Businesses facing Whyte Avenue alley look for city grant funding boost

·2 min read

Businesses tucked away in the back streets of Old Strathcona could soon qualify for city grants intended to help spruce up storefronts.

Edmonton councillors on the city's executive committee will debate Monday whether to open grants to alley-facing business, currently ineligible for the programs, to help furbish facades and interior storefronts.

The move would attract and sustain businesses in the alley north of Whyte Avenue, says a local bakery that helped pioneer the backstreet concept in Edmonton.

"It will encourage neighbours to join us in this backstreet project here," said Jeff Nachtigall, Sugared and Spiced co-owner.

The grants are only offered to mainstreet-facing storefronts and limited to one grant per building. If approved by city council, the exemptions would apply to alley-facing businesses directly north of Whyte Avenue between 105th Street and Gateway Boulevard.

Scott Neufeld/CBC
Scott Neufeld/CBC

Nachtigall said he and his wife, Amy, were inspired to build their alley-facing business by bakeries they encountered while travelling.

"Especially in the older cities, there were always some cool bakeries in different locations that just had a nice feel to them." he said. "They're part of the heart and fabric of an urban area."

The debate comes as the city looks to reimagine the Whyte Avenue alley as a pedestrian-friendly backstreet, with gathering spaces, lights and greenery. The project is expected to begin construction this year.

"This isn't just for people to drive here. Some people walk here, bike here, roll out of bed here. It's a real mixed-use urban area," Nachtigall said.

The exemptions would allow up to 38 commercial buildings in the area to apply for a one-time grant, according to a city report prepared for the executive committee.

Any building with an alley-facing main entrance would be eligible for up to $25,000 in matching grant funds for a rear facade and up to $20,000 for interior improvements to the storefront.

The Storefront Improvement Program can support 35 projects across the city per year, with grants ranging from $25,000 for mid-block buildings and up to $50,000 for a corner building with two facades. For interior improvements, the city can offer 18 grants per year.

City of Edmonton
City of Edmonton

The report says expanding the eligibility to the Whyte Avenue alley is not expected to "significantly impact" the ability for those grant programs to support projects in other areas of the city.

Kristie Schroeder, who visited the bakery Saturday afternoon, said she liked the idea of more bodies and businesses along the back street.

"It definitely makes you feel like you're not having to hide out or be in a place where you are feeling scared to go into the back alley because there are more people around and more liveliness."