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Sohi, DBA want to bring more businesses downtown as Sport Chek leaves Edmonton City Centre

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The city and other stakeholders in downtown Edmonton say more help is needed to address social issues in the area.

On Thursday, Sport Chek announced it’s closing its store in Edmonton City Centre (ECC) in March.

The mall’s general manager Sean Kirk responded with a statement saying the ECC’s ownership group was hesitant to invest any more money into downtown because of “significant safety issues.”

On Friday, Kirk issued a new statement clarifying his comments.

“Continued investment to upgrade and improve Edmonton City Centre, maintain a first class shopping centre for our tenants and guests, and attract new and exciting retailers and businesses remains a priority,” Kirk wrote.

“When the ownership group invested in Edmonton City Centre in 2019, they had the full intention of adding more density to the existing site that could include residential towers and additional commercial spaces. However, due to many factors, including safety in downtown, any expansion plans have been delayed until downtown market conditions improve.”

'THIS IS A CRISIS'

The mayor says safety is a concern in the downtown core, but it’s not an issue that’s unique to Edmonton.

“Every major urban centre in Canada is facing the implications of not investing enough in ending houselessness and tackling mental health trauma, the addictions trauma. And we see the ramifications of that in our streets,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said, adding mental health, addictions, and houselessness are provincial responsibilities.

“I’m glad the province is stepping up a bit, they need to do more, we are dealing with the ramifications. We have to increase more enforcement, we’re dealing with encampments, we’re dealing with disorder in our communities, we see people die every day because of cold weather or drug overdoses, so this is a crisis that our communities are facing, and all of us need to work together.”

Puneeta McBryan of the Downtown Business Association is also looking for the province to do more.

“The province has a big role to play because the problems are so much bigger than any of us can do on the ground,” she told CTV News Edmonton.

On Thursday, the city received $4 million from the province for live events, promotion, graffiti removal, cleaning, and snow removal.

An additional million was granted to the DBA for marketing and festivals.

McBryan is quick to point out that money can’t be used to make downtown safer.

“This was an economic development grant, so the province was very prescriptive in saying this was not money that could be used for any social services or any safety initiatives,” she said.

“I want to make sure our businesses and the public don’t have the impression that we don’t think safety and social disorder are the top priorities, because they absolutely are.”

Brian Jean, minister of jobs, development, and northern development says the provincial government will invest in ways to make downtown safer.

“We need to make sure that we make people feel safe, make people feel secure, and some of those things we can do are investments in lighting, investments in security, ensure that there are no options for people to do crimes and to live on the streets, which means they have to have alternative opportunities and that means that this government has to invest in that, and we are investing in that.”

DOWNTOWN IMPROVEMENTS

Despite the challenges, McBryan is still hopeful the money will help attract new retailers and consumers to the downtown core.

The DBA will use a portion of the funds from the province to launch a retail attraction initiative.

“It’s basically going to allow us to select retailers that are really, sorely needed downtown, where we know residents and office workers are looking for this type of retail and de-risk it for retailers who do want to come and open downtown, and just make it as easy for them to succeed as possible.”

While details are still being worked out, she says they will be looking at ECC when they scout out locations.

In addition to securing new retail, McBryan says the money will be used to pay for three large-scale murals and fund the Downtown Spark festival, a live music and arts festival at the end of May.

“We were not sure if we’d be able to do it again because it was COVID recovery funding from the federal government that funded it the last two years,” she said.

“It really helps bring downtown back to life in the spring. It’s great for residents, we see lots of families, it’s a great excuse for people to come out of the office on those days.”

WIth files from CTV News Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg and Nahreman Issa 

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