Did West Edmonton Mall’s opening 40 years in the past change the downtown core? | Globalnews.ca

Did West Edmonton Mall’s opening 40 years ago change the downtown core?  | Globalnews.ca

2021-09-16 17:30:10

It was 40 years in the past this week {that a} comparatively small metropolis in northern Alberta noticed the world’s largest purchasing centre open its doorways about 12 kilometres away from the downtown core.

Ever since, not solely has West Edmonton Mall and the town centre in Alberta’s capital continued to evolve, however so too has the dialogue in regards to the megamall’s affect that many feared would go away downtown Edmonton in its shadow.

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Whereas it continues to draw throngs of customers and discover methods to adapt to altering occasions, the mall is now not the biggest purchasing centre on the planet, though it stays the most important in North America.

Whereas few would dispute the decline skilled by downtown Edmonton within the late twentieth century, many argue that due to each community-driven efforts and people led by political and company leaders, it has set the wheels in movement to place itself for a future renaissance of types.

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The town’s inhabitants has additionally practically doubled in measurement from when West Edmonton Mall first opened.

“It’s a extremely fascinating query,” Puneeta McBryan, the chief director of the Downtown Enterprise Affiliation of Edmonton, stated when requested in regards to the mall’s ongoing affect on downtown 4 a long time after it opened.

“The shift in the direction of shopping center tradition within the Nineteen Eighties was positively earlier than my time.

“I’ve heard so many tales about how downtown, and it’s not simply Edmonton, (modified throughout that interval)… West Edmonton Mall is kind of the hallmark of that shift to those supermalls… (which) occurred throughout North America.”

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Tom Younger is an city planner who grew up in Edmonton however presently lives overseas. He has written in regards to the mall and its relationship to the town’s downtown.

“I’ve heard that remark earlier than, that West Edmonton Mall killed downtown,” he says.

“I believe it’s overstated. West Edmonton Mall is clearly the biggest of malls in Edmonton, and at one level the biggest on the planet… (however) it wasn’t a lot a monster mall within the west finish that created the shift.”

The West Edmonton Mall is seen on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015.


Younger suggests the way in which Edmonton’s suburbs grew within the Nineteen Sixties whereas malls sprung up throughout the town within the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties had a way more profound affect on the town’s downtown.

“Suburban improvement actually took off in a big method.”

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‘Immediately folks didn’t need to go downtown anymore’

Jim Taylor lives close to the town’s core and spent over 40 years working downtown. He was a metropolis councillor from 1995 to 2001 and went on to function the chief director of the Downtown Enterprise Affiliation for 14 years.

Taylor says foot site visitors within the downtown slipped dramatically throughout a lot of these years but in addition notes he believes “there’s cycles for all the things.”

“I spent my complete life in Edmonton,” he says, including that downtown “was the place to go” when he was a teen.

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“All the shops have been downtown,” he says of the Nineteen Sixties, noting that included main shops and unbiased companies.

“All the streets… side-by-side jewellery shops, outfitters, shoe shops, fur shops… and so they have been all owned by Edmonton households and everybody knew their names.”

Taylor says Edmonton’s growth noticed the town get its first purchasing malls of be aware like Westmount Centre, Northgate Centre and Southgate Centre, with a few of them housing satellite tv for pc shops of the shops already working downtown.

“Immediately folks didn’t need to go downtown anymore,” he says.

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“Individuals who didn’t dwell within the very core had locations they may go with out having to drive or take a bus downtown… and naturally parking was free.”

Taylor says it was throughout that interval that the variety of nationwide chains proliferated and the variety of family-run shops dwindled.

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“I don’t assume any of us realized it because it was taking place,” Taylor says, noting he held a job promoting garments at a Sears retailer situated in a mall. “It was the beginning of the drain of downtown.

“From the Nineteen Seventies into the Nineteen Eighties, downtown was beginning to be actually badly impacted by purchasing centres… The Ghermezians (the Edmonton household that owns Triple 5 Group) began to construct West Edmonton Mall.

“By the Nineteen Eighties, everyone knew what was taking place within the downtown and we began to see the shops go.”

Craig Patterson is the CEO of the business publication Retail Insider, in addition to the director of utilized analysis on the College of Alberta’s Faculty of Retailing.

“The foot site visitors generated by West Edmonton Mall, in addition to the general attractiveness of the purchasing centre as a vacation spot, has taken away foot site visitors from downtown Edmonton,” he says.

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“(However) I wouldn’t blame West Edmonton Mall.

“Edmonton’s a suburban metropolis.”

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Younger says the suburbanization of Edmonton within the second half of the twentieth century noticed the town evolve right into a “car-driven panorama, and malls actually catered to that.”

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Patterson notes that quite a few the town’s purchasing centres like Kingsway Mall and Southgate Centre proceed to do nicely.

Regardless of West Edmonton Mall’s daring and large presence, he believes downtown has been challenged by malls as an entire, partly as a result of many Edmontonians just like the free parking that purchasing malls provide and downtown doesn’t.

