it's also the first place visitors see, people who are coming to Edmonton to maybe move here, and the first place a lot of newcomers see."

While there have been some wins in the past few years, Puneeta McBryan, Downtown Business Association executive director, said more work remains to make Edmonton's core a place people feel safe coming to again.

McBryan said the city's $5 million investment last year and downtown vibrancy strategy have helped to identify issues, create an overdose response team, and spearhead the Downtown Spark festival.

When compared to other cities like Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg, McBryan says more work needs to be done.

"Our city's future hinges on the future of our downtown," she said. "The issues that we are dealing with downtown as the business community aren't your typical economic development issues. It's social issues."

"There's so many different issues that are connected here," she added in an interview with CTV News Edmonton. "It's feeling pretty dire."

"In order to get people here," McBryan said, "we have to have a level of maintenance, cleanliness, and safety." 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson Top Stories

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