Jasper Avenue Needs the Help

For Edmonton's Main Street, U of A's Enterprise Square Move Comes Not a Moment too Soon
U of A president Bill Flanagan speaks to reporters.

It’s really easy to take a very wide view of downtown revitalization. But, in fact, there some parts of downtown that need more love than others.

As Edmonton’s main street, Jasper Avenue has seen a lot of its foot traffic head north; tenants from the street’s older office buildings have moved to shiny new digs at or near the ICE District. And, the energy you feel on game nights at Rogers Place, well it doesn’t travel the four blocks south from 104th Avenue to Jasper Avenue.

Walk on Jasper Avenue, and you see a lot of “for lease” signs in windows.

And that’s why the University of Alberta’s move to shift about 500 people to its Enterprise Square campus is a big deal. That was celebrated Tuesday with a big kickoff event at the downtown campus. There was the requisite thank yous and speeches — but, walk outside the campus, see the vacant storefronts on the street, and you have all the proof you need why Jasper Avenue is crying out for more people to arrive.

“I think geographically, it’s really tough, because our fullest towers are towards the north end of downtown, closer to the ICE District,” said Puneeta McBryan, the executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “So, to have 500 people fully in the office in this location, on Jasper Avenue, is huge. That’s because Jasper Avenue is one of the trickier areas.

“It’s the fact that these (500) are new people, too,” said McBryan. “We’ve been so focused on getting existing downtown workers back to the office.”

With Edmonton Unlimited, the organization that will support Edmonton start-ups, going in across the street in the old RBC building, McBryan is hopeful that Jasper Avenue will be getting a series of wins. That office is expected to be open to the public this coming spring.

The fact that the U of A has a presence downtown isn’t new; the university has owned the Enterprise Square space since 2005. But, for years, it felt… empty. It had maybe 200 people in it, and you could walk through it and see maybe only one or two people in the hallways. It’s taken 18 years, but the space will finally come to life.

The university has moved a lot of admin staff downtown, which has allowed it to free itself of some expensive leased spaces, and ease pressure on the bottom line in a time of funding cuts. As well, there’s an 8,000 square-foot health innovation hub, and the fourth floor spaces for start-ups to bring their ideas from drawing board to fruition.

“I think it’s fair to say that the space was under-utilized,” said U of A president Bill Flanagan. “It had never really achieved the vision that we initially wanted for this space, to be a really vibrant space of innovation and support for the university.”

For Jasper Avenue, it’s not a moment too soon.