Jay Ball grew up in north Edmonton, and often visited his grandmother who lived in the Alberta Avenue area.
“Every second Sunday, there was a family dinner here,” recalls Ball. “All the cousins would show up. At that time, all the kids in the neighbourhood kind of knew each other. Parents looked out for each other.”
So, while the “coming full circle” cliche is one that’s used a lot, in this case, it works. Ball took over as the new executive director for the Alberta Avenue Business Association this year. He’s created street teams that visit businesses and ask about any issues the proprietors may have. The teams also do some community clean-up. He thinks it’s time that Alberta Avenue had a brand that celebrated its international flavour, and that the well-meaning but archaic “Avenue of Champions” moniker, celebrated by murals and a famous giant baseball bat, needs to be downplayed. He sees vacant lots as prime spots for development. He sees the abandoned Avenue Theatre as a spot that can be reborn as a unique performance space.
“The biggest challenge we have is with perception,” says Ball. “It’s easy to judge the community, the street, the people, when you just drive by or read about it in the paper. But I think you have to go out in the community, meet the people behind the counters, shop in the stores. It’s only then when you understand what a really unique and extraordinary ecosystem this really is.”
Maybe it’s a bit ironic that Ball wants Alberta Avenue to distance itself from the “Avenue of Champions” thing, considering the time he’s spent working in pro sports. He spent four years as FC Edmonton’s general manager. He was director of the local corporate and ticket partner-ship program for the Edmonton portion of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. He was a member of the organizing committee for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships. And, he’s a fixture in the Oilers press box, where he’s been doing game-night support work for more than 25 seasons. He also was president and CEO of Junior Achievement Northern Alberta and NWT. But he sees similarities when it comes to selling tickets to sporting events and selling a neighbourhood as a place to invest.
“When I left sports, the lesson I took is that you’re selling people on the experience — you make it emotional for people to come into the stadium or come into the arena,” he says. “The branding piece I am working on about small business in this area is: How do you define the experience, and how do you make it visible to people throughout the city?”
Ball says that, with over 50 restaurants within a 20-block radius, visitors “can go around the world two to three times a week,” and it’s that international feel which he thinks will make Alberta Avenue the next great Edmonton neighbourhood.