Red Deer business owners are glad to see downtown rejuvenation is a top priority for the new city council.
But Tracy Chabot warned, “Change is long overdue. Businesses and residents are tired of the talk and want immediate action.”
She’s having trouble filling several vacated commercial properties she owns near the temporary Cannery Row homeless shelter. Prospective tenants all want to know about crime and vagrancy, said Chabot, “and I’m an honest person,” whose answers turn them away.
Core area businesses are still being “pummelled” by social disorder, said Cabot, who believes it’s asking too much for merchants to wait another two-to-three years until a permanent homeless shelter is built outside the city centre.
If land hasn’t been secured yet, Chabot fears Red Deerians will wait even longer than three years for the permanent shelter to be opened with wrap-around services.
Council must focus on crime as part of the rejuvenation effort, she added.
While illegal activities are reportedly down in Red Deer, Chabot questions by how much? A 2019 AreaVibes report using Stats Canada data indicated this city’s crime rate as 176 per cent above the national average, “so there’s a long ways to go.”
Red Deer also occupied the No. 10 spot in an article titled Canada’s Most Dangerous Places 202o, and Chabot feels many downtown businesses remain “under siege” from small thefts, broken windows and other mischief.
She believes that relocating the Overdose Prevention Site, along with the homeless shelter, is a necessity and should help the downtown crime situation.
“I do not want to be the voice of doom and gloom, but I do want to ensure that the new council is not going to downplay our current situation and that they are ready… to tackle our very real problems without delay.”
Chung Mah, owner of Wei’s Westerner Wear, has similar concerns about crime and vagrancy.
Noting that “healthy communities have to have a vibrant downtown,” Mah urges the new city council to find more ways of attracting more people and businesses to the city centre.
In the past 10 years major banks, retail operations and offices have exited the city’s core — and Mah largely blames social disorder and the drug crisis.
He anticipates a time when people come to the city centre, have a coffee or ice cream, and hang around because it’s a nice place to be.
While he commends efforts behind the Wednesday farmer’s market, Ross Street Patio, and hopes the Capstone area will get built up, Mah would like to see more special events happening north of Ross Street too.
He noted the city’s social support agencies don’t need to all be located within the same few blocks. “We’ve been here for 60-some years — and we aren’t moving.”
George Barry, of Barry Architecture, hopes some new municipal programs will be implemented to bring more residents downtown by developing a stronger perception of public safety.
Barry believes Red Deerians need to take back their city centre, and take better advantage of what businesses are already there.
“We want to ensure that council is respectful… and understands if you don’t have customers, you don’t have business… They’ve got to help show there’s a lot Red Deer has to offer.”
Amanda Gould, executive director of the Red Deer Downtown Association, said she’s excited to be working with a new group of councillors that appear tuned into businesses, with many citing downtown renewal as a focal concern.
What happens with the temporary homeless shelter could determine the success of the downtown rejuvenation effort, she added. “It has a big impact on the downtown.”