Downtown construction has businesses frustrated and seeking relief

·3 min read
The intersection at 103rd Avenue and 102nd Street is down to two lanes as work on the Valley Line West LRT gets started. (Min Dhariwal/CBC - image credit)
The intersection at 103rd Avenue and 102nd Street is down to two lanes as work on the Valley Line West LRT gets started. (Min Dhariwal/CBC - image credit)

Restaurant owner Christian Mena is fed up with all of the construction downtown. Since opening his restaurant Sabor in 2008, the construction has been non-stop, he said.

"In that time frame, the only year we haven't had construction near us has been in the first year," said Mena inside his restaurant along 103rd Street across from the old Bay building.

Earlier this summer, he said he closed his patio because it wasn't being used and the construction was too close. Mena said the pandemic has been tough, and adding the challenge of operating with LRT and road construction means he has closed down the restaurant during the daytime.

The once-bustling downtown with over 60,000 workers is a fraction of what it used to be. Mena said there's very little pedestrian traffic downtown anymore. And because of all the road closures and detours, people don't even bother coming down to navigate it, he said.

WATCH | Downtown businesses try and cope with 273 construction projects:

"There was one point where you couldn't really drive near the restaurant, you had to park a block away and then walk because everything was blocked off," he said.

"I don't know the ins and outs of planning," Mena said. "I would certainly like to see some better planning go into effect."

'Construction impacts are crippling'

It's just one of many complaints the Downtown Business Association in Edmonton hears every week. The association has helped businesses pivot, survive, and re-invent themselves during the pandemic and construction seasons.

The most frustrating issue Puneeta McBryan has heard from businesses is the roll out of the projects and how it limits them from getting people to come back. McBryan is the executive director of the Downtown Business Association.

"The construction impacts are crippling for some of these businesses," said McBryan. "The construction impacts are almost comical right now. If it wasn't so frustrating and sad it would be hilarious."

McBryan credits the federal government's emergency rent and wage subsidies for helping keep many downtown businesses afloat. Without them, she said many businesses would not have been able to survive.

"I'm a bit speechless at what the city and its constriction partners think about what businesses are supposed to do to get through this," McBryan said.

273 projects downtown: city

A total of 273 projects have been given the green light by council worth over $7 billion, according to Adam Laughlin, deputy city manager of integrated services.

"This construction program that we have is one of the most ambitious capital programs that we've ever had at the city," he said.

Laughlin said that while he understands the businesses frustration, trying to co-ordinate $7 billion worth of projects from various levels of government — including LRT expansion, road and utilities maintenance, and beautifying projects on Jasper Avenue — undoubtedly comes with some challenges and overlap.

"There is a strategic approach to ensuring these projects are sequenced in a way to minimize impact but unfortunately construction is not an exact science," Laughlin said.

There are some positives though, according to Laughlin: the city projects are 90 per cent on budget, and 80 per cent on schedule.

Recently, work on Jasper Avenue between 109th Street and 114th Street was completed. The new vision project for Jasper Avenue near 97th Street is also reaching completion and is expected to be done by November.

"The projects that we're building are city shaping projects, there's lots of positives ... we're building great infrastructure for Edmontonians," Laughlin said.

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