Home Regular Contributors Elan MacDonald A Strong Downtown Makes a Strong Region

A Strong Downtown Makes a Strong Region

Elan MacDonald

There’s a stretch of Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue that’s occupied by a number of innovation-focused entities. Between 99th and 105th Street you will find Health Cities, Edmonton Global, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Amii, Edmonton Unlimited … and now, the University of Alberta’s renewed Enterprise Square building.

I recently took part in marking the renewal of Enterprise Square as a major downtown hub. We were aware of our role as stewards of the historic Hudson’s Bay Company Building, balancing the past and the future, as we renovated it to reignite the space, contribute to a sense of vibrancy and vitality downtown and facilitate stronger community collaboration. The newly renovated space now houses 17 companies with 44,000 square feet of leasable space, the U of A’s Health Innovation Hub program and 500 professionals, nearly doubling its pre-pandemic occupancy.

With downtown revitalization top of mind, this growing innovation district, and Enterprise Square’s place in it, presents opportunities for strengthening relationships among business, arts and cultural communities in Edmonton like never before.

Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, took part in our Enterprise Square event and sees firsthand how intentional collaboration can change our city for the better.

“Right now, something really exciting is happening downtown in the realm of innovation and preparing our city and our economy for the future,” says McBryan. “We have some of the brightest minds in the world right here in Edmonton, and between all of the innovators in the private sector and those at our leading institutions like the University of Alberta, I’m seeing a real recognition that we all go further when we go together.”

She says that choosing to co-locate in the heart of our downtown ensures we’re having those “natural collisions” between projects and organizations — with the added bonus of contributing to downtown vibrancy at the same time.

This is exactly the reason why Dr. Martin Ferguson-Pell, U of A professor, prefers that his work — like improving accessibility in outdoor spaces and enhancing extended reality simulations for learning — happens downtown at Enterprise Square.

“The downtown core is the focal point for business culture in Edmonton, and so it’s the best of both worlds,” he says. “For academic work, we are immersed on campus in an outstanding world-class research-intensive environment; and for business work, we are at the heart of the business and enterprise culture of our city.” This ensures the strongest possible buy-in from both worlds, Ferguson-Pell tells me.

There’s so much more potential — even on just a few blocks of Jasper Avenue — for businesses to intersect with the University of Alberta and each other in accessible and tangible ways. Enterprise Square is a place where researchers, innovators and the business community can engage and connect — and it’s just the beginning.

It’s not hard to imagine future co-working spaces to connect student startups with the resources and mentorship they need, a hub for researchers to find the businesses that will take their research from bench side to bedside, or shared maker-spaces to experiment with new ideas and tech — a downtown core that’s a buzzing hive of innovation.

We know that proximity leads to serendipity in our interactions. So, as we create the spaces and opportunities to facilitate innovation and collaboration — in a meeting room or standing in line for a coffee — we attract the people and expertise that will inject culture, life and vibrancy into our downtown. Each idea, project and collaboration will breathe life into Edmonton’s core, attracting investment and industry, and facilitating economic recovery and growth. A strong, innovative and collaborative downtown makes a strong and resilient region.