Calgary's International Avenue Follows Jane Jacob's Advice

Jane Jacobs, the 1960s guru of urban renewal, once said, “gradual change is better than cataclysmic development.” International Avenue certainly seems to be heeding this sage advice. 

The ten blocks of 17th Avenue SW between 4th Street and 14th St SW currently branded as RED (Retail Entertainment District), is one of Canada’s top pedestrian streets and well known to Calgarians. 

But further east on 17th Avenue, specifically the blocks between 26th and 61st Street SE (aka International Avenue) flies under the radar for Calgarians and tourists.  It is one of Canada’s hidden urban gems. Soon that may all change as International Avenue (IA) is about to undergo a mega makeover – a $96 million transformation to be exact. Starting this September, construction will begin to make 17th Avenue SE a “complete street” i.e. it will accommodate cars, dedicated bus lanes for Bus Rapid Transit, transit stations, bike lanes, new wide sidewalks all graced with hundreds of trees.  

International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

Urban Boulevard: A Game Changer

Alison Karim-McSwiney, International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone’s (BRZ) Executive Director since its inception in 1992, started working on this transformation in 2004. Collaborating with faculty and students at the University of Calgary’s School of Environmental Design, a 21st century vision for 17th Avenue SE was created, long before BRT, bike lanes and walkability became hot topics in our city. 

The vision to create a vibrant urban boulevard to accommodate all modes of transportation and foster a diversity of uses – retail, restaurant, culture, office and condos and even live/work spaces - was very ambitious for the modest communities of Forest Lawn, Albert Park and Radisson Heights that are its neighbours.

While it has taken over 10 years to refine the dream and secure the funding and approvals, land use changes are now in place allowing for several mixed-use developments along 17th Avenue SE, which could result in 13,000 new residents and 9,000 new jobs over the next 25 years. 

Chris Jennings, of Stantec Calgary who facilitated the design of new International Avenue told me,  “I love the ideas and vision that have been put forward for this project.  Not all of them can be accomplished during this project, some of them are ideas that will occur on lands not on city property and some of the ideas will need delivered as future development occurs – but man, it is going to be something special in 10 to 15 years.”

Link: City of Calgary 17th Avenue S.E. BRT Project

A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

Foodie Haven

IA has all of the ingredients for a funky food-oriented urban village. Currently, of the 425 businesses, over 30% are food and restaurant-related.   Since the late ‘90s, International Avenue has been home to the “Around The World In 35 blocks” event that allows participants to sample the eclectic flavours of IA from September to June. 

Did you know that IA is home to an Uzbekistan restaurant called Begim? Have you even heard of Uzbekistan cuisine?  In his Calgary Herald review, John Gilchrist described Uzbek cuisine as “fairly mild with some hot chillies and spices such as dill, cumin and coriander. Kebabs come in beef, chicken, lamb and lyulya (ground beef). There is no pork or alcohol at Begim as the Madjanovs (owners) are Muslim and all of their meats are halal.” 

Gilchrist once told me, ““On this strip, you find food cultures as close as they come to their native lands.  It lives up to its name ‘International Avenue’ with great restaurants like Mimo (Portuguese), Fassil (Ethiopian), Pho Binh Minh (Vietnamese) and many other favourites of mine.”

Love this example of how a modest house has been turned into a restaurant, not just any restaurant but an Uzbek restaurant. 

Arts & Cultural Hub

One of Karim-McSwiney’s 15 goals (yes, the website ambitiously lists 15) is to transform IA into an “arts and culture” hub. In 2013, IA became home to its own arts incubator called “artBox”, a multi-purpose art space located in the old Mill’s Painting Building (1807 – 42nd St SE) with studios and performance space for local artists. Almost anything goes at artBox, from Aboriginal to African art, from concerts to exhibitions.  It has quickly become a meeting place for artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and as well as patrons of the arts.

So successful, it spawned “Emerge Market,” a retail pop-up shop in a shipping container on the front lawn of artBox.  Its goal is to assist young artisans and entrepreneurs to set up shop to test their products before taking the major step of opening up a permanent shop.  How smart is that?

The BRZ’s website lists six venues in IA that have live music weekdays and weekends. Who knew?

Angela Dione and Angel Guerra Co-founders of Market Collective (a collective of Calgary artisans established in 2011) were at a transitional point in the collective’s evolution when the International BRZ found them space in a former car dealership showroom for their pop-up Christmas Market in 2012.  Market Collective has since gone on to become just one of 17th Avenue’s incubator success stories.

