Waiting for the LRT

Downtown LRT construction continues to cause frustration for area businesses and residents

As Valley Line LRT construction and utility relocation continues to disrupt a large stretch of 102 Avenue, some in the area are frustrated by the impact it has had on their bottom line.

Catherine Medak, owner of children’s clothing store Alligator Pie, located in Manulife Place, estimates she has seen a 30 percent drop in business since the road was closed in January 2018. Medak’s frustration also stems from periods where construction seems to sit idle for several months at a time.

“You try to give [customers] a heads up before they’re coming and sometimes, they’re willing to venture out and find their way to you,” Medak says. “But in many instances, they hear ‘construction’ and they don’t even want to come.”

“I would say many businesses are suffering like we are in Manulife [Place],” she added.

Downtown Edmonton Community League president Chris Buyze shares some of these concerns. In addition to being bad for traffic and bad for businesses, he takes issue with how such a large stretch of 102 Avenue— from 96 to 103 Street—had to be closed all at once. He feels the impact could have been reduced if materials were brought over as needed as opposed to using parts of 102 Avenue as a laydown area for storage.

Buyze also questions the lack of wood hoarding, as he says the chain link fencing being used to fence off the area “is just not appropriate for the downtown core.”

“There are a lot of creative things that could be done around a site like this that has the potential to be there for several years,” Buyze says. “It’s such a large project to the city that it needs to look as attractive as possible […] so that businesses in the area do not suffer as a consequence of what it looks like and the amount of street area and stuff that is closed off.”

“Overall, everyone supports the LRT.” he added. “It’s just can we do it a little bit better moving forward.”

TransEd spokesman Dallas Lindskoog says while he understands how taking up such a large amount of space could appear detrimental to the neighborhood, construction would have taken longer if they had less space to work with.

“You try to give [customers] a heads up before they’re coming and sometimes, they’re willing to venture out and find their way to you. But in many instances, they hear ‘construction’ and they don’t even want to come.”

Catherine Medak, owner, Alligator Pie

“To an extent, I’m not surprised people are starting to question, ‘aren’t you done yet,’” he says. “People are getting tired and we’re doing our best to make it easy and as less impactful to the public as we can.”

City spokesman Quinn Nicholson added that the use of chain link fencing as opposed to wood hoarding helps keep the area visible for pedestrians, and that it also helps reduce crime on construction sites.

Lindskoog says that LRT construction on 102 Avenue is expected to finish sometime this year as scheduled. However, he says the area may still need to be closed to traffic beyond the end of 2020 as they need to do electrical work and testing once construction is complete.

When completed, the Valley Line LRT will run from 102 Street and 102 Avenue to Mill Woods, with an interchange at Churchill to connect to Capital and Metro lines.

Summer festivals postpone return to Churchill Square

This summer was supposed to mark the return of festivals to Sir Winston Churchill Square, the premier outdoor space in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced the province to cancel all major gatherings while organizers reconsider their plans for summer 2020, postponing the return of summer fun to the famous city square.

Festivals were unable to use Sir Winston Churchill Square for almost two years, starting in summer 2018, when construction of the Valley Line LRT forced the square to close. The Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, Taste of Edmonton and other festivals were forced to relocate other venues.

Taste of Edmonton (2017)

The Street Performers found a temporary venue just north of Whyte Avenue, while the Taste of Edmonton relocated to Capital Plaza, north of the Alberta Legislature. This summer was meant to mark a return to their traditional home.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, festivals and events that previously called Sir Winston Churchill Square home were all planning to return to the square in 2020. Each of these festivals is now weighing their options within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and will make decisions related to their 2020 event in the coming weeks and months,” said Karen McDonnell, a spokesperson for the City of Edmonton.

Restrictions on gatherings of more than 15 people were still in place in early May, with the expectation that these restrictions will likely continue throughout the summer. The city’s civic events and festivals section was not accepting new event applications as of late April.

While large gatherings at Sir Winston Churchill Square are prohibited, organizers are looking at ways of moving forward while abiding by provincial restrictions.

