N3: No parking! No cars! No worries!

I recently had a chance to tour Knightsbridge Homes’ and Metropia’s controversial new N3 condo in East Village, which has absolutely no parking for residents or visitors. While some saw the lack of parking as a huge risk in a city where most citizens can’t live without a car, Joe Starkman, President Knightsbridge Homes and his team did their research and realized while the market in Calgary for a condo with no parking was small, all he needed was 167 people in a city of over one million to sign up. 

  Looking west to downtown...

Looking west to downtown...

Turns out he was correct. The 460 to 620 square foot condos were quickly snapped up. Today, the building is fully occupied with residents who love living East Village where almost everything is - or soon will be - within walking distance or a quick transit ride away.

While the homes are small, I and the two other housing professionals I was with were very impressed with their efficient designed.  While one might think N3’s market would be a haven for millennials, many were empty nesters.   

  Communal living room...

Communal living room...

IKEA Connection

What I found really interesting too was that every buyer was given a $500 IKEA gift card to help outfit their condo, a Lifetime Car2Go Membership, $500 in Car2Go mileage credits and a $500 gift card to Bow Cycle. Obviously, N3 was destined to become a haven for walkers and cyclists, who only needed a car occasionally.  I also learned a special weekend IKEA bus (hourly service starting at 11 am) was established not only for N3 but all East Village residents and the City Center at the N3 condo show suite – it still operates today.

  Double decker bike parking...

Double decker bike parking...

Top To Bottom Appeal

Calgary’s GEC architects designed a handsome building, which includes a spectacular roof top patio, complete with kitchen facilities and workout space.  The patio has million dollar views of the downtown skyline, as well as great views of the new Central Library, the river and mountains. The rooftop patio was very well used this summer, becoming a communal living room for all residents. It is a view that will never disappear, as all of the surrounding buildings will never get any taller.

Its basement is probably the best bike storage in Calgary.  It comes complete with a bike repair and washing area.  There is direct access to the mews between N3 and St. Louis hotel with a bike friendly ramp and of course state-of-the-art secure storage racks.  The bike room is bright and airy, not a dark and dingy basement.

  Rooftop view looking NE...

Rooftop view looking NE...

  Rooftop view looking south...

Rooftop view looking south...

Mixed Use

Like all good City Centre condo developments, N3 includes commercial uses at ground level.  Tim Hortons has recently opened along the 4th Street SE street frontage while The Brewer’s Apprentice has opened in the mid-block mews that separates N3 from the historic St. Louis Hotel.  Apprentice is a unique, high-tech concept that offers 48 different craft beers from Alberta and beyond.  They offer tastings and in addition to buying beer in cans and bottles, you can get freshly poured growlers and tallboys.

Kudos to the GEC architectural team who chose to make the entrance to N3 from the mews and not from 8th Ave SE or 4th St SE, thereby allowing for better commercial space at street level and a funky, European-like space in the mews.

  Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

  View from balcony....

View from balcony....

Last Word

While N3 offered the lowest cost new condo prices in East Village and probably in all of the City Centre, it is by no means a low cost building. The amenities rival those of luxury condos.  I chatted with several residents during my tour and everyone was very happy with their purchase.

N3 has been so successfully Starkman and his team are going to “do it again.” Well, not exactly. They are currently developing plans for the 14-storey Velo, which will have a mix of housing types including mico-suites (under 250 sq. ft.), seniors’ housing and housing for the ably-disabled all in one tower.  And yes it will have some parking but not the typical amount.

As for the significance of the name N3, officially it stands for New attitude, New vision and New lifestyle, my interpretation is No parking, No cars, No worries!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, Dec 23, 2017.

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

No parking! No Problem!

Condo Living: More Time For FUN!

21st Century: Century of the condo!

Calgary leads Vancouver in condo design?

Urban Villages: Calgary defeats Nashville

Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in North America today - construction cranes are everywhere.  Yet Calgary, even in a recession, could easily give it a run for its money when it comes to creating urban villages.  Calgary's East Village blows Nashville's Gulch away as a model 21st century urban community. 

In fact, Calgary's diversity of urban villages surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has to offer. 

  Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

  The Gulch's Main Street. 

The Gulch's Main Street. 

  Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

The Gulch vs East Village 

The Gulch, a LEED Certified community just southwest of Nashville’s downtown, is their most developed urban village with hotels, numerous condos (1,500 homes to date), office buildings, restaurants, clubs and a small urban grocery store.  However, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s East Village.  It lacks the parks, public spaces, natural setting along a river, transit links and the density of development that makes East Village so special.

  The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

  Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

  Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

  Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

  Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

  Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

East Nashville vs Inglewood 

Many consider East Nashville to be the City’s coolest neighbourhood with its bohemian vibe, including numerous old houses converted to record stores, pizza parlours, guitar and vintage shops.  However, the restaurants, shops and clubs are chaotically – there is no real Main Street.  Also East Nashville is cut off from downtown - not only by the river but by the huge NISSAN Stadium surrounded by surface parking lots. 

Calgary’s Inglewood with its historic Main Street, various music venues, Esker Foundation Art Gallery, Recordland, Crown Surplus store and indie shops, is every bit as is cool as East Nashville.

  East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

  Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

  Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

  Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Other Urban Villages

Sandwiched between Vanderbilt and Belmont University is the three-block long 21st Ave S Village. This community has much the same feel as Calgary’s Kensington Village. It even has a historic arthouse cinema - the two-screen Belcourt Theatre. What it lacks though is Kensington’s grocery store, drug store, walkability to downtown and transit connections.

  Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

12 South is Nashville’s upscale pedestrian area that is perhaps best known for being home to Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James shop.  Indeed it is bustling street with lots of restaurants, cafes and women’s fashion boutiques.

But look a little closer and you’ll see it doesn’t provide the necessities of urban living - grocery store, drug store and professional offices. 

Calgary’s equivalent would be Britannia with its lovely plaza street that does have a grocery store and other everyday amenities that are required to create a walkable community or Mission/Roxboro.

We lived in an Airbnb for 7 days in the 12 South District and our biggest frustration was that it was a 20-minute walk (often without sidewalks) in the other direction to a grocery store. There was no bakery where we could buy bread, bagels or buns (we were disappointed to find out the Five Daughters Bakery was just a donut shop). While I could buy some craft beer, there was no liquor store.  Not even a convenience store where you could get some milk, beer and wine.  We were very surprised to find there was no live music venue along 12 South, although there was a guitar and drum shop.

We found nothing in Nashville has nothing to match the urban lifestyle that Calgary’s Beltline and Mission communities offer, nor did we find any budding new urban villages like Bridgeland/Riverside or Marda Loop.

  All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

  The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

  Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

  This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

  The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

  Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

  Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

  Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

  Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

   Calgary's 17th Avenue   is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's Urban Villages

If you haven't guessed already, an urban village has a mix of uses - retail, restaurants, recreation, cafes, pubs, live music venues, galleries, theatres, cinemas, bookstores, grocers, drug stores, financial and medical services all within a few blocks.  It also includes a mix of housing types - single family, duplex/triplex, row housing and multi-family (mid and hi-rises).  They often have one or more employment centres - office, government, school and hospital. Urban Villages are pedestrian oriented often with a Main Street as the meeting place for residents.  

Calgary boasts the following urban villages in various stages of evolution:

  Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

City Center

  • Beltline
  • Mission
  • Chinatown
  • East Village
  • Kensington
  • Bridgeland/Riverside
  • Eau Claire/West End

Inner City

  Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

  • Marda Loop 
  • Britannia
  • Currie (under construction)
  • University District (under construction)
  • University City/Brentwood

Suburbs

  • Quarry Park
  • West District
  • SETON 

 

Lessons Learned:

I left Nashville with a much better appreciation of the importance of creating long contiguous pedestrian streets like 17th Avenue SW or 4th Street SW as part of urban villages. 

I think Calgary is on the right path with its Main Street program which is looking at ways to foster more pedestrian oriented everyday shopping/services streets throughout the city. 

My Nashville experience also gave me a better appreciation of the importance of providing the "necessities" of everyday living rather than “just the niceties” when it comes to fostering urban villages.  

Thirdly, I have a better appreciation for just how well Calgary is doing in fostering the development of new and existing urban villages. 

Yes, Calgary's collection of urban villages at various stages of development surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has. 

   Currie   is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

Currie is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

   University District   a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

University District a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Calgary 24 Main Streets?

