Federal grant of $1.8M will launch Downtown Spark event, help core digital business during COVID-19

Downtown is seen from the northside along Ada Boulevard in Edmonton, on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Photo by Ian KucerakDowntown is seen from the northside along Ada Boulevard in Edmonton, on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak Photo by IAN KUCERAK Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

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The City of Edmonton will put a $1.48-million grant from the federal government toward two initiatives to support Downtown economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the funding announced Tuesday through Western Economic Diversification Canada, the city will launch a program this month to draw visitors to the core. Running through April, Downtown Spark will include a series of free exhibits and exhibitions for Edmontonians to explore outdoors while following physical distancing requirements.

The initiative is a partnership between the city, Downtown Business Association, Explore Edmonton and Edmonton Arts Council, with more details to follow this month.

Funds from the grant will also support businesses as they transition to online services. Through an expansion of the Making Edmonton Digital program, more businesses will be eligible to receive support from the digital services consulting team at the University of Alberta School of Retailing.

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This will include access to structured courses, workshops and a digital assessment tool as well as access to the ShopHere initiative, a free support to small businesses to help build online e-commerce platforms.

In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Don Iveson said these two programs will help revitalize Downtown and bring visitors back to the core. The city estimates more than 750 businesses will benefit from the initiatives and 800 jobs will be maintained. About a quarter of the businesses that will benefit from the downtown expansion of the Making Edmonton Digital project are from under-represented groups in the economy.

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“Companies are increasingly choosing to locate in cities with vibrant downtowns, quality amenities and diverse transportation options. Investments like this help us and our partners create great public spaces to attract the jobs of the future, while creating quality experiences for Edmontonians today,” Iveson said.

Deputy city manager Stephanie McCabe said the city is also continuing its economic recovery grant program that offers microgrants, typically $1,000, to help businesses adapt. Council also recently approved a $22.9-million recovery grant for the construction sector, offering a financial incentive to developers beginning work this year in the city’s core.

“COVID-19 has impacted our local businesses significantly and Downtown businesses have been hit particularly hard. Fewer people are visiting, working, shopping and studying downtown and this has taken its toll on all the vibrancy we previously enjoyed in the heart of our city,” McCabe said in the statement. “This funding will further address the need for support as we look to the promising future of our Downtown.”

duscook@postmedia.com

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