“We are not cancelling the good that can come from the festival,” said Shelley Switzer, the festival producer for the Street Performers Festival. “We are going to adapt to still provide the fun, the connection, the ways to find some laughter and smiles to continue to be kind and good and find a little bit of good through this time.”

“We are not cancelling the good that can come from the festival.”

– Shelley Switzer Producer, Street Performers Festival

Switzer didn’t have specifics about what may come, but said they will be making announcements on their website, edmontonstreetfest.com.

The Taste of Edmonton has also postponed their 2020 festival, looking to return stronger in 2021. After two years at the Alberta Legislature, Events Edmonton General Manager Donovan Vienneau said they were excited to make the return to Churchill Square.

It was supposed to be an exciting year implementing learnings after two years away from their traditional location, trying some new layouts back at the square. Unfortunately, Vienneau said they will have to postpone Taste of Edmonton until 2021.

“We are open-minded to try to do something [online], but with us being a non-profit organization, we have to be fiscally responsible,” said Vienneau. “It would need to be very strategically implemented for us.”

Best of The Yards

Omar Mouallem was the founding editor of The Yards magazine–he worked with the initial team to create and put in place many of our magazine’s well-known features: Best in the Core, Front Yards, and our focus on accessible urbanism.

Omar Mouallem

Since his days with The Yards, Mouallem has been busy. He has edited numerous magazines in Alberta while contributing stories to The Guardian, WIRED, and NewYorker.com while co-authoring the national bestseller. As editor, Mouallem brought to The Yards his vision for what a magazine covering life in central Edmonton could become and what stories it could tell.

I met with Mouallem in the sleek new JW Marriott hotel lobby in the heart of Ice District. Five years ago this was a construction site sitting on top of a recently demolished Staples big-box retail store and its surface level parking lot. As Edmonton’s media has evolved over time, so has the city landscape that we cover.

Mouallem told me how his vision for the magazine was conceptually birthed from an article he wrote for Vue Weekly about the controversy surrounding the Brewery District development. The community’s push for a higher-density, transit-oriented urban development seemed to be running up against an immovable wall.

“It was kind of the first Yards piece, in a way,” Mouallem explained. “That story showed people in Oliver what they were up against, because here was something that seemed like a slam dunk – neighbours, residents were all for it one way, and pushing for it one way, and yet that formula for how we develop in Edmonton which was created and set into motion 20 years or so ago was too strong.”

“Administration went out of their way to demote the opinions of high-density urbanists and promote the opinions of the status quo.”

There was a clear need for a new voice to speak out on behalf of core residents. Mouallem explained how he set out to ensure every issue of the fledgling publication had an article exploring an urban issue issue impacting our neighbourhoods, bringing accessible urban planning discussions to residents for developments like the Brewery District.

“That article, I think it showed the kind of voice that the community can have in journalism if the time is taken to write it,” Mouallem explained.

“The Edmonton Journal cannot justify putting one journalist on that story for one week to investigate and interview, the stakes aren’t high enough. But a publication whose only stakeholders work and live in that area can and should.”

Mouallem noted with approval that there has been a consistency in the magazine’s structure, yet a gradual change in focus since Winter 2014, responding to shifts in both local and global trends.

“It’s cool to have been a part of inventing, with the team, institutions such as Best in The Core – but the essence of the stories now have become more human focused and less about architecture, design and urbanism, and more about things that people are concerned about today, post 2016,” Mouallem said, highlighting some of the issues that he felt really resonated with the current socio-political climate.

He noted a number of articles managed to take larger issues and localize them – the Frank Oliver article as a story on reconciliation and about rethinking our icons, an article on Me Too in the core, a historical story about racial segregation. Mouallem pointed out that the power of a hyper-local magazine can be seen in how you tackle these large issues, such as with the climate change article in Fall 2019, and make them relevant to people in their communities.