Art box is an old retail paint store that is now a multi-purpose art space.  It has been so successful that a pop-up sea container has been added to allow artisans to showcase their work. 

Gentrification Free Zone

While places like Kensington, Mission, Bridgeland and Inglewood are quickly becoming gentrified, i.e. places where only the rich can afford to live, eat, shop and play, one of Karim-McSwiney’s goals is to foster development without significant increases in rent for retail and restaurant spaces, thus helping ensure the local mom and pop shops don’t have to close their doors or move elsewhere.

She and her Board realize one of the keys to IA’s future is to retain its established small unique destination with its local shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Illchmann’s Sausage Shop and Gunther’s Fine Bakery have both called IA home for 45 years and La Tiendona Market for 21 years.  It would be a shame to lose these icons as part of any revitalization, which is what happens all too often.

I love the fact that there are no upscale urban design guidelines for International Avenues facades.  Love the colour, playfulness and grassroots approach. 

There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

Last Word

For more information on events and new developments on International Avenue go to their website. Link: International Avenue BRZ 

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Calgary's 7th Ave. Transit Corridor: Better But Not Great

It all began innocently enough. A tweet by Sonny Tomic, an international urban planner and the former Manager of Calgary’s Centre City in which he said “Great street today – not 10 years ago,” with a photo of the 4th Street LRT Station at Hochkiss Gardens.  I responded, “this block is nice, but some blocks are not that great.”

This immediately started a flurry of emails about 7th Avenue’s transformation over the past 10 years and if 7th Avenue truly is a “great street.”  Even Jermey Sturgess, one of the urban designers for the new LRT stations along 7th Avenue contacted me wanting to know more about my thoughts on 7th Avenue, as he is part of the design team for the LRT’s Green Line. 

Sturgess and I recently did a walkabout so I could share my thoughts on how I thought 7th Avenue’s station and sidewalk design could be improved. 

The 4th Street LRT station (designed by Calgary's Sturgess Architecture) that empties onto the Hochkiss Gardens and historic Courthouse building is the highlight of Calgary's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor.  The rest of the corridor still leaves lots to be desired as a pedestrian friendly public space.  

7th Avenue History

Originally 7th Avenue was called McIntyre Avenue. It wasn’t until 1904 when the city dropped street names in favour of numbers that it became 7th Avenue.  In some ways, 7th Avenue has always played second fiddle to 8th Avenue as Calgary’s best urban streetscape.  The original City of Calgary trolley system used 8th Avenue not 7th Avenue and given this was before mass car ownership this meant almost everyone arrived downtown on 8th Avenue.

In the ‘70s, the situation changed. 7th Avenue became Calgary’s downtown’s transit corridor when part of 8th Avenue was converted to a pedestrian mall and rebranded as Stephen Avenue Mall. At the same time, new office shopping complexes like TD Square and Scotia Centre turned their backs on 7th Avenue having their front doors on 8th Avenue.  7th Avenue has struggled for the past 35+ years to find its mojo.

But if you look closely, you’ll see 7th Avenue is more than just a transit corridor.  It is home to Old City Hall, W.R. Castell Central Library, Olympic Plaza, Hudson’s Bay department store, Core Shopping Centre, Holt Renfrew, Devonian Gardens, Harley Hochkiss Gardens, Calgary Courthouse complex, Century Gardens and Shaw Millennium Park.

Indeed, 7th Avenue has all the makings of a great street and has had for many years with parks, plazas, shopping, churches, major office buildings etc.  It is also currently being radically transformed by three major new buildings, sure to become architectural icons – TelusSky, Brookfield Place and 707 Fifth. TelusSky is notable also as it will bring much needed residential development into the downtown office core. 

The Hochkiss Gardens with its trees, public art and lawn is a very attractive public space in the heart of downtown Calgary along the 7th Ave Transit Corridor. There is literally a park, plaza or garden every two blocks along the corridor.

Brookfield Place when completed will add a new plaza to 7th Avenue with a grand entrance unlike office tower built along 7th Ave in the '70s and '80s. 

707 Fifth Office Tower will also have an attractive entrance and plaza onto 7th Avenue when completed. 

Great streets are pedestrian friendly

To me, a great street is a place with lots of pedestrian-oriented buildings and activities i.e. inviting entrances, open seven days a week, daytime and evening with pedestrian-oriented activities (e.g. shopping, eating, browsing, entertainment, and recreational activities) at street level. 

