Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo 2016

While I am not into comics, action heroes, video games or fantasy, I was an early fan of the Big Bang Theory TV show.  As a result, by osmosis I have become very curious about cosplay and the comic-con culture.  

Calgary Expo (our comic-con convention and trade show) has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006.  Today it is the second largest in Canada with attendance exceeding 100,000 people.  

As an everyday tourist, how could I not go this year and see for myself what our Calgary Expo is all about.

Day 1

I was in "people watching" heaven with all of the costumes and displays. There were smiles everywhere and everyone loved to get their picture taken.  The Calgary Expo has many interesting elements - a mini film festival, educational workshops, autograph and photo opportunities with your favourite fantasy character.

After people watching for an hour or so, I headed to the lecture halls and found a Special Effects Cosplay Photography with Vancosplay workshop. This was way out the universe I operate in, but I did get a couple of good tips on some software that I might play with.  Always learn something! 

Next I checked out the short film "Downtime" about a frustrated husband desperate for some downtime, who heads out on an impromptu fishing trip.  It probably won't win any awards but it was interesting to watch.

I missed the "How to Nerd-provise! An Improve Workshop" which would have been fun, I have always enjoyed improv and have been curious about giving it a try. This would have been the perfect opportunity. 

I did attend the "Conversational Klingon: Express Yourself in a ConLand" class by Joseph Windsor  a University of Calgary PHD student.  I had no clue what he was talking about, but the audience loved it.  

The big surprise of the day was having Canada Post at the end of the Klingon lecture unveil two new Star Trek posters.  I am a sucker for surprises. 

It is all about the kids!

The highlight of day one were the children who seemed to be in awe at what they were seeing. 

Day 2 POW: Parade of Wonder 

Day 2 began with everyone gathering at the Eau Claire Plaza starting at 9 am to register, make final costume adjustments and to take lots of pictures.

Again, everyone was keen to have their picture taken, it was an urban photographer's heaven. 

The route went from Eau Claire Plaza, north on 3rd Street SW to Stephen Avenue Walk, where it proceeded east to Olympic Plaza for the Calgary Expo Official Opening by the Mayor. 

The parade lasted about 20 minutes and everyone seemed very pleased - those who watched and those who walked. I think the photos speak for themselves. 

The downtown air was electric with excitement!

The Parade on Stephen Ave.

Olympic Plaza Calgary Expo Opening 

Last Word

Day 3 and 4 were were amazing with thousands of colourful characters of all ages, shapes and sizes animating Stampede Park like I have never seen it before.  

The lectures and panel discussions were very interesting with talks about everything from the Zombie Apocalypse by two University of Calgary professors, to a discussion of Cosplay and body image.  The panel discussion with Jackie Cruz and Lea Delaria of Orange is the New Black to a standing room only audience at the Boyce Theatre, was one of the best improv comedy shows I have seen in years. 

For an urban guy who loves colour, street animation and people the Calgary Expo is now near the top of my list of my favourite Calgary festivals. I love that it attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life. 

I also love how it animated Stampede Park and demonstrated to me how the Park is truly a community park and not just about the 10 days of Stampede.   

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The Next Step: Linking East Village & Stampede Park

The recent announcement that Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) and Calgary Stampede have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together is very exciting from an east side City Centre urban revitalization perspective.   

Stampede Park entrance on 4th St SE, aka Olympic Way.  

Stampede Backstory

Since the mid ‘90s the Calgary Stampede has been working hard to implement an ambitious master plan that would to transform Stampede Park into a mixed-use, vibrant year-round gathering place for Calgarians AND a “must see” tourists destination. 

Calgary Stampede Master Plan showing the new Agricultural Building, Youth Campus and several new buildings along 4th Street SE will need to be significantly revised to integrate new develops like Green Line LRT, BMO expansion and Saddledome changes. 

To date, some progress has been made to fulfil the vision - the BMO Centre, Agrium Western Event Centre and ENMAX Park (opening June 2016). Plans for the creation of a Youth Campus that will include a new home for the Young Canadians, as well as the addition of Calgary Arts Academy School to the Park are just now coming together with construction set to begin this year.

However, The biggest disappointment has to be the failed attempt to transform Olympic Way (aka 4th St SE from 10th Ave to the Saddledome) into Stampede Trail with shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, saloons etc. It was a good idea, but perhaps 20 years premature as the Trail needs too be surrounded by a mix of other uses to make it work.

Attendance at the ten day Calgary Stampede plateaued in the ‘90s, largely because there are only so many people the site can accommodate in a day and still offer a quality experience.   At about 120,000 per day, the Calgary Stampede attracts three times as many people per day as Disneyland.  There is a relationship between the size of a venue and attendance and Stampede’s sweet spot is about 100,000 people. 

Stampede Park growth is challenged because it is hemmed in by Macleod Trail on the west, Cemetery Hill to the south, Scotchman’s Hill to the east and CPR tracks to the north, making expansion of the site impossible.