“I think it is the kind of story that you really need to publish in 2020 to keep people interested. That’s what people are thinking about, and there’s this anxiety and dread about the future of the planet. Even though it’s this hyperlocal magazine, you can take those global issues and localize them – and you should, because then it makes these really big and abstract, intangible issues suddenly concrete and in front of you and maybe even resolvable, manageable.”

In naming this magazine, the moniker had to advocate for those living here, while speaking to Edmontonians from every corner of our exploding city that rely on the city centre for work or leisure. It had to portray the positive changes and the new faces of downtown, without abandoning the inner city’s seniors, families, working poor and homeless. It had to look ahead, but it couldn’t ignore the past. That’s how we landed on “The Yards.” It harkens back to the old Canadian National rail yards along 104 Avenue, while symbolizing what downtown is to us: a place that you invite people into, but also must protect and maintain.

Omar Mouallem, Winter 2014 Issue

Building on history

Historically-themed social media accounts with names like @Provincial Archives of Alberta and @ Friends of Royal Museum of Alberta Society aren’t typically what you’d expect the under-40 crowd to retweet and regram. And yet, retro #yeg posts have been making waves lately. To dive into this trend, just take a look at the profile pics of who’s sharing out old photos of Edmonton’s core.

Thirty-something Ester Malzahn says, “Old postcards are one of my favourite things to share because it shows how we present ourselves to outsiders.” Malzahn uses Peel’s Prairie Postcards as an online resource.

Heritage Forward’s Dawn Valentine says events like Heart Bombs get attention. “There are young people in their 20s and 30s that care about these old, decrepit buildings from way before their time. Social media is easy and immediate when you want to share with others your awe and/or disdain of old buildings we’ve demolished like the Court House and the Post Office.”

The outpouring of love for the doomed downtown El Mirador building on the Valentine’s Day weekend underscores that younger people are beginning to feel proprietary about Downtown’s dwindling heritage inventory.

Valentine says she’s noticed younger people have an affinity with old buildings as gathering places because of the warmth and history and feel of the space. “Plus old retro buildings just look fabulous in the background of your selfie!”

Dan Rose, (@the_rosbif) who co-founded Heritage Forward in 2015, has been actively using social media to raise awareness of historic buildings, going so far as to pose his dog Dot in front of heritage buildings so they can be shared out on Insta:

Heritage building enthusiast Dane Ryksen has been building his Insta account @_ citizen_dane_ for a couple of years and has a solid following for his shares of photos and stories of the city’s heritage buildings.

“To me, there’s no better place to share the city’s history than online – the amount of engagement you get is unrivalled,” says Ryksen. “It’s easier now than ever to spread these interesting and frankly really fascinating stories about Edmonton’s past, and people seem to enjoy that. Nearly every post I do, I’ll get comments going, “I walk by there every day and have always wondered about it,” or “I didn’t even know that building was there.” A recent post from Ryksen about the soon-to-be torn down Roosevelt Apartments generated lots of discussion, with sympathy for the argument that buildings should be saved or repurposed instead of simply being demolished.

This intentional shift towards reducing our personal and collective footprints by reusing instead of buying new, includes consideration of the worth of our existing building stock.

Historian Shirley Lowe says there’s no way of measuring interest of a new generation, but adds, “New ideas need old buildings.” She adds, “People just starting out can see the value of smaller, older, buildings.” She says they’re “bumping places,” places you can go to meet people.

“We lost too many beautiful, monumental buildings in Edmonton area to demo during an era when people didn’t bat an eye to full building demo (60s 70s). It was devastating to out heritage architecture landscape. Full building demo should never be normalized.” via Twitter

Graeme Matichuk: @kilograeme

Ryksen notes it bridges generations. He says when he shares on social media he gets feedback from people who have experienced the buildings themselves “back in the day.” Mahlzan says younger people “are interested in exploring the past, because history and place are so fundamental to our sense of identity.”

Follow and share using the #yegheritage and #yeghistory hashtags.

