Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in PARKades

Calgary’s downtown has the dubious reputation as having some of the most expensive parking in the world! And there are several good reason for that. The most obvious is the city limits the supply of parking while the demand for parking by the 150,000+ downtown workers is very high (at least it was until recently).  But there are other reasons, like the fact Calgary has a greater percentage of underground parking than most cities. 

Above Ground vs. Underground?

That is not the case for other cities like Austin where almost all of their downtown parking is in above grade parkades that occupy the bottom 3 to 6 floors of their office, hotels and condos towers.  The further down you have to dig the more expensive the cost of underground parking.  It is my understanding that on overage an above ground parking stall costs about $20,000, while and underground stall averages out to about $60,000. 

In addition, the underground parking has to be heated which is not the case for above ground parking so they are more expensive to operate.  

Entrance to the underground parkade at James Short Park on a Saturday morning. 

Parkades as parks

The other big difference in Calgary downtown parking is that five of the parkades have parks above them – James Short Park, Civic Parkade, McDougall Centre, Harley Hotchkiss Gardens and York Hotel Plaza.  There is also a six park/parkade in the Beltline under the Haultain School Park that serves the Union Square condominium. 

Designing a parkade with a park on top increases the complexity of the design, engineering and materials, which in turn increases the cost of the project.  As each project is unique the cost can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions.

James Short Parkade (880 stalls)

James Short Parkade built is located on the block between 4th and 5th Avenues on the west side of Centre Street.  It is the site of the James Short School, which was originally 1905 Central School – the cupola from the school can be found at the NW corner of Centre Street and 5th Ave NW.  The school was torn down in 1969, but the cupola was saved and moved to Prince’s Island. 

Backstory: The cupola was designed to have a clock but it never had a clock while it was part of the school. It wasn’t until the park and parkade was developed in 1995 that the clock mechanism from the Burns Block demolished in the early ‘60s was incorporated into the cupola as part of the new park.

This passive two-acre park is used mostly as a place to sit, with some of the neighbouring Chinese community using it for Tai Chi exercise.  Above the park is Calgary’s only curved +15 that links Suncor Place with SunLife Plaza.

James Short Park is a quiet oasis in a sea of office towers. It is a peaceful place to sit, relax and chat. 

The James Short School copula sit at the southeast entrance to James Short Park. 

Old photo of Central Schools which later became James Short School and now is a park and parkade. 

McDougall Centre Parkade (658 stalls)

The historic McDougall school (has been restored and converted in the Premier of Alberta and the Calgary Caucus’ headquarters.  It is probably most famous for hosting the annual Premiers Stampede Pancake breakfast.  It opened 1908 as the Calgary Normal School, a teacher training facility. It became the McDougall (named for Methodist missionary John McDougall) elementary school in 1922 and continued in that role until 1981. The provincial government purchased the building, demolished the additions and reopened it as Government House South (now McDougall Centre) in 1987.

As part of the renovation design for the McDougall Center an underground parkade, with a lovely park above was created. There are two lovely tree-lined promenades that meet at the front doorway.  The back of the school has a cascading waterfall and pond under a canopy of large evergreens that is a popular place to sit at lunch.  And, when there is no water in the pond it makes for a great skate park. 

One of two lovely tree canopied sidewalks at McDougall Centre Park. 

McDougall Centre parkade is under the entire block of the 100+ year old sandstone school. 

On the west side of the Centre is a larger water feature which becomes a skate park when there is no water in the fountain and nobody is looking. 

City Hall Parkade (640 stalls)

The City Hall Parkade is located underneath the Municipal Building affectionately know by some as the Blue Monster. It is a popular evening parking spot for those attending an event at the Performing Arts Centre (opps Art Commons).

Few Calgarians, realize there is park on top of the parkade on the northeast corner of 9th Avenue and Macleod Trail.  It is not a ground level but at the +15 level so it is not visible to those driving or walking by.  It is a bit of a hidden oasis for City of Calgary employees and those in the know.  It is also home most years to Calgary’s first tree to leaf out as there is a microclimate created by its southwest orientation and the heat trap created by the dark brown brick Edwards Place apartments and the Municipal building’s dark blue glass. 

