Though recognizing there’s no magic wand to turn Prince Albert’s downtown area into a thriving community, things appear to be improving.
One surge in improvement was felt at the beginning of September, when all residents of the Nesbit Apartment building, at the corner of 13th Street and First Avenue West, were evicted.
The Prince Albert Music Centre abuts the building, where employees noted an almost immediate improvement upon the tenants’ eviction.
“The day after they got ejected from there, they were all here,” Jaime Dickson said.
“There were about 20 needles in the parking lot, there were people all around here. But, within a day or two, they’d cleared out and they’ve obviously moved somewhere, but they’re not here.”
Though needles are still spotted around the store from time to time, cleaning them up has moved from a daily chore to a monthly one. Shoplifting is down and the area feels safer, Dickson said.
“If I want to get a drink from the food court … I don’t feel uncomfortable walking there by myself,” she said.
This is in stark contrast to the time before the Nesbit tenants’ eviction, when she’d have to walk through crowds of drug dealers and prostitutes.
The Gateway Mall’s food court entrance is across the street from the Nesbit Apartment building — an area the mall’s general manager Greg Dionne notes has also improved drastically since the tenants’ eviction.
“I think we were all shocked with how quickly it cleaned up,” he said. “Everything went down instantly.”
Dionne no longer has to consistently station security guards at the food court entrance, as much of the danger is gone.
If I want to get a drink from the food court … I don’t feel uncomfortable walking there by myself. - Jaime Dickson, downtown area employee
The Nesbit Apartment building’s closure came after Dionne raised the issue with several agencies, including the local health board and city council, until the building closed to tenants.
“He has always been a huge supporter for cleaning up this area,” Dickson said of Dionne.
“I’ve known him for years and years, and he always has projects on the go for improving this area.”
Though improvements have been made, fellow Prince Albert Music Centre employee Jody Johnson said that drugs will always be an issue, to some degree.
“The drug use is bigger than this apartment building,” he said. “It’s poverty-stricken people. The issue is poverty.”
Dionne has a few more downtown apartment buildings on his radar, which he plans on cracking down on with the same energy he did the Nesbit Apartment building — something Dickson feels downtown business owners will readily welcome because they rely heavily on foot traffic.
With a negative image of the city’s downtown core floating about the city, due to places like the Nesbit Apartment building, there’s a widespread belief that downtown is a dangerous place.
“I walk to work every day, and people, when they hear that … they get freaked out by that,” she said.
Calling the Nesbit Apartment building’s closure a step in the right direction, she said that added attention on the underlying issues might help turn things around even more.