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth 

Marda Loop Madness

 

 

 

Point Mckay: A Garden Paradise

Many times I have said “don’t judge a community until the trees are taller than the houses.”  I was reminded of this over the summer as I picked up a golf buddy once a week at his townhome in Point McKay before heading out to Redwood Meadows.  As the summer unfolded, so did the amazing trees and flowers that make the northwest community of Point McKay a garden paradise.

IMG_9807-EFFECTS.jpg

It is bounded at the north by Bowness Road, at the east by 37 Street NW, at he south by the Bow River and at the west by the Edworthy Park parking lot.  For many, Point McKay is the two brown brick highrise condo towers (Riverside I and II) along Parkdale Boulevard next to the Edworthy Park parking lot, or the townhome backyards you can see when you walk or cycle along the north shore of the Bow River. In reality, it is a hidden gem.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 9.54.37 AM.png

Point McKay was one of Calgary’s first attempts at creating an urban village.  The 21- storey Riverside I and II towers (completed in 1979 and 1981 respectfully) create the high density (295 units) with retail and a fitness centre at street level they are similar in many ways to the new towers in the Beltline.

It isn’t until you drive into the townhome area to the east of the towers that you begin to appreciate how this urban village is a garden oasis.

The curved, tree-lined streets are divided into six clusters (built from 1977 to 1980) totalling 505 town homes and 30 duplexes.  What makes them really special is the lovely side and backyards that open up to common areas lush with flowers, trees and expanses of green grass. 

 

There are no detached single-family homes in Point McKay, the same as University District one of Calgary’s new 21st century urban villages, currently being built just a few kilometers away.

  Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

  Best side yards in Calgary?

Best side yards in Calgary?

City Beautiful Movement

One Sunday afternoon, I cycled over to explore the community on foot.  I was gobsmacked by how beautiful the side yards and interior common areas were. I was immediately reminded of the “City Beautiful” movement popular in Canada in the early 20th century, with its principles of creating urban communities that were less grid-like and more park-like. This meant curved streets, irregular lot shapes, boulevards, an abundance of parks and architectural controls; not dissimilar to what we saw in Calgary’s late 20th century communities.

  View of Point McKay from the Bow River pathways (north side).

View of Point McKay from the Bow River pathways (north side).

Amenities

Point McKay has easy access to the Bow River pathway - for cycling downtown to work and/or play, or perhaps a recreational walk in the evenings or on weekends.  You could walk to work if you worked at the Foothills Medical Centre.

It is also close to both Edworthy (pebble beach) and Shouldice (sports fields) Parks. It is also only a short walk to Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream café in Edworthy Park or the Lazy Loaf Café, Extreme Bean or Lic’s Ice Cream in Parkdale.

  Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Backstory:

In 1977, Cinema Park Drive-In, with its parking lot that accommodated 1036 cars, was demolished to make way for the Point McKay upscale high-rise/townhouse development.  The development is named after Alfred Sidney McKay (1860–1940), a Calgary who homesteaded the land that is now Point McKay and Parkdale.  He built a sandstone home near the Bow River at 1st Ave and 37th St NW that is still there today albeit hidden in the middle of Point McKay and rented to an architectural firm. Yes you can still walk in and see it.  

FYI: There are also four 100 year old brick homes along 37th Street that were built as a parade of show homes when the new community of Parkdale was McKay built as show homes when he was first being developed. 

  A 100 year old show home.....

A 100 year old show home.....

Last Word

Today, Point McKay is home to some lucky 1,348 people who live in a garden paradise that is unique to Calgary.

Note: This blog was originally published in the November 2017 Issue of Condo Living Magazine. 

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Office-To-Residential Conversions: Won't Save Calgary's Downtown

The BIG IDEA that arose from the City of Calgary’s “Downtown Economic Summit” this past March was the need to convert some of our downtown’s vacant office space into residential. Doing so would help create a more vibrant downtown in evenings and weekends when it tends to become a ghost town when the 150,000 downtown office workers leave.

 There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

Feasibility?

This idea is not new. In the early ‘90s (also a time when Calgary’s downtown office vacancies were very high), Paul Maas, an architect and urban planner at the City of Calgary championed the idea that Calgary’s downtown core needed more residential development.  He advocated for residential above the shops in the historic buildings along Stephen Avenue. He also thought old office buildings would make for ideal conversions to residential. His ideas fell on deaf ears, partly because at that time, there was no market for residential development in the core or surrounding \ communities.  

