Red Deer’s Downtown Business Association and police foot patrol are moving their offices right into the heart of the city’s drug and crime problems on Little Gaetz Avenue.
As of June 6, the once boarded up Eccentric Market and Cafe will become the new home of the Red Deer Downtown Business Association and it’s Catapult Entrepreneurial Incubator.
The RCMP downtown patrol officers will also be based out of the same renovated building at 5009-50th Ave.
With so many concerns expressed by businesses and customers about drug debris, loitering and crime on that block, “we need to be there… we are hoping to change the use of that area,” said Amanda Gould, executive-director of the Red Deer Downtown Business Association.
“I think people are going to be seeing some positive activity in that location,” she added, once there’s a combined police and DBA presence.
Turning the once boarded-up building into a “one-stop shop for the DBA, the downtown police and Catapult… I am quite confident (it) will improve the whole street.”
Beyond boosting safety, Gould is also happy to put a formerly boarded-up storefront back into use. She said the move will allow more space to accommodate the DBA’s Catapult business accelerator program, which couldn’t fit into the DBA’s present location in the downtown train station.
The former Eccentric Cafe was left derelict for years after its former owner died. The building was recently purchased by Seth Schalk and his father Stan, who are both with Potter’s Hands Ministries.
Seth Schalk said he personally invested in buying the building — which is in one of Red Deer’s most problematic areas — to make a positive difference to the city’s core.
“I have a heart for the downtown,” said Schalk, who noted Potter’s Hands previously created transitional and low-income housing to help get homeless people off the street.
This building will not have housing units. The upstairs will be leased to the Alberta Business and Health Institute (ABHI), a private post-secondary learning centre, said Schalk.
He believes having the DBA and downtown police patrol housed downstairs will change that block, which has seen more than its share of fights, crime and needle debris.
“We’ve done extensive renovations, knowing we’re going to have some good tenants,” said Schalk, who noted the interior will be ready for next week’s move. Work on the exterior will be started once the new tenants are in.
Nearby businesses are hopeful that having the police patrol operating out of their block will decrease panhandling, crime, and increase customers’ sense of safety.
“I’m so excited,” said Cathy Edwards, owner of Country Cupboard, who’s had neighbouring businesses move away and customers get scared away by panhandlers. She hopes things will improve with RCMP based close by.
“It’s definitely nice to see,” added her daughter, Michelle Edwards, who’s witnessed arguments and fights between street people outside the store. Although no aggression was directed towards the store’s customers, she said some elderly people, in particular, have not returned.
Dots assistant manager Bailey Lutz, and Errol White, owner of Chubby Jerk and Barbecue restaurant, are also hoping for a positive change. “I will be more comfortable with the police there,” said White.
Meanwhile, the old downtown train station will not remain empty for long.
The city’s Land and Economic Development department will be moving in by the end of June, said the city’s planning services director Tara Lodewyk. City officials feels the street-level location will be great for land sales, as well as future tourism opportunities in the downtown.
Lodewyk noted it’s proximate to the Rail Lands and the Capstone at Riverlands area. “We’re looking forward to (answering) visitors’ and businesses’ economic development and investment inquiries.”
As for the fourth floor area to be vacated in City Hall, she notes there’s a space crunch in the building, so the best use for it remains to be determined.