Edmonton’s downtown hasn’t gotten its fair shake when it comes to capital funding over the last decade. There’s now a pretty pie chart that magically appeared to illustrate that (I’m not sure where the data comes from specifically, but it seems more or less accurate to me). I am totally on board with the idea that we should be putting our money where our mouths are. If downtown is so important to Edmonton, and I believe it is, we should be willing to back that up with dollars.
I think it’s fair to say I’m one of the biggest downtown supporters in the city. I talk about it all the time. I’ve organized plenty of events for downtown. I seeded the I <3 YEGDT campaign. I built and operate the website. I work downtown. Sharon and I chose to live downtown and purchased a condo here.
With all of that said, I want to support what the newly formed Downtown Vibrancy Coalition is trying to do, but I’m finding it very difficult to get on board. Here’s what their backgrounder states:
“If we lose the arena – over a missing $55 million – approximately $3 billion in downtown revitalization projects will be shelved or scrapped. The arena represents only one-sixth of the proposed investment. But if the arena fails, Edmonton’s downtown will lose $2 billion of private investment in the related entertainment district – new hotels, office towers, retail shops, clubs – as well as downtown parks, a river valley promenade and Jasper Avenue streetscape enhancements.”
Every single time I read that, I can’t help but think: bullshit. Is downtown important or not?
This all stems from the August 2011 decision to make the proposed arena the centerpiece of the Community Revitalization Levy. I wrote in that post that I was worried we’d be doing more harm than good for downtown by tying the two together. Now, as we’re about the lose the arena, the impact of that decision is becoming clear. We’ve put all of our eggs in one basket, or at least that’s what it looks like.
But I see no reason why downtown revitalization has to die along with the arena. The notion that you need an anchor or catalyst project for a CRL to work is false (as proven by the existence of CRLs for The Quarters and Fort Road). Furthermore, we know that programs like housing incentives work and lead to the outcomes we want. There are ways to ensure downtown gets the funding it deserves with or without a shiny new arena. Why would everything need to be shelved or scrapped?
I would love to see a new arena built downtown, and I do agree that $55 million seems like a surmountable barrier. But I don’t like that MSI funding is being used to help pay for the arena and I really don’t like that our downtown is being held hostage by it.
Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force and of ONEdmonton.