Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

The opening of the iconic Rogers Place and the creation of the new Ice District with its new hotels, condos, office buildings and casino has rocketed Edmonton to “star city” status.  Meanwhile, Calgarians struggle to figure out if they even want the mega CalgaryNext sports complex in their city centre. Some Calgarians are already suffering arena envy! 
Rogers Place recently opened in downtown Edmonton sparking some Calgarians to have arena envy.  

Rogers Place recently opened in downtown Edmonton sparking some Calgarians to have arena envy.  

The “battle of Alberta” goes way beyond hockey and football.

In fact, it started back in the 1905 with the inception of the province when the two cities vied for being Alberta’s capital city. Soon after in 1908, they again went head-to-head to see who would get the province’s first university. In both cases, Calgary lost! And of late, signature buildings and architectural design are another way our two cities are battling it out.

Rendering of new Calgary Central Library currently under construction in Calgary's East Village. When completed it will add to Calgary's reputation as an emerging design city. 

Rendering of new Calgary Central Library currently under construction in Calgary's East Village. When completed it will add to Calgary's reputation as an emerging design city. 

CALGARY SWAGGER

For the hundreds of thousands of Calgarians who have moved to Calgary in the 21st century, it is hard to believe Edmonton was the dominant Alberta city for much of the 20th century. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that Calgary’s population exceeded Edmonton’s.

Hosting, the 1988 Winter Olympics gave Calgary its swagger. Then in the mid ‘90s, the relocation of three major corporate head offices to Calgary - Canadian Pacific (from Montreal), Shaw Communications (from Edmonton) and Suncor (from Toronto) to Calgary was the catalyst for the emergence of Calgary's city centre as Canada’s second largest corporate headquarters and Western Canada’s economic engine.

Take that Edmonton.

At the same time Edmonton’s city centre plateaued - there were no major new office buildings built in the ‘90s and ‘00s, only a few new condos and their historic downtown Hudson’s Bay store relocated to a suburban-looking downtown building. While Calgary’s Stephen Avenue became one of Canada’s best pedestrian streets, Jasper Avenue became an embarrassment.

Cowtown got the moniker of Canada’s “Nowtown” while Edmonton became “Deadmonton.” For awhile, we almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

But has the tide the turned.

Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary's Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary's Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

EDMONTON RISES

Edmonton’s City Centre is once again thriving with 35 active development projects worth over five billion dollars.

The opening of the iconic Rogers Place and the creation of the new Ice District with its new hotels, condos, office buildings and casino has rocketed Edmonton to “star city” status.  Meanwhile, Calgarians struggle to figure out if they even want the mega CalgaryNext sports complex in their city centre. Meanwhile, we are all forced to trek north because the 'big concerts' are in Edmonton now, because the Saddledome is past it's best by date.

Even when it comes to office buildings, Calgary's are emptying out rather while Edmonton's fill up.

What is perhaps even more shocking is Edmonton will soon have a taller building than Calgary *gasp*. The new Stantec Tower, at 251 meters (66 storeys) will dwarf Calgary’s tallest building, Brookfield Place, by a whopping 4 meters. 

And just this week, Alldritt Land Corp. announced they are looking at and 80-storey residential tower that could be 29 meters taller than the Stantec Tower.  

Is Calgary about to become, Edmonton's little sister?

 

This is a computer rendering of the new Edmonton Ice District with Rogers Place bottom left and Stantec Tower being the tallest building.  

This is a computer rendering of the new Edmonton Ice District with Rogers Place bottom left and Stantec Tower being the tallest building.  

The new Alberta Provincial Museum is current under construction in downtown Edmonton. It is an attractive contemporary box design. 

The new Alberta Provincial Museum is current under construction in downtown Edmonton. It is an attractive contemporary box design. 

BIG ISN'T ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL.

While Edmonton is the media darling of late, if you examine the 'Battle of the Two City Centres' from an urban design perspective, Calgary might actually be winning.Yes, Edmonton has the box-like Stantec Tower. But Calgary has funky, twisty Telus Sky (221 meters) that has been designed by Bjarke Ingles, arguably the world’s hottest young architect.

In addition, Calgary has two other major office buildings under construction that are architecturally significant – Brookfield Place and vessel-shaped 707 Fifth, the latter designed by SOM Architects who are responsible for One World Trade Centre in New York and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Sure Edmonton has the futuristic-looking Rogers, but Calgary has an equally futuristic new public library designed by the highly sought after architectural firm, Snohetta, designers of iconic libraries around the world.

But yes, let's concede, Edmonton’s downtown library is getting a $63 million facelift that will definitely add to the city’s centre’s futuristic sense of place.