The Calgary Downtown Association even had an architect on staff for a time, researching the feasibility of office conversions to residential.  His conclusion - conversions were too costly, complex and there was no market for residential in the core.

  Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Have Times Changed?

Fast forward to today. There has been an incredible renaissance in urban living, not only in Calgary but in major cities across North America for more than a decade now.  Today, new residential buildings are routinely under construction in the communities surrounding our downtown - West Downtown, Eau Claire, East Village, Bridgeland/Riverside, Inglewood, Victoria Park, Beltline, Mission and Hillhurst. 

But in the downtown core itself (9th to 4th Ave SW and 8th St SW to Centre Street), there has only been two buildings with any residential component built since the ‘90s - Germain hotel, office, condo project and the TELUS Sky, currently under construction.

  Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Office Conversions Are Difficult

Over the years, numerous studies have documented the difficulties of office-to-residential conversions - building code issues, costs, lack of market and parking requirements being the key ones.

To get a current picture of the feasibility of office conversion in Calgary, I spoke with decided with Bruce McKenzie, Vice President, Business Development, NORR Calgary office as they have probably designed more urban residential buildings in Calgary than any other architectural firm.

He was quick to agree - office conversions face many challenges including:

  • Inability to control construction costs due to unforeseen extras (renovation / code extras).
  • Lack of parking means most likely these properties will remain rental (and probably should as people aren’t apt to take the risk of an old building and the potential future condo fee escalations).
  • Mechanical systems are totally unusable from office to condo/rental so a total gut job is usually needed.
  • Never able to achieve National Energy Code of Canada for buildings’ envelop requirements.
  • Floor plate sizes are too deep to create usable residential space at appropriate scale i.e. smaller units, which are typically what the market wants in conversion buildings.

That being said, NORR Calgary is currently doing several conversion studies, with one downtown Calgary project in working drawings.

  Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Criteria For Conversion

I also connected with Strategic Group who owns a number of older buildings in downtown Calgary and are doing an office-to-residential conversion of the Harley Court building in downtown Edmonton.

COO Randy Ferguson, indicates his firm is a big proponent of conversion when certain criteria are met: 

  1. Design efficiency.  (Note: Not as many office buildings are designed in a way that facilitate repurposing as many people would think – side core; offset core; odd rectangular buildings; oversized floor plates all drive inefficiency and quickly are eliminated as they can’t meet this requirement. Also must be able to accommodate built-in amenities - rooftop terrace, fitness, community space.)
  2. Location. Must have urban living amenities nearby - grocery, street life, churches, arts facilities, sports facilities, cool restaurants, bars and shopping
  3. Near major employment districts
  4. Close proximity to high speed public transportation
  5. Walkable 24/7 streets
  6. Rental demand in the neighbourhood
  7. A mix of architectural expression and affordability in the neighbourhood
  Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.   

Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.  

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

  1. Inefficiency of design
  2. Zoning
  3. Lack of demand for residential

Ferguson says Strategic Group “is currently studying the assets they own in Calgary to ascertain which may be appropriate for conversion and whether or not office or residential are the highest and best use” adding “some office buildings are too successful to convert.”

When asked how the City of Calgary could foster more office conversions his response is plain and clear - “We believe the call to action is not to provide incentives, rather to facilitate the approval process by expediting matters such as zoning, permitting and plans examination. This would outweigh any incentive a municipality is at liberty to provide.”

Recently, while surfing Twitter, I learned Winnipeg-based Artis REIT has proposed the redevelopment of Calgary’s Sierra Place (7th Ave and 5th St SW) office building to residential. Zeidler BKDI architects have recently submitted a development permit on their behalf, proposing to convert the ten-storey, 92,000 square foot building into a 72-suite residential building. 

Obviously, while converting old office buildings to residential is difficult, it is not impossible.  

 The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

Calgary’s downtown office space vacancy problem is not with its older buildings, but rather with its tall shiny new buildings.  Some quick math shows older office buildings (C Class) make up only 6% of the total downtown office space (or about 2.3 million square feet) of which 630,000 square feet is vacant.  The conversion of three or four older office buildings will not solve our downtown office vacancy problem.

On the other hand, Class A and AA office space (newer buildings, best location, best amenities) make up 72% of the total downtown office space.  Currently, there is about 7 million square feet of vacant A and AA space (or about 65% of the total current vacant space – becoming higher with the completion of Brookfield Place and TELUS Sky).   The reality is Class A or AA office buildings are not good candidates for conversions from both a design perspective and location, as well the owners (pension funds) have deep pockets and for them the best return on their investment is still as offices. 

