“We’ve seen an instant difference in the kind of people that were gathering in the back on 13th Street since it’s been closed,” Gateway Mall manager and mayoral candidate Greg Dionne said.
“To quote my security staff, we’ve seen a big-time difference, to the point we don’t have a guard permanently assigned in that area now. Where we used to have a guard permanently assigned to the back of the food court, now we just do regular patrols there.”
The closure of the Nesbit Apartments is only one element in the ongoing effort to revitalize the downtown area by increasing safety and cleanliness, attracting businesses and promoting special events.
James Banman, manager of the Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association, argued that available statistics contradict the reputation of the downtown area as a magnet for crime. Incidents have declined in recent years partly due to revamped policing efforts and the presence of bylaw enforcement officers.
“The actual percentage of crime in the downtown, or the numbers of crimes or the types of crimes, (is) actually one of the lowest crime areas in the city, according to the police stats,” he said. “Many areas in Prince Albert have significantly more calls and … the crimes are significantly more … dangerous or harmful. What happens downtown is mostly a nuisance, as opposed to a danger to a person.”
Core resident and general manager of the P.A. Travelodge Mona Selanders seemed to agree. Selanders lives downtown on First Street West. She spends most of the day at work and experiences downtown mostly at night, but felt the area was little different from most urban centres.
“Has my car lost a window?” she asked. “Yeah. Yes it has. But that happens everywhere, right? Do I have to maybe shoo people off my front doorstep from time to time? Yeah, I do, but that’s not a huge issue. That happens lots of places, too.”
I think folks just have to accept the fact that there are some realities in urban settings now, and our challenge is how to effectively deal with those. - Mona Selanders
Based on her own experience, Selanders said the notion that the downtown area attracts greater crime is more perception than reality, and believed that much had been done in recent years to improve the safety of residents.
“I think it’s really a whole collection of things,” she said. “Lots of new businesses have opened and I think it’s great for Prince Albert. I think folks just have to accept the fact that there are some realities in urban settings now, and our challenge is how to effectively deal with those.”
In one sense, the future of the downtown area appears bright. Prince Albert was one of four communities selected by the provincial government for the Saskatchewan Main Street Demonstration Project, an initiative that provides funding to preserve historic commercial districts.
Although Banman described refurbishing building facades as positive steps en route to the goal of restoring the city centre, he suggested that the most important way to change the downtown core is a regular influx of positive people.
“When you have an influx of positivity, a lot of the negative that is perceived or may actually be there … tends to dissipate,” he said. “When we hold the downtown events, we really try to keep it a very positive atmosphere and things that are designed for families and try to stay away from things that could potentially lead into negative activity.
“We find that during those events we have absolutely no problems, and that’s after talking to the bylaw officers and the police officers. Street fair day, they don’t have any issues to deal with, because there are people using (the area) properly.”