A vacant downtown lot was transformed into a courtyard for Boyle Street Community Services clients on Tuesday.

Ice District Properties, a partnership between the Katz Group and One Properties, owns the land and is leasing it to Boyle Street for a $1.

A group of volunteers worked on the courtyard Tuesday, building fences, filling planter boxes and getting the space ready for drop-in clients, who will have a quiet place to sit and chat.

The centre hopes to use the space to run gardening programs and hold ceremonies.

Joanna Neuman volunteers as a peer liaison at the centre and said she’s happy with the beauty that the courtyard adds.

“I think it’s going to bring the community members together a lot more,” Neuman said. “I think this is going to be a very safe space for them.

The space tucked between the Boyle Street building and the vacant MacDonald Lofts next door was sitting empty when Shawna Vogel, general counsel and managing director at the Katz Group, and Julian Daly, Boyle Street executive director, came up with the idea to put it to use. 

“It adds to our overall ability to provide space to folks in the inner city who often don’t have many other places to go and feel safe,” said Ian Mathieson, Boyle Street’s director of operations.

He said people often assume that Boyle Street resents the arrival of the new downtown arena, but that’s not the case. 

“It got built, and the world didn’t end. Life continued and everybody was able to co-exist. This is just the continuation of that relationship,” he said.

Volunteers from the Oilers Entertainment Group helped build a new courtyard for Boyle Street Community Services.

The courtyard is fenced in, and can only be accessed through the centre. Mathieson said that will allow the centre to keep out people who target its clients.

Vogel said partnering with Boyle Street on the courtyard is just one of the initiatives her organization has pursued to try connect with their neighbours.

“You can see our beautiful towers, but we’re very aware those towers are in this neighbourhood, and in this community. And so it’s really important for us to be part of the community,” she said. 

The parcel is part of the MacDonald Lofts property. Under previous ownership, the lofts served as low income housing. But the property was troubled, and Alberta Health Services declared several of the units in the building unfit for human habitation in August 2016, citing public health issues. After purchasing the property, Ice District Properties announced in 2017 it would help the remaining 66 residents find new homes. The building is now vacant. 

Vogel said Tuesday the company still hasn’t decided exactly what to do with the historic property. 

Following a ceremony to mark the opening of the courtyard, Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen said he was heartened by the collaboration that made the courtyard happen. 

He said the city is working on its plan to meet the pressing demand for permanent supportive housing, but getting all the needed units built isn’t going to happen quickly.

“That’s why this sort of thing is so important. We need some interim measures to help people. Offer some joy,” he said.  

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