Foraging for food in the concrete jungle

Greens, eggs and ham in #yegdt

For the 12,000 people living in the downtown core, a quick trip to the grocery store for fresh tomatoes, eggs or bacon for breakfast can be a challenge. We’re all looking forward to the 2020 opening of the new Loblaws CityMarket, under construction now at 103 Avenue and 103 Street. Until then, let’s explore some of the options core-dwellers have to replenish their pantries this winter.

Farmers and produce markets

The Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market’s new indoor location on 97 Street and 103 Avenue brings everything from fresh eggs, local produce, vegan cheese, keto meals, and ocean seafood. It’s a great weekend option.

Winter access tip – The market is half a block from the Royal Alberta Museum LRT/ pedway exit.

On Wednesday afternoons from 2-4 p.m., All Saints Cathedral, 10035 103 St, runs a fresh produce market at wholesale prices. Vicar Quinn Strikwerda describes the downtown grocery situation as a “food swamp”–a term describing areas where groceries are of questionable nutritional value. He says, “having enough fresh fruit to eat is not a privilege, it’s a human right.” The market is open to everyone.

Convenience stores

There are about a dozen chain convenience stores and mo–and–pop shops downtown. Most carry canned and packaged foods with The Dollar Store in City Centre Mall offering the largest selection. Drug marts Shoppers and Rexall both have limited fresh and frozen groceries, with the two-story Shoppers in the east end of City Centre Mall carrying eggs, frozen vegetables, fruits and meals, fresh bread, and lots of packaged foods. The several 7-11s and Circle Ks downtown also carry milk, butter, eggs and bread. The chains all have competitive prices. The family-owned convenience stores have higher prices but are willing to carry what you’re willing to buy on a regular basis; most have eggs, milk and butter, and sometimes bacon.

Grocery stores near Downtown

To the east of Downtown at 95 street on 102A Avenue is United Grocers, a fabulous Asian grocery store that carries fresh western and Asian foods, many staples, and treats. Pocky anyone? On the western edge across 109 Street at 102 Avenue is the full-service Save-On Foods.

Winter access tip: Find your nearest 1, 2, or 5 bus stop – these buses will take you to either store.

Grocery stores farther for transit users

The No. 5 bus will also take you to the Italian district and Spinelli’s Italian Centre. Or take the LRT east to the 82 St. Save-On at the Stadium stop, or to Southgate’s Safeway. You can also take a bus to the Oliver Square Safeway, or the Superstore on Kingsway.

Winter tip: Acquire a fold-up grocery cart (try the luggage stores in the mall) and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it makes grocery shopping by transit.

Ready-made meals

Olly Fresco’s (107 Street and 100 Avenue, and in City Centre Mall) and Sunterra Market (Commerce Place) both have a wide selection of ready-made fresh take- home meals. 7-11 has a limited selection of ready-made salads, fruit, and sandwiches.

Winter tip: Both Olly Fresco’s and Sunterra have shops in the mall, and you can order a full meal or even Christmas dinner for pick-up from Sunterra.

Specialty foods

Evoolution sells olive oils just north of Jasper Avenue on 104 Street and a little further along, Cavern sells cheese and charcuterie. Venture north of the core to 107 Avenue or east to Chinatown you will find a vast selection of African, Halal and Asian markets.

Winter tip – Cavern will sell you a subscription cheese/charcuterie selection and they’ll even deliver!

Delivery options

Our local produce delivery service, The Organic Box, has been joined by Vancouver-based Spud and both serve the core. Save-On also delivers but it can be tricky to set up the website order – choose the “Mayfield” store with time slots from 7-9 a.m. or between 5 and 10 p.m.

Best of The Yards

With five years under our belt, I felt that our annual Best in the Core issue would be a great time to explore some of the stories we have published in these pages over the last few years.

The Yards has helped instigate important conversations for Edmonton, such as our exploration of the Oliver community’s controversial namesake, Frank Oliver (Canada 150 and some tougher history for Edmonton, by Tim Querengesser), which highlighted the painful legacy of Oliver’s actions for Indigenous Edmontonians. Conversations around the proper way to confront this legacy continue, and The Yards will continue to be here to reflect the community’s voice.

