Paul Harris and Terry Warke, co-owners of Sunworks, have combined both art and retail in their new downtown location at 110-4913 Gaetz Ave. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Red Deer looks to be creative to attract business downtown

Co-op to close downtown store after 56 years

Eyes are on downtown Red Deer as Central Alberta Co-op prepares to close its grocery store on 47th Avenue.

Last week, the Co-op announced it will shutter its Red Deer Plaza store this summer after an extensive review to adapt and ensure the group’s sustainability.

Long-time business owner Paul Harris said the closure is part of the downtown’s continuing evolution.

“I’m not pessimistic about it at all. It happens over time. I remember when Hudson’s Bay moved years ago, and that building sat empty. Now it’s the Millennium Centre,” said Harris, co-owner of Sunworks, this week.

Sunworks recently moved to 110 4913 Gaetz Ave., across the street from Dose Coffee, after 22 years on Ross Street.

He said other downtown businesses are also relocating, including Games and Music, which is moving into Sunworks’ old location.

”I think there will be some new businesses that crop up on the street over the next few months. Once a new government is in, it tends to create stability for a while.”

But the downtown does need more residential space, and a residential/retail building may be a good fit for Red Deer Plaza, Harris said.

Rick More, Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce CEO, said anytime a business closes or moves away, it is a concern.

Maintaining a thriving downtown is always a challenge, and Red Deer has focused too much on piecemeal projects like the temporary Ross Street patio and the promotion of Alexander Way, said More.

Capstone at Riverlands is an important up-and-coming project, but the downtown can’t be ignored in the meantime, says the chamber of commerce boss.

He said the slump in the economy has impacted Red Deer, but the new UCP government is expected to institute changes quickly.

“I’m hoping that Alberta is going to make some big changes to help businesses. Maybe that will help people who are just hanging on through this.”

“Healthy businesses — healthy city,” More said.

Adriana LaGrange, newly elected MLA for Red Deer-North, said the new UCP government is looking at reducing corporate taxes from 12 to eight per cent over four years and will eliminate the carbon tax to reduce stresses on certain businesses.

“I know Jason Kenney is very keen to hit the ground running and start working on improving the overall economy for all of Alberta.

“I anticipate that we will be moving fairly quickly on certain pieces. But I think overall, we’ll have to look at how we can move forward strategically to really have the maximum impact,” LaGrange said.

City councillor Lawrence Lee said he wants the city to avoid the decline that other cities have experienced. In Calgary, one in four downtown buildings are empty.

“It seems to be an ongoing trend as people move their businesses to the outer fringes of the city, because that’s where people go to shop, do business,” Lee said.

He said some trends, such as online banking instead of bricks and mortar buildings, are influencing downtowns. But Red Deer could look at ways to incentivize businesses to move into the historic downtown and Capstone, he suggested.

Lee said the city is already looking at creative ways to alert people to the under-utilized parking spaces and lots in the downtown. The city also created a new economic development and land division, with the downtown as a priority.

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