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McBryan says she believes whereas “it’s exhausting to attract a direct line” between Triple 5 Group’s megamall and the challenges going through downtown Edmonton, “it’s simple that West Edmonton Mall signalled a shift away from the primary road downtown vibrant purchasing expertise we had in generations previous.”

“West Edmonton Mall being the unimaginable shopping center that it’s, it actually modified the patron tradition in Edmonton, even moreso than in different cities,” she says.

“Folks turned accustomed to it being the purchasing vacation spot at the price of downtown.

“The mall tradition… is a giant cause for the numerous decline in retail in downtown… (however) I believe we’re due for a little bit of a retail renaissance in downtown.”

‘We’re a big sufficient of a metropolis now that we are able to help a wide range of totally different experiences’

Andrew Knack is a metropolis councillor who represents the ward West Edmonton Mall is situated in.

“There was actually nothing prefer it when it opened,” he says, acknowledging the numerous affect the mall instantly had on the town’s retail ecosystem when it first opened.

“I don’t understand how a lot that holds true now anymore,” Knack says when requested if the mall presently diminishes downtown’s capability to herald client spending and foot site visitors.

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“We’re a big sufficient of a metropolis now that we are able to help a wide range of totally different experiences and purchasing experiences… I don’t assume West Edmonton Mall holds again every other a part of the town anymore, assuming it did earlier than.”

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Knack factors out as West Edmonton Mall has taken steps to adapt to altering retail developments, the downtown has been doing the identical as “persons are searching for a extra localized expertise.”

Heather Thomson, the chief director on the College of Alberta’s Faculty of Retailing, factors out because it opened, West Edmonton Mall has had the flexibility to lure in customers from out of city by providing the draw of varied sights and facilities along with its shops.

“I see it extra as a optimistic that West Edmonton Mall is such a robust model that they’re in a position to herald folks from outdoors the town,” she says.

Taylor additionally says that whereas the arrival of West Edmonton Mall and different suburban purchasing centres offered important new challenges for downtown companies, “there’s little doubt that it was a fantastic profit for the financial system of Edmonton.”

“There was the yin and the yang,” he says.

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“It’s not about West Edmonton Mall taking customers or cash away from the downtown core,” Thomson says. “Now the Edmonton downtown core has a possibility to raise itself.

“The excellent news is that there’s sufficient of a market to have a fantastic downtown filled with purchasing and experiences, and West Edmonton Mall.”

Edmonton is testing out an all-way pedestrian crosswalk downtown at Jasper Avenue and 104 Avenue.

Morris Gamblin, International Information

Taylor says throughout his time as a metropolis councillor, the downtown started taking steps to reassert itself as an space with vitality.

“In the course of the Nineties, we have been nearly as little as we might go,” he says.

“We nearly hit all-time low within the downtown.”

He says whereas the town had tried to herald quite a few redevelopment initiatives, they struggled as a result of “they weren’t pushed by folks working there.”

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In response to Taylor, a concerted push to extend the inhabitants of individuals residing downtown as a substitute of merely attempting to draw visits from suburban Edmontonians obtained underway when he was on metropolis council.

“I obtained on this escalator and it had nowhere to go however up, and it did begin shifting up,” he says. “Our mantra was, ‘It’s taking place… you’ll be able to’t cease us.’”

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In response to Taylor, when some main builders have been capable of purchase quite a few high-rise towers “for pennies to the greenback” and switch them into condominiums, an inflow of younger folks within the metropolis centre started to make its mark, which noticed development within the variety of eating places and bars within the space.

He provides that whereas there have nonetheless been setbacks, the optimistic momentum for downtown’s revitalization has continued, particularly with the opening of Rogers Place in 2016, the brand new house of the Edmonton Oilers.

He says the Ice District redevelopment plan, of which Rogers Place is a cornerstone, has been a serious optimistic for downtown re-establishing itself, a course of he says has solely been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’d like to invest on what would have occurred if we hadn’t been hit by this pandemic — we’d have an unimaginable downtown proper now,” he says, noting the vacancies attributable to the pandemic’s disruption to the financial system.

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A view of downtown buildings within the new Ice District in Edmonton, Alberta on August 19, 2020.


Final 12 months, Holt Renfrew closed its downtown Edmonton location after 69 years of operation whereas Hudson’s Bay introduced it could be closing its downtown location.

When the Bay introduced the closure in Could 2020, Scott McKeen, the town councillor for the ward that downtown is in, stated that whereas the information was disappointing, “virtually talking, issues change. And this can be a change that will herald one thing new and dramatic and fascinating and vibrant in our downtown.”

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He additionally famous that he believes extra customers will likely be searching for an expertise that goes past discovering merchandise on a rack.

“That will be the problem for the trendy retailer, to create experiences for those that are extra than simply going to Amazon or another on-line retailer,” he stated on Could 15, 2020.

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“Folks, once they go downtown, like once they go to Whyte Avenue, are searching for extra of a sidewalk purchasing, shopping, window-shopping expertise.”