Great streets are where people like to meet, gather and linger. This is not the case for 7th Ave for many reasons:

The City Hall/Municipal Building complex turns its back on 7th Avenue.  Yes, there is an entrance to the complex off of the LRT station but it is a secondary one that looks more like an afterthought.

The Convention Centre snubs 7th Avenue with no entrance at all from 7th Avenue, only emergency doors.

Olympic Plaza too discounts 7th Avenue with its large coniferous trees blocking transit riders’ view of the plaza activities. I am no tree expert but the lower branches could easily be trimmed so people could see into and out of the plaza along 7th Avenue? It would also be good for public safety.

The Hudson’s Bay store also gives the cold shoulder to 7th Avenue with its glorious colonnade along 8th Avenue and 1st Street SW but not extending around to 7th Avenue. As well, its larger display windows on 7th Avenue are poorly utilized and the sidewalk looks like a patchwork quilt of repairs.  

The side walk along 7th Avenue at the Hudson's Bay department store is an embarrassment. 

This is just one of several blocks and corners along 7th Avenue that are not public friendly.

Pride of Ownership?

Scotia Centre’s main floor food court entrance is several steps above street level effectively making it invisible from the 7th Avenue sidewalk. And its stairs are in very poor shape - no pride of ownership here.

Historically, TD Square followed suit, turning its back on 7th Avenue with the entrance being more office lobby-like than one opening onto a grand shopping complex.  The recent LRT Station improvements nicely integrates the station with building by creating sidewalk ramps at both ends that stretch from building edge to street, but the entrance is still more lobby-like than grand.

As for Holt Renfrew’s entrance off of 7th Avenue – well, it looks more like a dull hallway than a stately entrance to downtown’s upscale fashion department store.

7th Avenue lacks the cafes, restaurants and patios most often associated with great pedestrian streets. There are also no galleries, bookstores and shops fronting 7th Avenue that are would attract browsing pedestrians.  Most of the restaurants and cafes that do front onto 7th Avenue are closed evenings and weekends.  

One of the biggest obstacles for 7th Avenue is the fact that it is lined with tall office buildings that allow little if any of Calgary’s abundant sunlight any light to shine on the sidewalks, making it a very hostile pedestrian environment, especially in the winter.

Getting off and on the trains is a challenge as the numerous canopy pillars are in the way.  

If it isn't a pillar in the way it is a shelter, garbage can, signage or benches that make movement on the stations very difficult to navigate especially at rush hours. 

7th Avenue at Olympic Plaza is hidden from view by pedestrians and riders by lovely trees. This creates a very narrow sidewalk and safety issue (good public spaces have good sight lines so people can see into and out of the space). This streetscape would also improve with some colourful banners.  

Other Observations

What’s with the tacky baskets full of plastic flowers hanging at the LRT stations? I recently did a blog about banners being a better alternative than flowers and, though not a scientifically sound survey, everyone agreed the plastic flowers suck – including Councillor Farrell.

And speaking of banners, there are hundreds of banner poles along 7th Avenue - but most of them are empty. What a missed opportunity. They could be used not only to add colour to the street (especially in the winter), but also in conjunction with arts and event groups to promote and showcase upcoming art exhibitions, theatre shows and festivals.  

Also, though the new LRT stations are a big improvement, they are very “cluttered” with pillars, benches and ticket machines positioned in a manner that not only negatively impacts pedestrian movement but also exiting and boarding the train. 

And whose idea was it to locate huge public art pieces in the middle of the sidewalk at the entrances to the stations on the west and east end stations and a heat ball thingy in the middle of station?

The new design 7th Avenue is not pedestrian friendly as the sidewalk an obstacle course of garbage cans, artwork, trees, posts and fences.  

Putting a heat ball thingy in the middle of the sidewalk was just a dumb idea. 

7th Avenue looks great with lots of people and banners to add colour to the street. 

Last Word

As Calgary continues to work on the design of the new LRT Green Line, I hope the station and streetscape design team will learn from the clutter on 7th Avenue and create a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape. 

Kudos to Sturgess - he seemed to get it!  

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Calgary's Gravy Boat Has Sailed: Penny Tax vs Sales Tax

With this week's uproar by both the business community and home owners over property tax increases, Everyday Tourist looks at an alternative to property tax for raising funds for special projects that benefit a broad spectrum of the Calgarians. 

With Province and City’s free fall in revenues from loss of oil and gas tax revenue, as well as the loss of income tax revenue from rapidly increasing number of unemployed or part-time workers, and loss of business tax from all the empty office floors in downtown, the idea of a god-forbid Alberta Sales Tax has been suggested by many as a way to replace the lost dollars. 