Alongside discussions of the unique challenges of high-density political campaigning and service-journalism pieces on navigating condo boards, we have covered emerging controversial issues such as safe injection sites (Are Injection Sites Safe? by Mary-Helen Clark). With stories re-printed in Alberta Views and nominated as finalists for the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA) awards, we have endeavoured to shine some light on the Downtown and Oliver perspective for a broader audience.

This last year, Yards writers Bashir Mohamed and Dustin Bajer were selected as AMPA finalists–Mohamed for his important article on a woman who challenged segregation in 1920s Edmonton, and Bajer for a defence of the value of heritage plants and the ongoing Goji-treed legacy of early twentieth century Chinese market gardens that once dotted our river valley.

With bike lanes generating civic debate, Yards writer Anna Marie Sewell looked into local cycling lore (The Legend of the Lane) to sketch out the history of Edmonton’s first guerrilla bike lane, a previously untold story of Edmontonians taking a DIY approach to active transportation that pushed the City of Edmonton to follow-up with an actual official bike lane.

The common thread in many of these stories? The Yards’ hyper-local focus on our neighbourhoods, which has allowed us to dig into key local issues that are often overlooked by larger media organizations, but remain crucially important to life central Edmonton.

We will continue to be the voice of Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods, and I want to hear from you when you have stories that need to be told. This is just a sampling of the past few years, and I encourage you to check out our archives here for more of our coverage. Thank you for joining us for our first five years!

It’s The Yard’s Fifth Anniversary!

Five years on – the Red Star pub was the only choice for a summit with the founding Publisher of The Yards magazine, Jarrett Campbell, to discuss the magazine’s creation five years ago.

“We had the first meeting here at Red Star. We launched in December, so it would have been March (2014) when we really started forming what this would be,” Campbell said, adding that the positive response from the community on the launch of this untested venture was heartening.

“A lot of people liked the idea of a community-focused nonprofit magazine.”

Before The Yards, OCL had a community newsletter that received content from unpaid writers and was distributed by volunteers to a number of buildings in the community, but was running into difficulty reaching many residents as locked front entrances to apartment and condo buildings gradually became the norm. As Campbell, then OCL president, looked at how to increase the league’s reach in the core, he reflected on the opportunity to create a larger partnership with the people who work, live and play in central Edmonton.

“Most people in Edmonton view the two high density neighbourhoods of Oliver and Downtown as one. You might live in Oliver and go to the bar Downtown, you might live Downtown and go to a restaurant in Oliver. These communities are intimately linked, have the same issues and should speak with one voice.”

OCL and DECL are now partnered with the Central Edmonton News Society, which publishes The Yards with professionally written articles by local journalists and distributes the quarterly magazine by mail to every single resident in central Edmonton. The reach of the magazine has grown further, with articles posted and shared online for the wider community to read about why Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods are so special.

As Jarrett set about determining the magazine’s funding and distribution model, Omar Mouallem stepped forward as the initial editor of the new magazine.

“What you see as The Yards – the voice, the tone, the look, the feel, and how it connects with communities and issue and people – that’s Omar’s vision,” Campbell explained, noting that engaging with motivated professionals like Mouallem who live in the area and participate in community league events has been key to the magazine’s success.

“Omar is an extremely talented person, and to have a guy like that step up to help create it, we’re very lucky.”

And The Yards’ luck continues as it changes and grows with its founding neighbourhoods. This fall’s issue was our biggest yet and we look forward to continued growth and success.

This December’s winter issue will mark the 5th anniversary of The Yards magazine.

Tech Sector hanging on

With Edmonton’s sixth annual Startup Week less than a month away, the city’s tech industries are maintaining cautious optimism about keeping their momentum in spite of a tax credit being frozen recently by the province.

Downtown Edmonton Community League president Chris Buyze noted office vacancies decreased in the first half of 2019.

“The vacancy rate is actually lower downtown than it is in other parts of the city right now,” he said.

Growth in the tech sector surged in Edmonton over the past few years with heavy support from all three levels of government, but the city’s roadmap to the future has hit a few bumps of late.

