Bone of Contention: Council’s Lack of Representation at Downtown Recovery Event

While councillors were not officially invited to the Downtown Recovery Coalition's launch event two blocks from City Hall, they were aware of it
At the podium: DRC co-chair Alex Hryciw. Background, L-R: Chad Helm, Kevin McKee, Downtown Business Association Executive Director Puneeta McBryan and DRC co-chair Anand Pye.

More than 100 people gathered Thursday at the Downtown Recovery Coalition’s launch event, across the street from the YMCA.

But not one of them was a member of Edmonton City Council. There were media members, developers, property owners, residents and small-business owners. NDP MLA David Shepherd was there.

And council’s lack of representation at the event didn’t sit well with some. “It’s frustrating that no councillor is here,” said Wayne Jones, co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Icehouse and Cask & Barrel, both located downtown. “The problems are all over the place. We live downtown, so we walk to work every day, and we see the problems. But none of the city councillors live downtown, and they really don’t see it. And if it takes this kind of adversarial action to get things to happen, then this is what has to be done.”

Other business owners in attendance told Urban Affairs that they felt council was hostile to the idea that this public event, which shone a spotlight on the issues of crime, homelessness and garbage, was held in the first place.

DRC co-chair Alex Hryciw emphasized that no member of council was formally invited to attend the event, which saw the DRC make the case for better security, more cleanliness and better strategies to tackle homelessness. “We didn’t actually invite them,” she said. “We informed them. We want to collaborate, certainly, with them and will continue doing so.”

The event was held just a couple of blocks from City Hall. Jones said  a person recently overdosed on the patio of the Cask & Barrel. His staff simply aren’t equipped to deal with overdoses, but a patron was able to offer help and stay with the overdose victim for 90 minutes, until help arrived.

“The beat cops we have have been great, but the problem is, they’re just not enough of them,” he said. “They get pulled anywhere and everywhere.”

Chad Helm, owner of The Helm men’s clothing store, which is located  near 102nd Avenue and 103rd Street, said crime is worse now than it’s been in his store’s decade-long existence.

“Six months ago we had our first break-in,” he said. “Unfortunately, this incident was not the last. Since then, we’ve experienced two more break-ins, one of which the culprit was so bold as to throw a brick through the front of our window at our former location and run away with our cash till.”

Kevin McKee, CEO of Pangman Developments, warned that many of the investors in large-scale downtown projects don’t live in Edmonton. So, when they visit Edmonton, they need to be impressed by the city. And, lately, they have not been. They’ve felt unsafe. And he warned that the end result may be investment dollars being pulled out of the city.

Hryciw said there are simple things that can be done to improve the downtown experience. Garbage cans are often left overflowing and are overturned. Sidewalks need to be cleaned. And utilities and ETS can do a better job with the orange pylons and gates that not only make it difficult to drive, but to bike and walk.

What are the priority locations that need to be addressed?

Said Hryciw: “Outside of any of our hotels. We have guests staying in the core. Any street-level retail space, as well. Restaurants. They’re facing a lot of harassment right now. We want to prioritize where people are gathering and visiting — 104 Street comes to mind. Outside of Enbridge Tower comes to mind. Fairmont Hotel [Macdonald], JW [Marriott].”

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi took to Twitter to address the DRC event.

“In collaboration with local businesses, artists, community leaders, social agencies and safety providers, my office and I are committed to breathing life back into downtown,” read the tweets from his account. “Together, we can revitalize this area through investments, activations and initiatives that promote vibrancy, community safety and well-being, and economic growth, right here in our downtown core.”

(Ed. note: Coun. Michael Janz told UA that, as Hryciw said, he was not invited to the event, but was not aware of it beforehand, either. Coun. Tim Cartmell told us that he was in committee meetings Friday, tried to make arrangements to the be at the DRC event, but simply couldn’t shift his schedule.)