I am pretty sure everyone knows what a sales tax is, but I doubt there are many who know what a penny tax is. Back in 2011, Calgary businessman George Brookman, CEO West Canadian Industries and Brian Felesky a founding partner in Felesky Flynn law firm, who now server on numerous corporate Boards, championed the idea of one penny tax on all goods and service, however unlike a sales tax the money raised must be used for specific projects. And the voters get to approve which projects it is used for and there is a limited time that the tax is in place, usually around five years. 

It was businessmen, not politicians who were suggesting the idea of a penny tax to pay for capital projects that would benefit a broad sector of the public - things like recreation centres, libraries, parks, transit, roads and museums.  

In 2011, with the energy sector generating billions of tax dollars every year, the idea of any new taxes just seemed like a tax grab.  Alberta and Calgary’s world has changed dramatically since 2011 and perhaps it is time to rethink the idea of a penny tax.

Calgary Stampede is currently developing its new Youth Campus as part of its master plan.  The next phase is the expansion of the BMO trade show building into a multi-purpose event centre. 

Oklahoma City Case Study

In 1993, Oklahoma City 54% of the voters decided to turn around their struggling city by approving a tax on themselves.  The program was called MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Plan) and it generated $350 million towards nine projects that took ten years to complete. 

The projects included:

  • Renovations to the Civic Centre Music Hall
  • Renovations to the Cox Convention Centre
  • Renovations to the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds
  • Construction of the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark
  • Construction of the Chesapeake Energy Arena
  • Construction of the Bricktown Canal (transformation of former warehouse district into and entertainment and recreational district)
  • Construction of Riverfront improvements including recreational dams, Boathouse district and headquarters for USA Canoe/Kayak and Rowing teams.
  • Construction of a new library
  • Development of the Oklahoma Spirit Trolley Network

Oklahoma City's Bricktown Ballpark

The program was such a success that in 2001 a MAPs for Kids was developed to raise $700 million over 10 years for initiatives to pay for repairs to 100 schools as well as to add new gyms. 

A third MAPS was approved in 2010 to raise $770 million from 2010 to 2017 to be used for:

  • New Convention Centre
  • New Downtown Festival Park
  • New streetcar system
  • New Senior Health and Wellness Centers in various buildings around the city.
  • Upgrades to the river train facilities
  • Fairground improvements
  • Expansion of trail system
  • Expansion of neighbourhood sidewalk (many communities in American cities have no sidewalks)

Festival Park in downtown Oklahoma City. 


 The MAPS revenue does not get lumped into the city’s tax revenue and managed by City bureaucrats but rather is collected and held independently.  The projects are managed a Board that consists of The Mayor, three bureaucrats, three Councillors and three citizens at larger. 

A better model for Calgary, might be the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, which has a board of Director’s appointed by Council, but that includes no bureaucrats, and the Mayor is the only elected official, all of the members are citizens-at-large chosen because they have the experience and knowledge needed to manage the projects.  Similarly ENMAX, which is owned by the City of Calgary, has a Board of Directors, with just two Councillors and no bureaucrats.

Crowchild Trail expansion concept for 16th Ave NW and Crowchild Trail, part of a mega makeover from 24th St. NW to 17th Ave SW. One of the concepts is for a tunnel for part of the Crowchild Trail. Crowchild Trail is a key corridor as it links two universities, three hospitals and three new urban villages. Currently this project is not funded. (City of Calgary Crowhchild Trail Expansion link)

Opponents Say….

Some economists and public officials oppose sales taxes because they are considered regressive. That means they tend to have a disproportionately large impact on the poor, who spend a bigger portion of their income at the grocery store and retail establishments.  In response to this criticism, it is possible that the tax is not applied to groceries, low-end children’s clothing and certain other items.

Others will say, “I don’t favour anything that gives the city another revenue stream that is under their control, as they have proven to me they are incapable of managing taxpayers resources. The City has a long history of exceeding budgets on capital projects, likely more so than we will ever know.”

As one senior private sector accountant said,  “The present property tax system is broken, with substantial funding each year into reserves rather than actual expenditures, which can then be disbursed at a future date so they look like heroes. If you want an exercise in frustration, look at the cities financials and see the reserves that are sitting on the books.  Some may consider it prudence, but in reality it is over-taxation and manipulation.  A corporation would never be able to get away with it.”

