By John Day and Rob Seidel, co-chairs of MacEwan University’s capital fundraising campaign. Originally pubilshed in the Edmonton Journal on October 29, 2022.

Like cities across the world, Edmonton’s downtown was hit hard by the pandemic. For almost 17 months, office buildings sat nearly empty as thousands worked from home. Empty coffee shops, deserted stores, and “For Lease” signs became a common sight throughout the core. Fewer people, in turn, led to more crime, fuelling safety concerns for the few who remained. 

As these effects continue to linger, it’s becoming clear Edmonton needs innovative, long-term solutions to revitalize the city’s core. For a downtown to thrive, economically, socially, and culturally, it requires a critical mass of people. And that is what we are missing. Even if every former downtown employee returns to their office as the pandemic fades away, it still won’t be enough. We need to attract even more people downtown.

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced a panel to find ways to help attract investment and reinvigorate Edmonton, particularly our core. While we await the panel’s findings, it’s important to note a similar working group struck for Calgary recommended increasing the presence of post-secondary students downtown.

The reason is simple: smart, ambitious students create vibrancy. They explore, innovate, and are eager to experience new things. When we look at successful communities across the globe that work to attract the best and brightest minds, we know they have a considerable competitive advantage. Waterloo, Kingston, London, these are Canadian cities that have been built around key post-secondary institutions and they are reaping the benefits.

Edmonton already has an edge over most cities in this regard — an established university in the city’s core. MacEwan has long prided itself on being “Edmonton’s downtown university.” It’s not just about location, however. It’s about a state of mind, including a more forward-looking, integrated approach to education.

MacEwan’s focus on teaching allows students to forge stronger relationships with their professors and more meaningful social connections with their fellow students. Through the combination of practicums and proximity to businesses, NGOs, and other organizations, MacEwan provides students an opportunity to acquire real-world experience before they officially enter the workforce.

As seasoned businesspeople, we can attest to the quality of MacEwan graduates; they come job-ready and eager to tackle new challenges. Being situated in the downtown core offers these graduates daily opportunities to interact with executives across a range of sectors. For both the downtown core and the business community, MacEwan has been an extremely positive force, cultivating the next generation of leaders right next door.

Now, MacEwan has bigger ambitions. As the world grapples with a growing labour crisis and our province deals with a transitioning skills gap, MacEwan is stepping up to the plate. The university is endeavouring to grow its student body substantially by 2030. It’s ambitious but actionable and this is coming at a time when our city needs it most. A crucial aspect of this ambition is additional space.

The university plans to construct a seven-storey, 376,000-square-foot building, which will provide room for 7,500 more students. A new building attached to MacEwan’s campus is the most efficient way to grow. By consolidating its downtown campus, the university will save $1.8 million in annual operating costs. More importantly, however, a single connected campus will enhance the experience of students, including providing better access to services, events, campus culture, and other students.

Let’s be clear: location matters. Being a place-based metropolitan university located in Edmonton’s city-centre core, MacEwan integrates its students into their surrounding environment, enabling them to apply their academic knowledge in the real world, in real time. The enhanced campus will be a powerful magnet for people whose knowledge, talents, and creativity will help fuel revitalization where it is needed most. Between students, teachers, and support staff, MacEwan already brings 20,000 people daily downtown. Downtown Edmonton needs life, and the university has proven it can deliver.

MacEwan is known for teaching greatness. This new building will empower the university to become even greater. Our city and our province have everything to gain.


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