University of Alberta revitalizes Enterprise Square and downtown Edmonton

Like many Edmontonians, Jeremy Cherlet didn’t spend much time downtown during the height of the pandemic. 

He’s now one of hundreds of University of Alberta employees working out of Enterprise Square in the old Hudson’s Bay Company Building on Jasper Avenue. They moved in last fall. Many of them have hybrid work arrangements. 

“I think seeing all the people is fantastic,” said Cherlet, a communications associate.  “There are so many university employees here. You can have in-person meetings, bounce ideas off each other, collaborate. The other great thing is, I have a lot of friends who work in businesses downtown and I can catch up with them over lunch at a great local restaurant.” 

In total, the university moved more than 500 academic and administrative support workers from its North Campus, along with industry professionals—nearly doubling the occupancy of the renovated downtown building. 

Cherlet is looking forward to spending more time in the heart of the city and taking advantage of its cafes, restaurants, festivals and proximity to the river valley. He already lives close to downtown—it takes him about 15 minutes to walk to work. 

“I think downtown is great because there’s a lot of variety and convenience,” he said. “It’s also very walkable. There’s a lot of coffee shops you can go to in winter. When it’s warmer out, head down to the river valley. We have a funicular for a quick walk at lunch with a few colleagues.”

Jeremy Cherlet, a U of A employee, talks about some of his favourite destinations in downtown Edmonton, including Coffee Bureau on Jasper Avenue, and Churchill Square.
Hundreds of Edmontonians gather in Churchill Square for one of its many festivals.

An enterprising move  

Cherlet and his colleagues celebrated their new downtown digs on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, during an official announcement at Enterprise Square. Staff from such departments as human resources, continuing education and research services now work out of the downtown landmark. 

The U of A initially purchased the building in 2005, but President and Vice-Chancellor Bill Flanagan says it was underused until now. By moving more employees to Enterprise Square, the U of A was able to give up leases at two other locations for a $1.2 million savings per year. 

Enterprise Square also houses the UA Innovation Centre, which includes leasable offices, labs and classrooms, as well as the Health Innovation Hub program. It offers scientific expertise and research space to promising health-tech entrepreneurs and innovators. Seventeen companies are currently using the facilities. 

“I’m proud to see this historic building returning to its position of prominence in Edmonton’s downtown,” said Flanagan. 

The Hudson’s Bay Company opened its iconic building on Jasper Avenue in 1939.

Revitalizing downtown 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the U of A’s decision to move more employees to Enterprise Square is a “vote of confidence” for Edmonton’s downtown. 

“We all know that things have been very difficult…living through COVID and now struggling with the aftermath of COVID—the addictions crisis, the houseless crisis, and workers not being in the office,” he said. 

“So [the U of A’s] decision is absolutely so critical, so important for the revitalization of downtown.”

City Council recently approved its 2023-2026 budgets, which include $18.7 million for affordable housing and homeless prevention and $6.6 million for the affordable housing grant program; and $22.9 million for affordable housing land acquisition and site development. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Councillor Anne Stevenson, who represents Ward O’day-min, welcome U of A employees to downtown Edmonton on January 24, 2023, during an event at Enterprise Square.

Welcoming workers and residents 

Members of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association (EDBA) and the Downtown Recovery Coalition also attended the U of A’s announcement. 

Puneeta McBryan, Executive Director of the EDBA, is excited more university employees will be working downtown. She’d like to see more people live in the core, too. Pre-COVID, about 60,000 people worked downtown and 13,000 people lived there. 

“We need to get that residential level way higher,” said McBryan. “But we also still need to make sure that of those 60,000 people who worked downtown pre-COVID, that as many of them are coming back as possible, and that we have new employees moving downtown, like [the U of A’s] announcement.” 

According to the EDBA, 40 percent of the downtown workforce has returned, based on reports from property owners and managers. 

New residential towers are being developed on the east and west side of Warehouse Park, a new park set to open in 2025, as illustrated in this draft design.

On the horizon 

Three new downtown developments with more than 2,300 residential units are now under construction—including The Parks on 108 Street and The Shift on 106 Street. They’ll be located on opposite ends of Warehouse Park, which is scheduled to open in late 2025. 

The park, created from five parking lots, will feature an open lawn, public art, seating and gathering spaces and a washroom pavilion on 1.47 hectares, or the size of more than two football fields.

Cherlet, the U of A employee who works in Enterprise Square, says the new park will add to downtown’s vibrancy. 

“I think the City has taken some great steps such as the new Warehouse Park that’s getting built just to make it so there’s a lot of spaces for people to spend time.” 

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows University of Alberta employees gathering on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, to celebrate the official announcement of their move to Enterprise Square.