“I would have a hard time with a project like the Green Line being on the list of Penny Tax problems.  We are about to see a massive tax implemented in Alberta that is supposed to be in part directed at public transportation. We should be holding the government's feet to the fire to ensure that it is spent in that fashion, and not just another tax for general revenues and pet political projects,” says a long time Calgary business owner.

“Each project should be voted on separately so if project was turned down on the plebiscite, it should also some weight on the city's future decision to proceed on their own. For example, if a new arena were voted down, it should be a dead issue.  The city would not turn around and fund it after the public has spoken,” says a Calgary cultural champion.

Editor's Note: After posting this blog, BL wrote: 
Your article begins with the assumption that Calgary has a revenue problem. Perhaps that assumption should be studied more thoroughly. In fact, Calgary's revenues and spending have been growing faster than the average cost of living for a number of years. The City of Calgary does not have a revenue problem. They have a spending problem.
They do not need new sources of revenue for, in fact, there is only one source: the taxpayer. They need to spend more wisely.
There was an interesting article in the Herald this week about a "pilot project" in which the Fire department used SUV's equipped with minor medical equipment, instead of fire engines, to attend to medical emergencies. Guess what? They saved money. Wasn't that a pretty obvious, perhaps a foregone, conclusion.
The city abounds with examples like this in almost every department. Just see what happens when someone proposes that private sector contractors be hired on a competitive basis to clean bus shelters instead of unionized transit workers. All hell breaks loose at City Hall!
Let's not look for more avenues to use to fleece the taxpayer. Let's look for more effective use of the funds already at hand.

A Penny Tax could be applied to help convert Calgary's old science centre into a civic art gallery. 

Champions say…

There are lots of people who believe that there should be no taxes at all and often the wealthier they are, the more they resent paying taxes.  In my own mind, one of the reasons that we are in the pickle that we find ourselves in today is the fact that for too many years, the Conservatives drew on the Heritage Trust Fund instead of raising the tax base. 

Brookman thinks, “The strength of ‘The Penny Tax’ is that projects are selected by public plebiscite and the revenues are administered outside of the normal bureaucracy/political world.‎    For me, there has to be a combination of three projects with broad appeal. Arts and culture: Sports and transportation.

A Penny Tax in Calgary would collect about $300 million per annum. Thus a fixed term of five years would generate $1.5 billion.”

What would $1.5 billion buy Calgarians over the next five years!

A Penny Tax could help fund the development of a new fieldhouse and upgrade to existing McMahon Stadium which are both currently not funded. 

The City of Calgary’s contribution to:

  • $250M Green Line Tunnel downtown
  • $250M McMahon Stadium/Fieldhouse development 
  • $250M Stampede Expansion (Trade Show/Convention Centre Facility)   
  • $500M Crowchild Trail Expansion 
  • $250M Upgrade existing recreational, public spaces across the city 

One suggestion was the Penny Tax not fund the entire projects but be seed money for projects.  Other funding should come from existing tax revenue (municipal, provincial and federal), fundraising by user groups and naming sponsorships. Everybody should have skin in the game. However, with this structure the Penny Tax Board would not be in control of the project, which is one of the key selling features of the tax.

In the future, a Penny Tax could be applied to build new recreation centres like Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre or to upgrade and expand existing recreation centres.  

Last Word

“It may be worth considering, but only if managed by a project committee that is totally outside of city control and outside of their power to decide on the membership. It would also have to be outside their project management and procurement – in other words totally separated from their bureaucracy. And that will never happen,” shared one Everyday Tourist blog external reviewer.

Personally I am all for experimenting with new ideas for city building.  Calgary was the first city in Canada to use the American TIF (tax increment financing) program to kick-start the development of East Village.  With a civic election in 2017, perhaps it is time to ask the taxpayers what they want to do.

Is it time for the city to again experiment a with new tax ideas as our gravy boat has sailed? 

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Calgary / Edmonton: Let's Plan Together

With the release of the City’s review of the real costs of CalgaryNext proposal for a new arena, stadium and fieldhouse in West Village, the plot thickens on how Calgary’s professional sports facilities will evolve over the next decade.

Is it just me or has anyone else wondered why Calgary, Edmonton and the Province aren’t working together to develop a master plan for the provinces major sporting facilities in both cities and look for synergies.

In February 2016, Edmonton completed a study to look at the future uses of Rexall Place on their exhibition grounds, while Calgary has just put out a Request For Proposals to look at future uses of the Saddledome, also located on our exhibition grounds.  While there are differences between the two buildings, sites and markets, there much overlap. 

