Downtown Red Deer has an active social scene on the Ross Street Patio, the least expensive rents in the city, and ongoing beautification and mural projects.
Its biggest drawback — larger than homelessness, opioids and vandalism — is one of public perception, said local commercial realtor Brett Salomons.
He knows crime and other negatives can be found in the city’s core, as in the downtowns of any city. But Salomons believes many Red Deerians have been blowing these up beyond reality over the past few years.
“It’s not based on any kind of data… people are basing their opinions on anecdotes.”
Salomons likens the local situation to the one depicted in a documentary on the rejuvenation of Brooklyn, N. Y.
Problems arose in Brooklyn and “the more people moved out, the more vagrants moved in,” he said.
The solution, therefore, was for area residents to take back Brooklyn — to crowd out negative aspects with more positives — new stores, restaurants, residences, and offices that all generate more pedestrian traffic.
“We need more businesses to go back downtown. If people keep moving out, it’s feeding the problem,” said Salomons. “I get that no one likes being the first to the party, but there is not one magic thing, It all adds up.”
The realtor hopes more Red Deerians will help change perceptions by coming to the heart of the city to shop, or take part in checking out the growing social scene on the Ross Street Patio. Salomons noted some restaurant tables are already getting hard to get on evenings with musical entertainment.
Another positive sign of life for Red Deer’s downtown is the 50 new businesses that opened in the last year, according to the Downtown Business Association.
Salomons said the downtown vacancy rate for retail in the first quarter of 2022 has fallen to 7.3 per cent from just over 8 per cent at the end of 2021.
However downtown office vacancies have slightly increased in the first quarter of 2021.
Salomons explained this because the MMP accountants recently moved out of the downtown and into the firm’s newly constructed building off Taylor Drive. This drove the downtown office vacancy rate to 20.5 per cent from a previous 19.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2022.
Otherwise, Salomons believes downtown office vacancies would have also seen a decrease, along with the retail vacancies.
Downtown Red Deer continues to have the most economical rents in the city — a quarter of what’s being charged for some spaces on South Gaetz, said Salomons, who gets “frustrated” when some clients tell him to look for a space “anywhere but the downtown.”
That kind of prejudice used to exist for North Red Deer, he said, but with the expansion of residential areas and new developments along Gaetz Avenue North that’s no longer the case.
Moving out of any area that has some troubles “is a self-feeding vicious circle… If people keep talking bad about the downtown,” nothing will change for the better, he stressed.