Downtown leaders call on Sohi for budget boost to spur recovery efforts

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

Downtown business and community leaders want Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to follow through on campaign promises to champion the area's recovery, urging him to boost funding for vibrancy initiatives and offer financial incentives for residential and Warehouse District projects.

"As you know, COVID-19 has created or accelerated many economic and social challenges at the heart of our city, which need to be addressed through immediate and co-ordinated responses," Nick Lilley, chairperson of the Downtown Recovery Task Force, said in a letter to the mayor.

The 15-member task force includes volunteers from the Downtown Business Association, BOMA, Edmonton City Centre, and private sector property developers and managers. There are also community representatives from the Downtown Edmonton Community League and the Reach Council for Safe Communities.

The letter to Sohi, sent in advance of budget discussions, stresses the need for improved safety measures downtown to counter reports of increased crime after the pandemic caused foot traffic to plummet.

The task force also asked Sohi to consider a boost in funding for the Downtown Vibrancy Strategy, from the currently budgeted $5 million to $28 million over the next two years. It also advocates for a continuation of Economic Recovery Construction Grants in 2022 to accelerate residential construction projects, and bring both jobs and residents downtown. The task force also supports tapping into existing capacity under the Community Revitalization Levy bylaw to spur growth in the Warehouse District.

Customers at 1st Round in downtown Edmonton

1st RND in downtown Edmonton has a packed house Nov. 25, a sign of life returning to the heart of the city. 1st RND Downtown

Sohi's election platform made 10 commitments to downtown, which included such ideas as more festivals, an artist recovery grant to fund projects in the core, and encouraging companies to keep downtown office spaces

Commercial real estate developers are already pointing to projects like the upgraded former HSBC building as evidence of downtown's potential to attract tenants.

Cameron Martin, senior leasing manager with Epic Investments, said helped lead significant improvements to the building then moved into the central location, along with Invest Alberta. "Investing in modernizing buildings results in positive leasing activity," Martin told the Edmonton Journal.

Martin was speaking at the kickoff for the first commercial real estate update and tour put on by NAIOP, Edmonton's commercial real estate development association, to showcase new building projects.

Industrial spaces have proven to be one of the most successful sectors throughout the pandemic. "It's been a real winner over the last 24 months in our region, just because of the real booms in e-commerce growth. People are buying things online. They want things delivered to their door," Bronwyn Scrivens, an associate broker with Omada Commercial, told Global News Edmonton.

Anand Pye, executive director of NAIOP, is optimistic the industry is recovering, despite the lingering effects of the pandemic. Pye expects the number of employees working at the office will climb to 85% by next spring from the current 50% level, CBC Edmonton reported.