Downtown vibrancy funds largely spent on festivals and public safety

· The Pulse
By and

The city councillor representing Edmonton's core is happy with the way funding for the Downtown Vibrancy Strategy has been spent so far, but would like to see future funds go towards more permanent initiatives.

The Downtown Vibrancy Strategy Funding Program awarded more than $4.9 million to 53 projects in 2021 and 2022. A list of 31 of those projects obtained by Taproot indicates the money was spent on a mix of perennial events, new events, crisis intervention, business supports, and efforts to explore revitalization.

"I think the downtown vibrancy strategy funding has been really successful in a lot of ways," said Coun. Anne Stevenson, who represents Ward O-day'min. "I think that there was a good balance of festivals and animation, the fun activities, and also some good focus on the community safety and well-being projects as well."

Of the $2 million shown to be allocated as of Oct. 20, $1.25 million was spent on festivals. Public safety measures received almost $311,000; business supports got just over $187,000; cultural activities received a bit more than $164,000; and conferences received almost $93,000.

Another 22 projects worth about $3 million have been awarded funding, but the agreements had not yet been finalized, so the city didn't reveal what they are.

With the focus on reviving the downturn caused by COVID-19, many of the funded projects were short-lived events or limited programs. With $5.2 million set aside as an ongoing grant for downtown vibrancy in the city's operating budget for 2023-2026, Stevenson hopes to see the money go to more lasting initiatives in the future.

"There aren't a lot of permanent installations or permanent changes to the physical infrastructure of downtown (in the vibrancy strategy)," she said. "So that would certainly be something I'd be looking for in the next round or in the upcoming announcements – permanently installed art installations or other art projects that leave that lasting benefit and animation to the downtown beyond just specific activities and events."

People gather on a surface parking lot decorated with planters and picnic tables, with a food truck in the background

The Edmonton Downtown Business Association received $199,780 from the Downtown Vibrancy Strategy fund in 2021 for a pop-up park called Root 107, offering community and cultural programming, lighting, staffing, and public washrooms on a surface parking lot on 107 Street. (Mack Male/Flickr)

The funding decisions were made by the Core Partners Committee, which includes city staff and four downtown partners: Chris Buyze of the Downtown Edmonton Community League, Paul Hawes of Explore Edmonton, Puneeta McBryan of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, and Anand Pye of NAIOP, a commercial real estate development association.

The projects are meant to align with 20 actions under the Downtown Vibrancy Strategy, intended to increase vibrancy, improve safety, and bolster resilience for those involved in business, post-secondary education, or arts and culture, as well as those who live downtown.

Among the projects disclosed on the list, these received the most funding:

  • $283,927 to Events Edmonton for Taste of Edmonton in Churchill Square in 2022;
  • $256,650 to the Western Carnival Development Association for the Cariwest Caribbean Arts Festival;
  • $199,780 to the Downtown Business Association for Root 107, a pop-up park created with the city and Explore Edmonton in 2021 to animate underutilized gravel parking lots;
  • $195,534 to the Boyle Street Service Society for overdose prevention and response teams in the downtown pedway system and the surrounding streets (plus $67,036 for similar services at the Stanley A. Milner Library);
  • $140,000 to the Edmonton PrideFest Association for PrideFest activities in Churchill Square.

Such projects not only impact those living and working downtown, but also benefit residents in the rest of the city, even if they're not taking in the festivals and art shows, Stevenson said.

"Although downtown is only 1% of the city's land area, it generates about 10% of the tax base. So investing in our downtown is really important from a sustainable, strategic perspective that supports all taxpayers."