Downtown as a tourist attraction?
This is where the current proposal for CalgaryNEXT needs to be evaluated. The idea of building new arenas, stadiums, ballparks and convention centres is currently in vogue in many cities across North America because it provides anchors and a site for both residential and consumptive activity.
Edmonton's Ice District and Winnipeg's downtown SHED (sports, hospitality, entertainment district) is meant to play a role in rejuvenating the downtown. Certainly, sport facilities (BC Place and Rogers Arena), convention facilities, and cultural activities have played a major role in making Vancouver an attractive place to live and play even superseding downtown’s role as an employment center.
But there is another important point to be made. Great cities always support downtown tourism (e.g. New York or San Francisco) where people (suburbanites or visitors from other places) come to the downtown core for the weekend, stay in hotels, go shopping and dining, and take in cultural or sport events.
I discovered hotels in San Francisco are busier on the weekends than they are during the week as people come from everywhere to enjoy the options in the downtown core. If you look at cities with vibrant downtowns, they are almost always tourist hot spots.
Unfortunately, Calgary lacks the 5+ million population within a 2 or 3-hour drive that cities like San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto or Montreal have. Some argue you need this population base to support an urban playground on weekends. If just 2% of the people decide to head downtown on any given weekend that is 100,000 people. That's about the population of Calgary’s weekday downtown core workforce!