As such, the Stampede has wisely turned its focused over the past 20 years to becoming more of a year-round events centre.  For example, the number of events at the BMO Centre has increased from 191 in 1994 to 550 in 2015.  It has also become home to many major annual events like the Calgary Expo, which attracts over 100,000+ Calgarians each year, making it one of Calgary’s largest annual events.

The Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (AKA: Calgary Expo) is a four-day pop-culture convention held each spring  at Stampede Park. Attendees can shop hundreds of vendors and exhibitors, check out panels and workshops, meet their favourite stars and creators, and celebrate what makes them geeky with thousands of other fans in cosplay.  Calgary Expo takes place April 26th to May 1st 2016.

At its March 15th, 2016 annual general meeting, Stampede CEO Warren Connell announced the organization is working on plans to significantly expand the BMO Centre as the next phase in the evolution of Stampede Park.

Stampede Park is at a tipping point. A mega-makeover is needed to allow better utilization of the land, existing and new LRT stations as well as links to new developments in East Village.

Stampede Grandstand is full for Rodeo, Chuckwagon races and Grandstand show during Stampede. 

Stampede's Macleod Trail entrance is now being crowed by condo development which is creating new opportunities for Stampede to become a year-round sports, entertainment and educational district. 

East Village mega-makeover!

At the same time as Stampede Park has struggled to realize its vision, East Village, under the guidance of CMLC, has undergone a multi-billion dollar makeover with Riverwalk, St. Patrick Island redevelopment, George C. King pedestrian bridge, National Music Centre, Central Library, new hotel, Simmons Building restoration and several new condos.

While, time will tell if the vision of East Village as vibrant urban village is realized, it sure off to an incredible start.  Since 2007, CMLC has invested $357 million into East Village infrastructure and development, which has attracted $2.4 billion of development taxable development – new condos, hotel and retail.

However, one of the keys to East Village’s ultimate success will be to ensure 4th St SE becomes a vibrant pedestrian zone. It takes more than just two anchors (library and museum) to make a great pedestrian street.  It takes a diversity of things to see and do - daytime, evening and weekends - for locals and tourists alike.

It is in the best interest of both CMLC and Stampede to work together to make 4th St SE a great street that connects the two communities.  The fact that they have agreed to work together bodes well for the success of both visions.

The new National Music Centre will become a grand entrance to East Village for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers exiting Stampede Park along 4th St. SE. 

Opportunity Knocks?

It would appear now is the perfect time to make something special happen on 4th St SE given the following major developments and decisions:

  1. National Music Centre (aka Studio Bell) opens this year on 9th Ave at 4th St SE.
  2. Green Line will have a LRT station at 4th St and 10th Ave SE.
  3. RioCan and Embassy BOSA are getting ready to start construction of their shopping/condo complex just off of 4th St. SE.
  4. New residents are now moving into the Guardian’s twin condo towers on 3rd Street between 10th and 11th Ave. SE, as well as into several East Village condos.
  5. New Central Library currently under construction opens in 2018.
  6. Stampede’s Youth Campus construction begins this year.
  7. ENMAX Park, Deane House and Hunt House (Fort Calgary Park) reopen this spring.
  8. The Calgary Flames have announced plans to leave the Scotiabank Saddledome for greener pastures in West Village.  If they stay or go, the Saddledome will be a key site in the future of 4th St SE.
  9. Stampede is ready to expand the BMO Centre, one of the busiest trade centres in Canada with an occupancy rate of 72% (the average occupancy in Canada is 55%).

Perhaps, given Calgary TELUS Convention Centre is looking for a new site and new building, it is the time to bite the bullet and create a major convention and trade centre at Stampede Park. It is the logical next step to transform Stampede Park into a vibrant 21st century Sports Entertainment, Education District that compliments what is happening in East Village.  

Another idea now surfacing for Stampede Park redevelopment is to allow vehicular traffic on 17th Avenue to pass through Stampede Park and then along 4th St SE to East Village.  

Wouldn’t it be great if the Stampede Park’s guardhouses were removed it became a place where Calgarians and tourists could freely walk, bike and drive through. What a great way to link the City Centre communities of East Village, Erlton, Victoria Park, Stampede Park, Beltline and Mission.

What is needed is a 4th St SE master plan that creates more opportunities for human scale developments (under six stories) with pedestrian-oriented sidewalk shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs.  The key will be lots of smaller and shorter buildings (think Kensington, Inglewood, Mission and 17th Avenue SW) that don’t dwarf the pedestrians.

The 4th St. SE underpass presents a major challenge for linking Stampede Park and East Village. 

Stampede Park uses every possible space on site for the ten days of Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Over the past 20 years, Calgary's downtown, East Village and Beltline communities have been expanding closer and closer to Stampede Park making it much more a part of the City Centre. 

Last Word

I hope CMLC and Calgary Stampede  (with the cooperation of the City Council and Calgary Convention Centre) can work together to capitalize on the full potential of East Village,  Beltline and Stampede Park in creating a unique sense of place for locals and tourists, on the east side of Calgary’s City Centre.

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