The fact you’re reading this makes me assume you either work or live in downtown Edmonton. Regardless of whether you work, live or play in the downtown, what happens and doesn’t happen there has an effect on you and you should be able to help determine what that effect is.
The city has started its consultations on a downtown arena. Much of that discussion will focus on whether taxpayer money should be used to help build it. That’s a discussion that must take place. However, there are other issues a downtown arena will create that haven’t gotten much focus.
One of the things that needs to be looked at carefully is what effect a downtown arena will have on other parts of the downtown. The Katz Group’s stated plans are, to say the least, grandiose: an arena, housing, and an entertainment and shopping area. That sounds good on the face of it. But that kind of development is likely to shift the focus away from what I see as the actual downtown. To me, that’s the area on either side of Jasper Avenue between 97th Street and 109th Street.
When I first moved to Edmonton, Jasper Avenue was a happening place. During the summer, the sidewalks were filled with people and you got a real sense that you were in a city. Then along came West Edmonton Mall and it all but sucked the life out of the core. The downtown has only just begun to recover from that. There are certainly more restaurants and shops than there were just a few years ago. With a little more creativity and effort, we just might be able to create a downtown area that you would be proud to show to visitors.
So what effect would creating an entertainment behemoth on the other side of downtown have on Jasper Avenue? Hard to tell. But I suspect that it would draw people away from Jasper Avenue and our main street would remain the civic eyesore much of it currently is.
The point being, any discussion of a downtown arena must take that into consideration. A significant redevelopment of Jasper Avenue might just be enough to keep people going there in spite of having a new entertainment complex on 104th Avenue. In my next column, I’ll look at what we could do to make Jasper Avenue a destination venue.