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Opinion: Insist on a safe downtown; the stakes are high for Edmonton

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Two steps forward. A step back. Or is it one step forward, two steps back?

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It’s been feeling like the latter for downtown Edmonton lately. The University of Alberta announced it will bring 500 people downtown to work in Enterprise Square. The proud old building, Edmonton’s original Hudson Bay location dating back to 1939, has undergone a beautiful interior renovation and will make a wonderful home for its employees. step forward.

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But that news was followed by a double whammy for downtown. The Sport Chek and Atmosphere stores in downtown Edmonton, a flagship tenant, are moving out. And Google’s DeepMind Lab, a center of excellence for global research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, announced it would also be rolling up the carpet. The other two Canadian offices in Toronto and Montreal did not suffer a similar fate. In fact, the Edmonton team will be offered the opportunity to relocate there, the company said in a press release. Two steps back.

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Many factors play a role in the decisions companies make about which markets to operate in and where to allocate capital. But it’s hard not to feel like these closures are a vote against our downtown and our city. Sport Chek and Google are demanding organizations. They have many other locations to compare themselves to. And when they had to decide what to do with their downtown Edmonton stores, they decided to go.

The Downtown Recovery Coalition is a voluntary group of businesses and non-profit organizations involved in the success of downtown Edmonton. We’ve been sounding the alarm about the state of downtown for months, and we’re deeply disturbed by these announcements. We’re afraid they won’t be the last we’ll hear from either. Other public-facing companies certainly have similar thoughts and internal conversations about continued profitability. Edmonton has seen periods like this before, and we know it can take a long time to recover. Too long for anyone’s good.

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When Edmonton residents and visitors come downtown to live, work and spend their money, they need to be assured of their personal safety and security. And they need to be comfortable with the cleanliness and maintenance of public spaces, with regular garbage sweeps and well-maintained planters, benches, and other amenities on the sidewalks. These are the minimum stakes for a thriving downtown that aims to attract the pedestrians and businesses that create vitality.

In our downtown area, a popular locally owned wine shop is keeping its doors locked at 104 Street. You have to knock to get in. Young office workers are too afraid to walk down the stairs to the underground LRT stations, so they avoid taking the transit. Street-front retailers have experienced repeated nighttime ‘break-and-grab’ burglaries. Open alcohol and drug use in public spaces such as parks, sidewalks and LRT entrances is commonplace.

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These are not symptoms of a healthy ecosystem.

There are also financial ramifications for all local taxpayers if the downtown area withers. The trade tax depends on the value of the building. And the value of the buildings is based on the rent that tenants pay. Vacant buildings bring less tax revenue to the city.

We saw this story unfold in Calgary as downtown was being hollowed out by commercial tenants. The result was that housing taxpayers had to make up some of the deficit created by the decline in the estimated value of downtown towers. So whether you go downtown or not, if you live in Edmonton, the condition will affect you.

We all need to redouble our efforts and insist on a safe and clean inner city. These are the city council, business, non-profit organizations, the police and private individuals. The commitment to our community could not be higher. Even though we’ve lost Sport Chek and Google DeepMind, let’s work together to end this trend.

Chad Helm is the owner of The Helm Clothing, a downtown retailer. Jim Brown is the founder of Sherrick Management, a real estate development company. Both are members of the Downtown Recovery Coalition’s Steering Committee.

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