— Downtown Edmonton Community League Update —

Making downtown a destination

An interview with DBA’s Puneeta McBryan

For Puneeta McBryan, the gulf separating her new job as head of the Downtown Business Association and her previous jobs in the world of marketing and communications isn’t as wide as it might seem.

“I really view the role as: I’m here to serve our business community downtown, in a sort of similar way to how I always have, except that I’m not running individual campaigns for each business,” McBryan said. “But we’re really trying to think about downtown as this destination— your own destination to live and work and invest in.”

Leaving her role at ZGM Modern Marketing Partners, McBryan joined DBA in December as its new executive director. Her decision to make the jump from advertising to an advocacy role came while she was on maternity leave, which gave her additional time to reflect on this career change.

“I was communications director for the mayor’s re-election campaign in 2015, so working with Don [Iveson] kind of gave me a front-row seat to what it can look like to be directly engaged in helping build the city that I want to live in, and that I want next generations to live in,” McBryan said.

Downtown businesses are still grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and while COVID-19 has had varying impacts across different sectors, such as on bars and restaurants, McBryan said she’s thinking of how to better downtown as a whole.

“I think our job is to think about downtown as an ecosystem,” McBryan said. “Each of these types of businesses, and all of the residents, and all the visitors who come downtown for bars and restaurants and shopping, all of these individual groups are a part of this ecosystem. And I think the best way that we can serve any of our members is to think of that big picture.”

Inclusion is another one of McBryan’s focuses, an issue that returned to public attention when a video surfaced of police officers kicking homeless people out of an LRT station this winter. McBryan said one of the ways DBA is committed to furthering inclusivity is by supporting other organizations already tackling the issue.

“I don’t think DBA ever wants to be or should be the main character in any of this kind of work,” McBryan said. “It’s more just recognizing where there are community grassroots organizations serving racialized communities downtown and our vulnerable population downtown, and doing whatever we can both with our dollars and our audience and our influence to support that work.”

As for the months ahead, with vaccinations proceeding and public health restrictions possibly lifting, McBryan said the plan is to get people back to the core in a safe manner through community events and other festivals, albeit with modifications.

“Those of us involved in downtown vibrancy are betting big on the most positive possible outcome,” McBryan said. “It’s gonna feel different, it’s gonna be different, there won’t be big crowds, but it’ll be some form of recovery as soon as possible.”