More worrying, Edmonton will soon boast the new Provincial Museum (opening late 2017). Dang. And it's sounds like it's going to be great. But hey, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s uniquely shaped Brad Cloepfil designed Studio Bell (aka National Music Centre).

Edmonton’s City Center also has the shiny, curvy Art Gallery of Alberta, but then Calgary’s angular Telus Spark glows in the dark. Not to be out done, Edmonton’s Telus World of Science is getting minor facelift putting it on par with plans to convert Calgary’s old Science Centre Planetarium to a public art gallery.

Art Gallery of Alberta is a flashy, wacky Frank Gehry imitation building. 

Art Gallery of Alberta is a flashy, wacky Frank Gehry imitation building. 

TELUS Spark's facade is grey by day, but at night it comes alive with a multi-colour light show. (photo credit: DIALOG Design)

TELUS Spark's facade is grey by day, but at night it comes alive with a multi-colour light show. (photo credit: DIALOG Design)

Even our malls are head--to-head. Edmonton's downtown indoor shopping mall is getting a $40 million new food court. But for my money, Calgary’s $250 million renovation of The Core shopping centre with its mega glass ceiling, which links to our historic Hudson’s Bay department store and upscale Holt Renfrew, blows away anything Edmonton has for shoppers.

The Core shopping center has a massive two-block long glass ceiling that is the largest of its type in the world  . Edmonton has nothing to match this urban gem.  

The Core shopping center has a massive two-block long glass ceiling that is the largest of its type in the world. Edmonton has nothing to match this urban gem. 

TelusSky Tower is currently under construction in Calgary.  The bottom floors will be office space for Telus, while the upper floors will be residential. 

TelusSky Tower is currently under construction in Calgary.  The bottom floors will be office space for Telus, while the upper floors will be residential. 

The vessel shaped 707 Fifth glass office tower is also under construction in Calgary. 

The vessel shaped 707 Fifth glass office tower is also under construction in Calgary. 

THE URBAN LIVING RENAISSANCE RACE

The eastern edges of both city centres evolved into huge, ugly surface parking lots by the end of the 20th century. And urban planners have realized, 'we dun wrong.'  So...

Today ambitious urban renewal plans for The Quarters (in Edmonton) and East Village (in Calgary) are underway. At this point Calgary, leads the way with several new condos completed and more under construction, as well as a new library, museum, hotel and a major new retail/residential development.

But in all fairness (insert grudging respect here), The Quarters also has several projects underway – the 28-storey Five Corners Residential tower, the 13-storey Hyatt Place, restoration of Lodge Hotel and Brighton Block (new home of the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta). As well, Artists’ Quarters will create 64 live/work spaces if they can find the money.

Still, The Quarters it has nothing to compare with East Village’s new public spaces - Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island. Score one for the home team.

And Edmonton has lots of condo construction in various places throughout its centre, but nothing to match the integrated urban village developments of Calgary’s Beltline, Bridgeland and Kensington communities. Also, Edmonton’s city centre has nothing to match our new parks - Hotchkiss Gardens and ENMAX Park at Stampede Park, or our network of bike lanes.

Edmonton's skyline has numerous attractive new high-rise condos but nothing like Calgary's condo boom.

Edmonton's skyline has numerous attractive new high-rise condos but nothing like Calgary's condo boom.

Over 30 new residential high-rise towers have sprouted up in Calgary's City Centre over the past decade. 

Over 30 new residential high-rise towers have sprouted up in Calgary's City Centre over the past decade. 

New hotel in Edmonton's Quarters is like a precious jewel-like ring setting.  

New hotel in Edmonton's Quarters is like a precious jewel-like ring setting.  

Calgary's newly revitalized St. Patrick's Island and Riverwalk leaves Edmonton's City Centre public spaces in the dust. 

Calgary's newly revitalized St. Patrick's Island and Riverwalk leaves Edmonton's City Centre public spaces in the dust. 

SISTER CITIES?

While Edmonton and Calgary will never be sister cities, their sibling rivalry is a healthy one. And, it makes both cities better places to live, work and play.

Let the hockey season begin….and while some Calgarians might have Edmonton envy, I think the Saddledome fosters a more unique and Calgary specific sense of place than Rogers Place which could be in any city.  

Scotiabank Saddledome was built for the 1988 Winter Olympic.  Its unique saddle-shaped roof is synergistic with Calgary's contemporary cowboy brand. (Photo credit: GEC Architecture)

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published Oct 1, 2016 by CBC Calgary's "Calgary At A Crossroads" titled, "Design Wars: It's Edmonton vs Calgary for the architectural cup."  

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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