The same could be said for Alberta’s two football stadiums, which are both past their best before date and in need of a mega makeovers - Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1978 and McMahon Stadium in 1960.

Edmonton's Rogers Place is nearing completion, along with numerous other buildings including the Stantec office tower which will be 69 floors including mechanical making it Canada's second tallest office tower.  The streets around Rogers Place are being branded as the Ice district. 

CalgaryNext is a proposed arena, stadium and fieldhouse at the western edge of Calgary's downtown. 

Arena: Demolish vs. Repurpose  

In the case of the two arenas, Edmonton has already built its new arena and completed a 244-page report on the potential repurposing of Rexall Place.  Rather than spend $8.3 million to demolish the arena, Northlands has floated a plan to spend $85 million to convert it into multi-plex with six or seven ice surfaces on two levels with seating for 3,000 spectators, that would be used for various hockey, curling, lacrosse, ringette and other tournaments, as well as potential replacing some of the city’s aging community arenas for recreational activities.

The plan is linked to a $160 million makeover of Northlands that includes closing the racetrack and converting it into an “urban festival site” for audiences between 30,000 and 140,000 people.  Plans also call for converting the Expo Centre’s current Hall D into a 5,000-seat space for smaller concerts and sporting events.

Rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Northlands Park in Edmonton. The Rexall arena is the circle building at the bottom, the old race track is the new "urban festival site" at the top of the image. 

The Edmonton report researched 17 other North American NHL cities that have introduced new arenas since 1994, and found that 11 of the replaced venues were ultimately demolished.  Maple Leaf Gardens is now a Loblaws grocery store, Joe Fresh boutique and a LCBO liquor store as well as the Ryerson University athletic facility, which includes an ice rink on the third floor, which is used by university teams, as well as for other activities by outside users.  The Montreal Forum, is now a mixed-use building that includes a Cineplex Theatre complex, a bowling alley, sports bar, Tim Hortons and Montreal Canadian’s gift shop.

The Montreal Forum today.

Calgary’s situation is very different as there are no firm plans for a new arena, however, The City of Calgary and The Saddledome are in the process of engaging consultant to look at future uses of the Saddledome and the economic feasibility and community benefits of each option.

Ironically, this comes at the same time as the Calgary Stampede has announce it wants to expand the BMO Centre to create a major convention and tradeshow centre, by tearing down the Corral a 6,475 arena built in 1950 that is across the street from the Saddledome and attached to the current BMO Centre.  It has been postulated by some that perhaps the Saddledome could be reconfigured into a convention centre/trade show facility. 

It will be very interesting to see what ideas the consultants generate for the Saddledome and how that links with the Stampede’s master plan.

The Saddledome is one of Calgary's few iconic buildings.  It provides a postcard view of the City's stunning skyline.  

Football Stadium

In the case of the two football stadiums, Edmonton is again ahead of the game having just appointed MTa: Urban Design/Architecture (offices in Calgary and Edmonton) to review the future of Commonwealth Stadium. Given it looks more and more, like Calgary’s City Council is favouring renovating McMahon stadium, doesn’t it make sense to engage MTa to review both stadiums and their sites to determine how best to invest the taxpayers dollars. 

It is hard to justify a new stadium 30,000+ seat stadium that gets filled for 8 home games, perhaps a playoff game and a Grey Cup every 10 years.  Ideally the new stadium if designed with noise reduction acoustics could also be major concert venue in the summer.

If it is determined a new stadium makes the most sense, one possibility in Calgary would be to build a new stadium north of the existing one, perhaps in a way that could include a baseball stadium and fieldhouse to maximize its use.

The current site of McMahon Stadium includes an outdated baseball park, as well as running track and other playing fields.  Could this site be redeveloped into a multi-sport complex that would serve professional sports (football, soccer, baseball), university athletics and recreational teams city-wide. 

An interesting twist would be to plan any renovations so that one is completed before the other e.g. while Calgary’s McMahon Stadium is being redeveloped the Stampeders could play in Edmonton and then Calgary could return the favour when Commonwealth Stadium is being renovated. 

There would be some cost saving to doing the two renovations in tandum and creating two similar stadiums, just like the Jubilee Theatres.  

Last Word

It will be very interesting to see how these urban renewal sagas play out over the next few years.  What lessons Calgary might learn from Edmonton, who have already built a new arena with a very controversial funding structure that was debated for many years.

In Calgary the debate is only getting started.  

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