A pop-up road patio on 104 Avenue in downtown Edmonton.

International Information

Taylor says regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic presenting all types of challenges to the downtown core as many individuals earn a living from home and keep house usually, necessary development work on the LRT community downtown has gone ahead, “plus there’s all types of different infrastructure taking place as nicely.”

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In June, the Metropolis of Edmonton introduced it was allocating tens of millions of {dollars} in the direction of its new two-year Downtown Vibrancy Technique to assist the realm within the short-term as the general public well being disaster negatively impacted it.

“The pandemic has impacted our metropolis centre notably exhausting as fewer folks go to, work, store and research downtown,” Edmonton’s deputy metropolis supervisor Stepanie McCabe stated on the time.

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“Previous to COVID(-19), financial indicators for downtown had trended optimistic since 2017 and we now have seen important transformational change in our core.

“Our Downtown Vibrancy Technique charts a course towards catalyzing that momentum once more.”

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The town stated that whereas 12,000 Edmontonians name the downtown house, eating places and different companies within the space have been “disproportionately impacted,” leading to enterprise closures.

A metropolis report estimated that as much as 60,000 workplace staff are working from house amid the pandemic and about 35,000 post-secondary college students transitioned to on-line studying.

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Nonetheless, the town stated the downtown has seen important funding in recent times.

“Since 2014, over $4.4 billion in non-public and institutional funding has been made downtown,” in response to a metropolis report. “Along with this, the Metropolis of Edmonton has invested over $1 billion in capital tasks downtown, together with Rogers Place area, Alex Decoteau Park and Jasper Avenue New Imaginative and prescient.

“Downtown has additionally more and more grow to be a regional vacation spot for facilities and sights that deliver 4 to 5 million guests every year.”

‘Youthful generations worth a factor like downtown vibrancy extra’

“Whenever you go searching downtown proper now, we’re rebuilding retail from scratch in some methods,” McBryan says, including that whereas there’s some specialty retail, “there’s now not an entire row of outlets as you’ll have traditionally present in downtown Edmonton.”

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She notes that downtown itself was not proof against the mall craze within the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties that noticed the Metropolis Centre Mall open within the coronary heart of the town. Nonetheless, she says the downtown is bettering at differentiating itself from the remainder of the town in relation to the retail sector.

“Preferences and behaviours change by way of generations, and I do assume that millennials and youthful generations worth a factor like downtown vibrancy extra maybe than generations previous,” McBryan notes. “Persons are much more conscious of what they need of their communities.

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“The varieties of companies we see downtown and on primary streets goes to be totally different.”

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She says she believes extra small and unbiased companies might as soon as once more play a a lot larger function downtown.

“All of it goes hand in hand: rising our residential inhabitants… folks working downtown… enhance within the companies that serve them… I believe the market will adapt and alter.”

McBryan provides that she believes the street-level LRT service coming to downtown Edmonton will assist renew curiosity and foot site visitors within the space.

Taylor says that in some methods, the arrival of West Edmonton Mall in 1981 “was in all probability the catalyst that actually helped us create what can be at the moment, with out that pandemic, an unimaginable downtown.”

“Possibly it’s a superb factor that it’s (West Edmonton Mall) out on 170 Avenue and never in our downtown as a result of it implies that our downtown may be the Ice District.”

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Younger says when confronted with the proliferation of purchasing malls throughout the town, and as Metropolis Centre Mall was developed within the core, he believes downtown planning uncared for streets and public areas for a while. Nonetheless, he says plainly is starting to alter.

“The final 12 months and a half has been a problem with COVID-19 — downtown was making some good progress,” he says. “(Folks have been pondering) about what varieties of actions can we now have within the metropolis that may’t be discovered wherever else.”

He provides that he believes the significance of “actually good public areas” is being extra acknowledged now and that there’s a higher understanding of a few of the nice issues the downtown affords like markets and the distinctive character of 104 Avenue.

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“Does West Edmonton Mall have a farmers market? No. Does downtown have an extremely profitable one? Sure.”

Younger provides that the mall has been profitable in offering an area for households the place youngsters can roam with out the hazard of being hit by a automotive, for instance, and believes downtown Edmonton may benefit from having extra pedestrian-friendly streets and plazas.

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“Quite a lot of these plans are already in place however it simply takes time,” he says, including that rising the variety of folks residing downtown stays key for its long-term success. “I do know fairly a couple of individuals who dwell downtown and love residing downtown and wouldn’t take into consideration residing wherever else.

“The mall is a business entity and that permits the house owners to do all types of fascinating issues… Downtown is a administrative center however it’s additionally a neighborhood that has its personal limitations — but in addition its personal benefits.”

Earlier this month, renderings surfaced on-line that advised Metropolis Centre Mall could have a makeover within the works.

The drawings present a mall with a glass facade, sidewalk eating places and cafés, in addition to a number of new entrances.

International Information reached out to Metropolis Centre Mall to ask questions in regards to the renderings, however an interview request was denied.

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