City Hall Parkade is invisible from Macleod Trail.  It is also sadly closed after hours and on weekends. The City of Calgary should be a leader in keeping downtown public spaces open on the weekends.   

City Hall Parkade Park offers good views of downtown architecture and it a quiet place to chat. 

Harley Hotchkiss Gardens (770 stalls)

The 1.5 acre Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is locate above the Alberta Court of Appeal (Court House #2) parkade that encompass the entire block from 6th to 7th Avenues and 4th and 5th Street SW.  The stately sandstone building has severed many different purposes including the Glenbow Museum from 1964 to 1977. 

At ground level is the old Court House, a futuristic LRT station with a connection to Holt Renfew, a water feature and the grassland gardens that is home to the Joe Fafard’s eight stampeding horses titled “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do” On the north side of the Court House building is Joanne Schachtel’s artwork/bench titled “Buffalo Trail;” this piece was in the park before the parkade was created and the judges demanded it be incorporate into the new park. When the judges talk, everyone listens.

Hotchkiss Gardens located in the middle of downtown Calgary. 

Hotchkiss Gardens is a popular lunch spot. 

Joanne Schachtel’s artwork/bench titled “Buffalo Trail" is meant to double as a bench for people to sit on.  Unfortunately it is often in the shadow of the Courthouse building, which makes it less popular as a place to sit.  

Haultain School Park

The Haultain School Park is a hidden gem in Calgary’s park system.  It includes the 1894 Haultain School (now home to Parks Foundation of Calgary) was Calgary’s first school. The park also includes tennis courts, a playing field and a busy children’s playground. 

When the twin Union Square condos (on 1st Street at 13th Ave SW) were proposed the developer worked a deal with the city to gain access rights build a parkade underneath the eastern half of the park for residents.  The money was used to upgrade the park for the entire community’s use.  The current residents pay a fee to the city each year for leasing the land rights.

Temporary Public Spaces

In addition to these permanent parks, there are two other parkades that have attractive public spaces at ground level.  There is a lovely plaza on the northwest corner of 7th Ave and 2nd St SW that is has been waiting since 1982 for the second tower of the First Canada Centre to be built. Each year the plaza is decorated with lovely grasses and flowers that make for a lovely outdoor lunch spot.

More recently, the site of the York Hotel, 7th Ave and Centre St. S, which was suppose to have a small office building as part of The Bow tower development has been converted into a temporary plaza.  Designed by Sturgess Architect, the plaza is constructed primarily of wood, to look like a huge deck, with benches and planters for trees and grasses designed specifically for the plaza and manufactured local.  All of the materials are recyclable. 

It could easily be another 25+ years before we see an office building on either site, in the meantime downtown Calgary has two public space to enjoy. 

A view of the First Canada Centre plaza from the +15 bridge over 7th Avenue.  In the summer, there are lots of planting creating a cheerful and colourful place to sit in the sun at noon hour. 

The flower boxes are actually support beams for the unbuilt office tower, they create wonderful private spaces to to sit and read or have a chat with a friend or colleague. 

York Hotel Plaza is a perfect spot to see tow of Calgary's iconic pieces of architecture and art - The Bow Tower and Wonderland sculpture. 

Like Poppy Plaza, it looks very inviting to skateboards, too bad it couldn't accommodate them as it would create some animation of the space, every time I pass by there is never anyone there. 

The York Hotel plaza fence decorative elements were inspired by the designs on the Art Deco York Hotel. 

Detail of York Hotel's decorative elements. (photo credit: Canadian Architectural Archives) 

Last Word

So the when it comes to creating public space in downtown Calgary, we can thank the City, the developers and designers who have sometimes willingly, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes creatively put the PARK in Calgary PARKades.

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