Edmonton’s downtown is being held hostage by the arena

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 ❤ 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.

Vibrant Streets X-posed

I was across the pond in London last week, so I was unable to attend the Downtown X-posed event that took place on Thursday at the Shaw Conference Centre. Though I wasn’t there in the flesh, I did participate by way of a video!

Here’s my video on vibrant streets downtown. It focuses on 104 Street, the “blueprint” for future streets in Edmonton’s downtown.

I saw some really positive feedback via Twitter, so I hope the video was well-received at the event.

The features I went through in the video are not the only things that make a street vibrant of course, but I do think they are important. The bottom line is that people make streets vibrant, so we need our streets to attract and support people. No other street downtown does that better at the moment than 104 Street.

I <3 YEGDT: Downtown X-posed

Hundreds of Edmontonians will gather next Thursday at the Shaw Conference Centre for a full day event focused on downtown. Organized by the EEDC and the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force, the Downtown X-posed event will provide an opportunity to learn more about the broad array of things happening downtown, and will also give attendees a chance to provide input and feedback on how we can continue the positive momentum.

The vibrancy and character of a community’s downtown is a critical part of its identity. Think about places you’ve travelled to and you’ll know exactly what we mean. Please join us for a dynamic, one-day, one-of-a-kind event to learn about Edmonton’s downtown – what we have now, what’s in the works, what’s yet to come, and some new things we might need to consider. Come learn, talk, connect and get involved in your downtown. As goes your downtown, so goes your city.

51/366: I <3 yegdt

It has been a pretty great year for our downtown. EPCOR Tower, the first new office tower in two decades and also our tallest, opened.  Despite some hiccups, both the arena project and the new Royal Alberta Museum appear to be moving forward. The province is working to complete the renovations of the Federal Building and the adjacent Centennial Plaza in time for next summer. The first phase of construction on Capital Boulevard is underway. MacEwan University has started working toward its single sustainable campus. I could go on – the point is, there’s a lot happening! Megaprojects aren’t enough though, we need more people living and working and shopping and learning downtown. What are the barriers this? How can we make it happen? What are we missing? Join us next week to discuss those questions and more.

I had the opportunity to talk about the event yesterday on CTV Edmonton:

Downtown X-posed runs from 7:30am until 3:30pm on December 15. Tickets are just $50, which includes breakfast and lunch. You can purchase tickets here. If you can’t make it, be sure to follow along with #yegdt on Twitter.

ONEdmonton’s Downtown Vibrancy Task Force supports the Proposed Downtown Arena and Entertainment Deal

Today the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force finalized a letter to City Council expressing our support for the proposed downtown arena and entertainment deal. This is a follow-up on the January letter written in support of the rezoning. Here’s the letter:

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Our chair, Stantec’s Simon O’Byrne, spoke to Council in the second group of participants at today’s public hearing. A couple of his statements:

  • “Only people matter when it comes to vibrancy.”
  • “We believe this deal is an acceptable and advantageous tradeoff for Edmontonians.”
  • “No other catalyst will result in more people downtown.”
  • “Incredible opportunity to turn 16 acres of horrifically ugly gravel parking into the city’s premiere destination.”

The public hearing continues all day at City Hall. You can watch or listen live here.

Recap: YEGDT Patio Flash Mob

Yesterday the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force held an event at 105 Street and Jasper Avenue called the Patio Flash Mob. Our “awareness” subcommittee came up with the idea a few weeks ago. What we wanted to do was encourage people to think about downtown a little differently:

Falling leaves. Crisp mornings. But that doesn’t mean the fun stops outdoors as the summer winds down. Stretch that patio season a little longer. Celebrate the vibrancy of downtown Edmonton. A vibrant downtown brings more people, who bring yet more people and more business to the urban core.

The idea was to create a little bit of a spectacle, so we positioned tables and chairs on all four corners of the intersection. It’s a busy intersection, so we knew a lot of folks stuck in cars would see us. Anyone could stop by and have a seat on our “patio” and many did!

Patio Flash Mob

Our thanks to Martin Kerr (in the background there) who provided some excellent music for the patio party. We had some playing cards and sidewalk chalk available for people to play with, but it was great to see what people brought with them!

Patio Flash Mob

We did want it to really feel like a patio, so we engaged some local businesses to help us out. Flirt Cupcakes made some delicious free I LOVE YEGDT-branded cupcakes, and they even offered table service! Transcend Coffee also came down to offer free coffee – given the cooler temperature yesterday, I think everyone really enjoyed that!

Patio Flash Mob

To help build a little buzz, we also created some stencils and used temporary marking paint to put the I LOVE YEGDT logo all over the area. Simple but effective. We also gave out dozens of t-shirts with the logo on the front.


We didn’t get the turnout we were hoping for, perhaps due to the weather (we need to change this!) or the fact that it was Tuesday evening, but it was still great to see a bunch of people taking advantage of downtown streets and sidewalks.

Stay tuned for more cool stuff from the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force, or if you’re feeling inspired, go and create something awesome for downtown yourself!

See you at What the Truck?! 2 on Friday!