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University of Alberta moves 500 staff to downtown Edmonton

The University of Alberta has owned the Enterprise Square building on Jasper Avenue between 102nd and 103rd streets since 2005.  (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
The University of Alberta has owned the Enterprise Square building on Jasper Avenue between 102nd and 103rd streets since 2005. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Downtown Edmonton is getting an influx of professional workers as the University of Alberta moves 500 staff into its Enterprise Square building on Jasper Avenue and 102nd Street.

Many of the staff work in human resources, shared services, academic support, finance and communications, and have moved from offices at the U of A's north campus at 85th Avenue, between 110th and 116th Streets.

The employees gathered for a work-warming party Tuesday in the atrium of the building, where president and vice-chancellor Bill Flanagan said the move is part of the university's restructuring strategy.

"This is part of a rethinking of how we use space at the University of Alberta," Flanagan said.

The move frees up space on campus for teaching and research, Flanagan said.

"It's also enabled us to get rid of a lot of lease space that we had. So it's an affordability thing, it's an efficiency thing," Flanagan said.

Andrew Sharman, vice president of facilities and operations, said the university is saving $1.2 million a year.

He said some staff have moved out of the quad building that will eventually come down.

"It's well known that the administration building at the head of the quad is very old and in poor condition - will ultimately close when we open University Commons in 2024."

The university has owned Enterprise Square since 2005 but it's been less than half full for several years.

Until now, about 200 people worked in the building, including at the Faculty of Extension.

"I think it's fair to say the space was underutilized," Flanagan said. "It never really achieved the vision that we initially wanted for this space."

Sharman said the university decided in 2018 to reimagine the space at Enterprise Square, and then during the pandemic, adjusted the design based on employees working remotely.

People in the office three days or week or more get a dedicated office or cubicle, he said.

Boon for downtown

Edmonton industry leaders joined the moving-in ceremony on Tuesday, including Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association.

McBryan said the additional 500 workers in the downtown realm is a big deal.

"I'm not hearing announcements like this — of an institution moving hundreds of people into downtown and any downtown across the country," McBryan said in an interview "So this is a huge move."

McBryan said it's difficult to calculate the potential economic impact to the downtown core but she is confident employees will be spending money on eating out, getting catered in for meetings, parking and transit.

"Having a fully utilized building like this is a really big boost to the downtown economy."

She's also confident more workers downtown will attract others to the core.

"It really is like a snowball building momentum, when we think about downtown vibrancy," McBryan said. "People want to be where other people are."

Health innovation

Courses and studies offered at Enterprise Square include continuing education and technical training.

The faculty of rehabilitation medicine also has space in the building, where teams will do research.

"We'll see staff and students coming and going," Sharman said. "It's critical that we have real linkages, so that research that can affect Albertans, Canadians, the world, can have a real place to interface with the public."

It's not just university employees. The fourth floor is dedicated to health innovation, Sharman said.

"We have 20 companies in incubation space on the fourth floor and we aim to grow that," Sharman said.