  At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

  Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Last Word

Also let’s not forget a healthy downtown needs older office buildings. They offer the cheaper rent and funky character spaces that are often very attractive to start-up business, i.e. the exact businesses we want to attract downtown to help diversify the economic base.

Today’s start-up in a tired older office building could be tomorrow’s Amazon, which by the way, has created a funky, new multi-new building campus (9 million square feet in all) in downtown Seattle, for its 25,000+ employees.  

Office-to-residential conversions will not save our downtown!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on September 30, 2017.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Calgary's CBD is unique?

All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

University District: My Final Resting Place?

“They have included everything but the cemetery,” was perhaps the best compliment I heard at the University District’s Discovery Centre when I visited recently.  It is amazing how quickly this new inner-city community has gone from approval to construction – Council approved the master plan in September 2014.

  University District (formerly called West Campus) is all of the vacant University of Calgary land surrounding the Alberta Children's Hospital. 

University District (formerly called West Campus) is all of the vacant University of Calgary land surrounding the Alberta Children's Hospital. 

Something For Everyone

University District has been mindfully planned as a multi-generational complete community that will be attractive to people of all ages and backgrounds.  While there will be no single-family homes, however it will feature a diversity of townhomes, low rise (under 5 floors) and mid-rise (6 to 12 floors) apartment style homes designed to appeal to baby boomers, families and empty nesters.

Upon arriving I heard the sounds of a mother playing with her toddler, a good sign as healthy communities are always attractive to young families.  There was also a buzz in the Truman and Brookfield show suites with young couples and empty nesters chatting with each other and with sales people.  I heard one young couple saying, “we need to make a decision there are only three left,” while an older couple asked, “any chance they will back out of the deal as that is the one we want?”

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

A key ingredient for a complete community is that the residents’ everyday needs are all within easy walking distance.  The grocery store project will include other retail as well as residences and will become the anchor for University District’s nine-block Main Street.  It will include everything from the butcher to the banker, from the baker to the candlestick maker.  It will also be the gateway to the University of Calgary campus, with all that it has to offer from library, theatre, art exhibitions, lectures, talks, concerts and recreation facilities.

The pedestrian and patio oriented Main Street will be linked to the Central Park, which is being designed as an all ages intimate urban playground for the entire community.  It will be a place where kids can frolic in the dancing fountain, families can have a picnic, while seniors can enjoy a coffee and people watch.

There are also two school sites identified and a working agreement with the Calgary Board of Education for an urban format school (school is located on the ground and second floor, with residential development above) to be developed depending on the demand.  Both sites are next to parks so the school playgrounds are also community playgrounds. How mindful is that!

In addition to being a walkable community, University District will be transit-oriented with 12 bus stops connecting the residents to three LRT stations, as well as to the University, Foothill Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Market Mall.

Big News 

Recently, it was announced The Brenda Stafford Foundation will be developing a state-of-the-art “ageing-in-place” project where seniors can transition from independent living, to assisted living to extended care all in the same complex.  The 217,000 square foot facility is scheduled to open in 2020. 

In the Fall, the developer for the grocery store / residential project will be announced with groundbreaking happening shortly after.  It is my understanding this will be full service grocery store, not a high-priced boutique store with limited product.  As well, the hotel project will get the green light by the end of 2017. 

I also learned the north pond park will be 75% complete by the end of 2017 with the completion in the spring of 2018.  The 12 km of pathways that link the north pond park to the sound pond (already complete) are also in place as part of the 40 acres of open space included in the master plan.  There are also two designated dog parks, critical to everyday life for many today.

  Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

The master plan for Calgary’s new University District community has been awarded the highest certification achievable by the Canada Green Building Council.

Upon completion, University District hopes to be the third and largest residential development in Canada with a Platinum Certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbourhood Development (LEED-ND). It’s a certification that signifies the highest level of sustainability excellence across a wide range of metrics including energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and recycling as well as community health, connectivity and walkability.

Last Word

What looks like a huge construction site today, will soon be Calgary’s first European style urban village - all multi-family building within easy walking distance to everyday amenities. Calgarians, especially those living in the northwest quadrant have been waiting for something like University District for decades.  

