By Richard White, May 23, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the May edition of Condo Living's Magazine).
The addition of new high-rise condos, new retail and the expansion of Hotel Arts retail and office space have resulted in a significant change over the past few years to First Street SW south of 12th Avenue.
For example, Union Square, the sleek monochromatic industrial grey 25-story condo sits on the southwest corner of First Street and 13th Avenue. Living on a park, specifically Haultain Park (Memorial Park is just a block away), has its advantages.
One key one is that Union Square offers – and will always offer - unobstructed views of the mountains, river valley and downtown in an ever increasingly crowded Beltline skyline.
The story of this condo is intriguing on many levels. From a design perspective, it is classic, podium point tower, i.e. the first two floors cover the entire site while the upper 23 floors of condos are narrower, to create the thin tower that reaches up to the sky. The tower design changes subtly from bottom to the penthouse; this is not a flashy “look at me” building with walls intersecting at weird angles and bright colours. Rather, it is a timeless - some might say conservative - design that fits well in scale with the two other new highrise condos on First Street SW – Chocolate and Colours.
The project proceeded only after intense discussions and collaboration between the architects (BKDI), the developers (Apex and Western Securities), the City of Calgary (Planning and Parks) and the community. The result is a façade on the First Street side, which is red brick at street level to integrate with the historic brick Underwood Block into the street level retail. However, on the west side facing Haultain Park there are sandstone townhomes which mirror the character of the historic Haultain School built in 1894. The goal was to ensure that the building didn’t turn its back on the park with a large blank wall. The townhomes, with their patios looking directly into the park, make for a very attractive transition from small scale to high-rise in a short space.
The backstory of Union Square gets even more complex. The original plan called for two towers, which required more parking than, could be built under the buildings. So, a deal was stuck to extend the parkade under the park. To do so, the developer made a one-time payment of $250,000 to the City for park improvements. In addition, the condo association also pays an annual rental free to the city for the parkade under the park. Union Square really puts the PARK in parkade. As a result, there is a well-used playing field and children’s playground (you would be surprise how busy the playground is) in Haultain Park.
The first Union Square tower was completed in 2009. However the second tower was put on hold after the condo market crash in 2008. Now that demand for Beltline condos continues to be strong, rumour has it that plans are being finalized to complete the second tower which would add to the vitality of First Street SW south of the tracks, an area evolving into an attractive, active pedestrian zone.
Unlike many new condos Union Square doesn’t have on-site amenities like a fitness room, pool, lounge or library. It was determined that urban living is not about hibernating in one’s condo, but rather getting out and using the abundant amenities that already exist in the community – like the cafes, restaurants, yoga and workout studios, as well as the Memorial Park Library - that surround it.
An enlightened philosophy that will enhance community vitality for decades to come.
There are currently over 13,000 condo and apartment units under construction, approved or in the planning stages in the eight communities next to Calgary's downtown core (central business district). Calgary's City Centre (all of the communities within 5 km of downtown) is one of the most attractive and vibrant urban places in North America today.