Last October, city council paused both the Innovation Hub in the new Enbridge tower and plans to establish an Innovation Corridor between NAIT and the University of Alberta. Then in August the UCP government froze the Alberta investor tax credit , pending a financial review. The NDP program was launched in 2017 to help get new businesses off the ground. However, Buyze said so far the sector has weathered the disruptions.

“Ironically, it seems downtown is still attracting investment in tech startups. A lot of the private investment is going ahead regardless of what’s happening at the provincial government level and I think that’s going to continue to be the case.”

Chris Buyze, DECL President

However, he also cautioned pulling the tax credit permanently could hinder new startups, create uncertainty and slow growth.

“We have this private investment. Why is there a possibility of withdrawal of tax credits in the provincial government?”

StartupBlink, a Swiss company that ranks cities for their startup-friendliness, named Edmonton 95th in the world in its 2019 Global Ranking of Startup Ecosystems, up 35 spots from 2017 and surging past Calgary, which dropped from 108th place to 111th. Edmonton is home to nearly 400 tech companies and the University of Alberta is counted among the best A.I. research facilities in the world.

Buyze added another benefit making downtown more startup-friendly has been a jump in renovations of older office space to attract new tenants and retain their current ones.

“We’ve got a lot of capital investments, we’ve just got to make sure we’re also doing the little things like keeping it a clean, safe and welcoming place for people to work, invest in or even live,” said Buyze. “We’re competing with jurisdictions across the world. How do we ensure the talent coming out of our universities stays here?”

Noting Edmonton has a much more diverse economy than Calgary already, Buyze said it was important to continue to push for more economic drivers than simply oil and gas.

“(A stronger tech sector) would poke some holes in that boom and bust cycle we sometimes experience.”

Startup Week runs from Oct. 21 to 25, with the city’s 10th annual Launch Day set for Oct. 24.

Offering over 50 workshops for entrepreneurs alongside networking and brainstorming opportunities, Startup Week is the extension of Launch Party, a celebration of innovation in its 10th year.

DECL: Summer Events 2019

DECL Community Space, 10042 103 St.

YARDS SUMMER LAUNCH EVENT
June 20
Join us for a discussion on accessibility in the core.
The Hendrix Roof Top Patio Doors at 6:30pm, Speaker at 7:30pm.

Read more on our Facebook event page

DECL ANNUAL PANCAKE BREAKFAST
June 15 9am-11am
Join us for our Annual Pancake Breakfast. What better way to start the day than with pancakes, sausages, coffee and juice. Only $2, proceeds go to support our programming efforts.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

DECL SOCIAL NIGHT
June 22nd, Time TBA
Join us for a DECL social night. Watch for details on our Facebook page. Location TBA in the coming weeks. facebook.com/declorg

DECL PATIO PUB CRAWL
July 25, Time TBA
Join us for our annual patio crawl. Watch for details on our Facebook page.
Location TBA in the coming weeks. facebook.com/declorg

URBAN KIDS PLAYGROUP
Every Friday, 10am-11am
Urban Kids Playgroup for downtown parents and kids 0-5 years of age! Join us for snacks and free coffee.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

FAMILY BOARD GAMES NIGHT
Third Friday of every month (June 21, July 19, August 16), 6:30pm
Bring your kids to a family-friendly board games night and meet other Downtown families.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE MEETING
Last Thursday of the month (June 27, July 25, August 29), 7pm
Join us for a discussion on the latest development proposals and city planning.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

PROGRAMS AND EVENTS COMMITTEE MEETING
First Wednesday of the month (June 5, July 3, August 7), 7pm
Join us to discuss and plan our downtown programming and events. Please email programs@decl.org if you plan to attend.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street, or other locations when required.