It will have great appeal to the 25,000+ young and established professional working nearby. As well it will be attractive as empty nesters from the surrounding established communities of Varsity, University Heights, Brentwood, Charleswood, St. Andrew’s Heights, Banff Trail, Briar Hill, Parkdale and West Hillhurst who want the “lock and leave” life style.

Given I am in my early 60s and living in West Hillhurst, University District could be my final resting place.

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine for their August 2017 edition. Link: Condo Living Magazine  

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Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

You gotta like it when a plan starts coming together - that is exactly what is happening in Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R).  It was back in 1999 that Sturgess Architecture completed The Bridges Masterplan for the City of Calgary after the controversial implosion of the Calgary General Hospital on October 4, 1998.  Today, Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R) is enjoying an amazing rebirth as a vibrant 21st century urban community.

 Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

 It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

 McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

The Bridges Plan

The Bridges is the land made available for development by the implosion included the 10 acre hospital site as well as existing city owned open space to allow for a more comprehensive 37-acre (just a little bigger than St. Patrick’s Island) redevelopment in the middle of B/R community. The ambitious plan was not only Calgary’s first Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan, but Calgary’s first attempt to transform an established early 20th century community into a contemporary 21st century urban village with a higher density and diversity of residential dwellings with ground floor retail or townhomes. The plan consisted of three phases.

 Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Phase 1

This phase included eight parcels for condo development, as well as the new Murdoch Park and the General Avenue Plaza. Three of the four parcels along 1st Avenue N.E. are mixed use development with retail at street level and residential units on the upper levels. The fourth parcel, on 1st Avenue N.E. accommodates residential, live-work units and commercial uses.

The other four parcels are located on the north side of Centre Avenue N.E. between 7A Street N.E. and 9A Street N.E. are mid-rise residential developments with building heights ranging from 4 to 6 storeys. The buildings emphasize a street-orientation with townhouses at street level and apartments on the upper levels.

Phase 1 is now complete and included these condos:

  • The Piazza by Townscape Properties Ltd. 
  • Olive by Homes by Avi 
  • Bella Citta & Bella Lusso by Bucci Developments Ltd. 
  • Acqua & Vento by Windmill Developments Ltd. 
  • Pontefino I and II by Sandelwood Development Ltd. 

Phase 2

This phase includes four sites located between McDougall Road N.E. and Memorial Drive. Two sites are now complete, one is slated for completion in 2017 while the fourth site is under review for a land use amendment and expected to be released for sale in 2018.

Three of the sites are designated for multi-family residential development with building heights being five to six storeys. The fourth parcel, adjacent to Memorial Drive, is slated for affordable multi-family housing development.

Phase two is not yet completed, it includes these projects:

  • Steps Bridgeland by Assured Developments Ltd. and Guistini Bridges Inc. (under construction)
  • Bridgeland Crossing I by Apex Cityhomes 
  • Bridgeland Crossing II by GableCraft Homes and Apex Cityhomes 
  • McPherson Place by Bridges Attainable Housing Society and New Urban Development (affordable housing) 

Phase 3

This last phase includes three parcels of land situated east of 9th Street N.E. between Centre Avenue and McDougall Road.Radius by Bucci Development Ltd is under construction. The City’s Real Estate & Development Services is currently working on plans to bring the three parcels of The Bridges to market in the near future at 1018 McDougal Road NE, 70 & 90 9A Street and 950 McPherson Square NE. (source: City of Calgary)

The Bridges Plan was approved after extensive community consultation and if memory serves me correctly, was enthusiastically endorsed by the community who could foresee the benefits not only of a new park, new community centre and new shopping, dining and professional service amenities, but of new residents who would hopefully revive the community.

  Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.    Link:   Bucci Developments

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.  Link: Bucci Developments

  The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

Bridgeland Today

Fast-forward to 2017.  The Bridges has indeed been the catalyst to transform Bridgeland/Riverside into one of Calgary’s most desirable communities.

In fact, it was chosen as Calgary's #1 Community in the Calgary Herald's 2017 Readers' Choice Awards. 

  B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.   

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.  

As an avid Twitter reader, I am constantly impressed by what is happening in B/R. Bridgeland Betty is always tweeting out the fun things to do in her community, things like their Tool Lending Library, evening walks to learn about the community’s amazing array of churches and the Vegan/Gluten-Free Stampede Breakfast.   

