Sector: Social Economy & Infrastructure
Building a community is often slow and arduous work. It requires patience, long-term vision and good, old-fashioned grit.
Fortunately for Mark Holmgren, these are traits he has in spades.
As the executive director of the Edmonton Community Development Company (ECDC), Mark Holmgren is deeply invested in community-building projects. Founded in 2017, ECDC is a non-profit organization encouraging the development of healthy, sustainable neighbourhoods.
“To put it simply, we work to bridge gaps and engage the community – residents and other stakeholders – to overcome poverty,” says Holmgren.
One of ECDC’s first projects is ArtsCommon 118, a mixed-used development in the heart of Edmonton’s inner city at 118 Avenue and 92 Street. Located in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, an area well-known as an up-and coming arts and cultural district, the development will help to socially revitalize the neighbourhood by attracting more people and greater opportunity.
The development plans to include 78 affordably priced studios for artists to live and work in, as well as market space, a coffee shop and a rooftop garden. The plans also calls for plenty of room for community-building, including an industrial kitchen and office and program space for social enterprises and non-profits. ECDC purchased five parcels of land for the project, with six more provided by the City of Edmonton under the agreement that they would be developed within ten years.
“The clock has started ticking, yes, so we are working to move forward with the development. But there’s a lot of work to be done,” says Holmgren. “And it’s work which can sometimes be a bit difficult to navigate.”
For instance, he notes, while the initial design and project concept have been developed in collaboration with community stakeholders over the past decade, much of the project’s capital funding, whether from municipal, provincial or federal government sources, is yet to be determined. Luckily, to help fill some of the initial gaps, ECDC has been able to turn to SEF.
“When I’m talking to the federal government, the province or the city – every funder asks me if we’re able to phase construction. We can phase it, but we need to figure out how to cover the costs in the meantime,” says Holmgren. “But as long as we can get that commitment from the orders of government, then we can use SEF as bridge financing and keep things moving along.”
But the real value in ECDC’s relationship with SEF, Holmgren notes, is not the financing itself. It’s the expertise and guidance provided by SEF, which have proven to be invaluable.
“What comes with SEF, and with Jane Bisbee, is expertise. SEF has a proven track record of attracting people who have a mix of creative, business and financial acumen, so working with them is an absolute pleasure and a huge benefit to us,” he says. “I know from others who have accessed financing through SEF how crucial it’s been in Edmonton. I can’t help but agree; SEF is a stellar organization to work with. I see them as true thought leaders in our city.”
Entrepreneurs, and in particular social entrepreneurs are usually moving pretty fast.