DOWNTOWN SUMMER GREEN SHACK PROGRAM
July 3 – August 22 Tuesdays & Fridays, 2:30pm-6pm
The City’s back with children’s programming. Additional information here.
Alex Decoteau Park (10204 105 St. NW)

What’s a Community League?
Community Leagues are unique to Edmonton. They’re inclusive, grass- roots, community-based organizations found in each of this city’s 150-plus neighbourhoods. They facilitate healthy, safe, informed and connected communities by promoting participation in recreation, social activities and civic advocacy at the sidewalk level. They’re volunteer-run and promote volunteerism because getting involved is a great way to learn more about your neighbourhood and city. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to learn valuable professional skills, meet your neighbours and have fun. Join the movement today!

Downtown Edmonton Community League
10042 103 Avenue Edmonton, AB, T5J 0X2
web: decl.org
e: info@decl.org
Facebook: DECLorg
Twitter: @DECLorg
Instagram: @declorg

DECL board of directors: Chris Buyze (President), Laurissa Kalinowsky (VP), Glenn Rowbottom (Treasurer), Rainer Kocsis (Secretary), Jason Gold, Christie Lutsiak, Michelle McGuiness, Fardoussa Omar, Cheryl Probert, Tim Schneider, Cameron Smithers, Bronte Valk, Xiaosu Zeng

Go Fourth and Prosper

With the loss of City Market, 104 Street looks at what to do next

People may still picture 104 Street in downtown Edmonton as a street teeming with Saturday farmers’ market shoppers weaving between white-capped stalls holding samples of fresh baking in their hand. But all of that will change this year.

In March, the downtown community learned its weekly (in summer) City Market was disappearing, at least on 104 Street, at least for now. The Market needed a slightly larger year-round home and found one in the historic GWG (Great Western Garment) building, at 97 Street and 103A Avenue, where it will now open Saturday and Sunday every week, rain, sun, or snow.

But while some have worried aloud with concerns about what the future holds for downtown’s most important high street and its businesses, many on the actual street remain sanguine.

“We were doing Jim Dandy before the market came,” said Ed Fong, co-owner of deVine Wines and Spirits on 104 Street.

Fong agrees that the City Market, which moved to 104 Street in 2004, gave some of his neighbours a boost, like coffee retailer Credo. But for his business and others, “it was at best revenue neutral,” he said. “We lose the people that park in front of the store and buy three cases of wine because they think there’s no parking.”

Still, some with a stake in the future of 104 Street see the street as a venue. For them, the City Market’s move requires thinking to create new opportunity.

The 104 Street Action Committee met the first week of May to lay out the options for future programming. As The Yards went to press, the group was floating ideas of a smaller market, a night market, performing arts, a series of mini al fresco events, more car shows or block parties. The Downtown Business Association was also in talks with the organizers of 124 Grand Market, who have been keen to gain a foothold downtown.

Whether this planning means the street will continue to close to vehicular traffic remains to be seen until a proposal is submitted to the City, Fong said, adding there’s “no rush” to close a deal.

Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the DBA, sees the City Market move to The Quarters as a win-win for 104.

“Let’s create something new on 104th that’s going to be great and bring in a new crowd,” he said. “But let’s support the decision [City Market made] and ensure we have a great downtown, year-round farmers’ market that’s open two days a week now.”

O’Donnell believes the City Market’s new building is a positive as well, but will take some leg work to rebuild their brand in their new home.

Plans are already coming together for complementary programming nearby, in Churchill Square, where arts groups—including the Art Gallery of Alberta, Citadel, and Winspear—are looking to expand their presence.

“The question is really, how do you replicate some of that more urban experience along 103A Avenue when there’s not much east of that at the moment?”

Ian O’Donnell

Beyond the aesthetic of the 118-year-old GWG building, City Market spokesman Dan Young said the move will take time to catch on, but said there’s opportunity in the area.

He believes development similar to what 104 Street saw during the market’s tenure there could now be in store for The Quarters. The idea isn’t to replicate that, he said, but to build a new atmosphere in a less developed part of downtown.

The market running two days a week is going to make it happen all the faster, he added.

Fong said the City Market move was all for the best — construction was starting to limit the street’s capacity for the market and retailers alike.

“Their ability to stay on this street, the time was up,” he said.