Sector: Social Economy & Infrastructure
Investing in community
As a long-time resident and business owner in Edmonton’s McCauley neighbourhood, Miranda Ringma has an intimate understanding of the challenges and opportunities the community has faced over time. Over the years, she’s seen people and businesses come through the neighbourhood—some like her, who have set down deep roots in the area and developed a lasting bond, strengthened by the shared experiences of life in an inner-city community.
“I personally have lived in the area for 32 years, and my partner has been here for about 24. We care about this community, and along with others, we’ve been working on it, developing it, and working to keep it safe,” she says.
Many of Ringma’s neighbours share this passion for the community, as well as a vision for its future. They’re invested in the area – whether as business- or homeowners, tenants, employees, volunteers or otherwise – and they want to see it grow as a safe and healthy place for residents from all walks of life. So when the idea of working the Edmonton Community Development Company to encourage positive growth in the area came up, Ringma and many of her neighbours were immediately on board. They had identified a problem property in the heart of Little Italy – a location where predatory businesses were creating an unsafe environment.
“It was very much a distinct problem property, a hotbed of all kinds of activities that were not suitable for a family-oriented community or public space,” she says. “So we had to find a way to solve this. There was a group of us who said, ‘Something has to change here,’ and we got involved [with ECDC] right from the get-go.”
When Karen Gingras, ECDC’s executive director began having conversations with members of the community, she immediately understood their desire for change.
“Invariably, when people in McCauley were asked to choose one thing they’d change about their community, we heard, ‘Buy the strip mall,’” she says. “What we heard was that this property had been the bane of the community for some time, and we were looking to change that.”
With such a strong desire shared by so many community members, Gingras set to work with a group of community members, researching options that would allow the community to purchase the property and turn it into the kind of operation they wanted to see: a walkable, inviting property with space for local businesses. Through a Community Investment Co-op model, interested neighbours could become partners in the property’s purchase and redevelopment—an idea they were keen to explore.
“We talked about forming an investment cooperative, and we had quite a few people invested right off the bat,” she says. “My job was to pull everything together to make it happen.”
In 2018, the McCauley Development Cooperative was formed with the goal of strengthening the heart of Little Italy. There was just one factor left to consider: the strip mall they hoped to buy wasn’t for sale. In fact, no one was sure if the current owners would be willing to sell. Undeterred, the group brought on a veteran realtor to discuss the idea of selling with the then-owners.
“We brought on someone who was skilled in these kinds of situations, and they had a conversation with the owners, who were in Calgary at the time. They were able to convince them to sell, and that was that,” says Gingras. “Things had to move very quickly once that happened.” Between the money raised by the Cooperative members and a loan from SEF, they were ready to change the neighbourhood.
By late 2019, the Cooperative had purchased the property, and plans were underway to upgrade the building’s façade and redevelop the space to better suit local businesses and vendors. Plans were altered slightly over the next year as the businesses that had been located in the strip mall (including a neighbourhood pub), shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From Ringma’s perspective, the shift in ownership has already made a remarkable difference. Although the La Piazza project is far from finished, it’s an example of what can happen when a caring community comes together to make change happen.
“It has not been simple to create this investment coop, but if you have a joint vision shared by a number of people, their desire to climb on board and support it is nothing short of amazing,” she says. “It has not been easy… but it sure as heck has been rewarding.”