Alberta Avenue is home to a variety of businesses not found anywhere else in Edmonton, and the Alberta Avenue Business Association (AABA) engages with the business and community groups to promote the area as a shopping destination. At the helm of AABA is Jay Ball.
On May 1, Ball took over as the executive director of AABA.
“I have a pretty diverse background in community engagement in all of the different positions I have been in,” says Ball, who explains he’s familiar with the area because his grandmother lives there. “I also did believe that it’s important to brand the Avenue in a little different way than it’s been branded in the past. That was the original reason that I went after [the job],” Ball explains. “It’s a community that really needs a push in the right direction.”
His vision for Alberta Avenue is evolving, but he explains, “First and foremost, it’s really not my vision that needs to be laid out and executed.” The board of directors and community stakeholders also need to be involved in the process. “Alberta Avenue needs to be a safe place. It needs to be a place that businesses can grow and prosper. It needs to be a place that people can call home. And that’s the beginning.” Ball says it’s the board that has the vision. “Things have evolved over the last 90 days, from what I originally thought we could do with the Avenue until now.”
For the first 60 days, Ball took the time to get to know the community. “Who are the community leaders? What are they trying to accomplish? How do I fit into all of this? Just like any job, you got to get to know all of the players.” After that, he began to dive right into the issues facing the community.
“This is an Avenue and corridor that doesn’t just need attention on the business community,” Ball says. “It needs a listening ear to the community in general. Particularly the vulnerable community. And people at risk, people in need.” Ball adds that a healthy business community doesn’t stand on its own, it is supported by the community at large. “It’s all interconnected.”
Ball is also working with the City’s bylaw department to communicate with owners of vacant buildings to try and help develop and give new life to the buildings, such as the Avenue Theatre. But it has proven to be a mountain of a task even to get them to return his phone calls. “The level of apathy and disinterest from some businesses along the Avenue, vacant land owners, vacant building owners, I find quite frustrating,” Ball says. But he says that is something he feels he can figure out.
He says predatory businesses that take advantage of the vulnerable must stop, although he doesn’t know the solution yet. “We have convenience stores selling bear spray, knives, and pipes. We have large business owners on the Avenue owning multiple low-rent houses, just a block or two off the Avenue, that contribute to the drug culture. We have a business that owns an apartment block right on the Avenue that they just don’t take care of. Three weeks ago this apartment block was cited with 61 citations from AHS. So, yeah, it’s a big deal,” Bell explains. “We have to, as a community, find a way to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t acceptable anymore.’”
While he hasn’t been part of the community for as long as many of the business owners and community members, Ball says he feels he can bring a fresh approach to the community. “I hate seeing problems and not being able to act on them. So, I have to find ways to make progress in a couple different areas.”
Ball’s role as the executive director is to be an advocate on behalf of businesses. He also helps market the main street and bring people to the community. In this role, Ball also leads the board through long-term strategic planning for revitalization and renewal.
“I have been in leadership positions in non-profit groups, or community-orientated groups, or sports groups for about 25 years,” explains Ball. Those positions involved building a brand and creating experiences, which he is doing for Alberta Avenue.
“We are not selling food. We are not selling the products in storage. We are selling the unique experience of coming to a historic place, a historic corridor. It’s full of character with great shop owners, with great experiences.”