The Pulse: May 6, 2024

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  • 17°C: Cloudy. Rain beginning in the afternoon. High 17. UV index 3 or moderate. (forecast)
  • Red/White: The High Level Bridge will be lit red and white for Polish Heritage Month. (details)

Two men stand by the paddles of the Edmonton Riverboat.

Meet the new owners of the Edmonton Riverboat

By Stephanie Swensrude

Rob Davy and Eric Warnke met in the early 2000s as teenagers working at Nexopia. Nearly a quarter-century later, the two serial entrepreneurs are the new owners of the Edmonton Riverboat.

Davy, co-owner of Laser City, and Warnke, whose startup Mover was acquired by Microsoft, are working to finalize a purchase deal with Jay Esterer, who bought the boat in 2016. The two told Taproot they want to take the Edmonton Riverboat to the same level as attractions like the Muttart Conservatory, Fort Edmonton Park, and West Edmonton Mall.

"I think we can do a really good job of making sure that this vessel is added to the top-of-mind things that people should be doing in Edmonton," Warnke said.

The Nexopia connection has never left Warnke and Davy, who remain close friends. Both said what they did during and after Nexopia is informing how they will approach the business of buying and operating a floating Edmonton icon.

Nexopia was Canada's first social network, before Facebook and Myspace. It was founded in 2003 by Timo Ewalds. Davy was around 18 when he made Nexopia its first dollar. "I put the first ad on it, and we were like, 'Oh my God, you can make money on the internet?' That was not a given," Davy said.

Warnke was at a similar age when he joined. He moderated pictures for the site, which had 1.2 million active registered users at one time. The team ran Nexopia out of Ewalds' parent's house in west Edmonton, and then an office on Rice Howard Way. "We were all still, like, 20 years old," Davy said. "Timo's mom was kind of the token proper adult involved in the organization." Davy and Warnke worked at Nexopia until 2008, when Ewalds sold the business. Six months later Nexopia's competitor Facebook blew up and users started migrating.

Years later, Davy tries to see the silver lining in the different successes Nexopia and Facebook achieved. "You either let it keep you up at night, virtually kicking yourself, or you realize that the experience that you have there is what has got you where you are now," he said. "We were really lucky — we had an opportunity there to learn about things at age 18, 19, 20, that you don't get to in university."

Davy left Nexopia and started a horseback riding stable in Ardrossan, and then a paintball arena with his partner. They added laser tag to the paintball business, and now it's become Laser City. While the core clientele for laser tag (eight-year-olds hopped up on sugar) may differ from the Edmonton Riverboat's, he said both are in the business of offering people a good time. "That's what we do in our business, we make memories. And this is another one of those memory-making experiences."

Warnke stayed in the startup and tech world after leaving Nexopia. He purchased and operated an internet café on Whyte Avenue, and then started Mesh Canada, a company that offered wireless hotspots in restaurants and cafés. "Back then, you still paid 10 bucks an hour for the hotspot, Boingo, or whatever they had at Starbucks, and I hated that," he said. Mesh was in all Original Joe's restaurants and about 100 Boston Pizzas, Warnke said.

Roughly 15 years ago, Warnke took Mesh Canada to a startup accelerator in Chile. And it's there, in a way, where his journey to the Edmonton Riverboat began. At the accelerator, he met Matt Beaubien, who years later became the boat's administrative manager under Esterer. "That's what happens in Edmonton — everyone knows everybody, everyone has some kind of connection," Davy said recently, sitting on the boat.

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Headlines: May 6, 2024

By Mariam Ibrahim

Edmonton firefighters spray water on a fire.

On the agenda: Infill fire assessments, EPCOR, waste surplus

By Stephanie Swensrude

This week, council is scheduled to discuss improved timelines for fire assessments on infill developments, EPCOR's performance measures, and a surplus in the waste services department.

There is a utility committee meeting scheduled for May 6 and a council services committee meeting scheduled for May 7. There is a non-regular city council meeting scheduled for May 8 at 9:30am and a special city council meeting scheduled for May 8 at 1:30pm. There is a city manager recruitment committee meeting scheduled for May 10.

Here are key items on the agenda:

  • Administration has significantly cut the time infill developers must wait for fire protection assessments. In 2021, the average assessment took more than 95 days, but in 2023 a majority of the assessments took just two weeks, according to a report scheduled to be presented at a utility committee meeting on May 6. Administration developed the Infill Fire Protection Assessment Program in 2019 following concerns that infill has different infrastructure requirements than greenfield development. Through the program, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services analyzes how much water flows out of a fire hydrant near the development to determine if it's enough to service the development. If not, EFRS coordinates with the developer on changes to the development application or supports infrastructure upgrades. In the future, the city is going to automate the process using geospatial technology, removing the need for an assessment — though EFRS will still review applications during the development permit stage. Administration said automation will make it easier to see which future developments will need upgraded infrastructure.
  • Councillors will discuss who among them will attend conferences and events, and their budget for this, at the first council services committee meeting on May 7. This discussion was scheduled for late January but was cancelled after the attack at city hall. Ten out of 12 councillors have submitted travel requests to attend events such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Calgary, board meetings for Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association, and the Calgary Stampede. Trip requests currently add up to nearly $96,000; the budget councillors share for these purposes is $73,000 for the year. As of press time, there was no digital city report on this discussion to share.
  • The city's waste services department has a higher-than-expected surplus from operational efficiencies and capital project delays, according to a report set to be reviewed at a utility committee meeting on May 6. Administration recommends funding approved projects with this extra cash instead of using debt, thereby saving the city about $1.1 million in interest costs annually for the next four years. The committee can recommend that council approves this move at a future meeting.
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A title card that reads Taproot Edmonton Calendar:

Happenings: May 6, 2024

By Debbi Serafinchon

Here are some events happening today in the Edmonton area.

And here are some upcoming events to keep in mind:

Visit the beta version of the Taproot Edmonton Calendar for many more events in the Edmonton region.