  Lukes is just too cool...

Lukes is just too cool...

Today, B/R is home to some of Calgary’s coolest places – Cannibale with its barbershop in the front and cocktail lounge in the back, Bike and Brew where coffee and bike cultures meet and Luke’s Drug Mart that is a drug store/post office/ grocery store/record store/general store/café. 

Lukes is one of three grocers in B/R, the others being Bridgeland Market and Blush Lane Organic Market, a sure sign hipsters and YUPPIES have invaded this once sleepy community.

The most interesting B/R project I learned about on Twitter recently was their 4th Avenue Flyover Project. So intrigued by the photos of children painting the roadway under the flyover, I had to check it out myself.

The 4th Street Flyover plan now approved by the City of Calgary will see the development of a fun park (McDougall Rd NE and Edmonton Trail) under the concrete flyover complete with a rain garden, public art, sidewalk patios and colourful painting of the concrete abutments.

It will be a unique urban, all ages PLAYground developed as a result of an amazing collaboration between the community’s Grade 6 Langevin School students and Landscape Architect students at the University of Calgary.

  McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

  Flyover Plaza Fun

Flyover Plaza Fun

  Future new pocket park site

Future new pocket park site

Success or Failure?

Greg Morrow, who held the Richard Parker Professorship Metropolitan Growth and Change position at the University of Calgary from 2015 to 2017 (and who now is the Fred Sands Professor of Real Estate and Executive Director of the Sands Institute at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles) when asked his assessment of B/R’s transformation said, “It's still infilling, so it's unfair to look at how it is today and judge it on how it will eventually perform. I think it will ultimately be a success but I think there are also a few things the City could do to improve it.”

When probed further, he added, “First, it's not a traditional Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). It's a retrofit condition, so we shouldn't judge it on whether it ticks off all the TOD boxes. First, no development is possible on the entire south half of the LRT station area (St. Patrick’s Island). And since there is a pre-existing main street not far away, the area right around the station is not going to be ground-floor retail. And it suffers from the typical Calgary problem of having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, which is less than ideal for access/walkability. You lose a hundred metres just getting over the roadway.”

When asked how The Bridges can be improved he quickly remarks, “It was a big mistake not to rezone the north side of 1 Ave. A one-sided main street is always a handicap. Moreover, the north side is the sunny side, which works best for outdoor patios. So, I suggest re-zoning the north side of 1 Ave for mixed-use, mid-rise buildings, with appropriate lower heights at the rear of the buildings to transition to the single family housing to the north.”

Morrow also believes “the park is a good move, although it will take some time before it makes sense. Right now, you have a lot of vacant parcels so it makes the park space seem underutilized and unnecessary. But the idea is to create some decent density in the parcels around the park, so as that fills in more, you will see why the park in the middle makes good sense. Just give it some time.”

  LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

Last Word

A check of the City of Calgary’s Community Profile demonstrates the community’s population is growing again, after years of decline and stagnation.  It grew by 8% from 2012 to 2016, vs City of Calgary’s 10% increase.

It has become a very cool community for young families. In fact, 7% of the B/R’s population is under 4 years of age, the same as the City of Calgary’s.  However, only 6.5% of B/R’s population is between ages 5 to 19, significantly lower than the 18% City average.

It will be interesting to see if today’s young families remain in B/R and embrace the urban living lifestyle or do they migrate en masse to the outer suburbs for cheaper, bigger homes to raise their growing families as previous generations have done.   

  Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Victoria Park's Time To Shine Again!

Given all the brouhaha over the past few weeks about the potential of East Victoria Park now being the site of the Calgary’s new arena (whoops, I should say event centre) I thought it would be interesting to look at the past and future of Victoria Park (i.e. the area from the Elbow River to 4th St SW and from 17th Ave SW to the CPR tracks including Stampede Park).

 Victoria Park is one of Calgary's oldest communities.  Link: Victoria Park Ruins

Victoria Park is one of Calgary's oldest communities.  Link: Victoria Park Ruins

History 101

Victoria Park is the one of Calgary’s oldest residential communities established as East Ward in the 1880s.  In 1889, the Agricultural Society of Calgary purchased 94 acres from the federal government, for their annual agricultural fair. They christened the community “Victoria Park” after Queen Victoria.

Between 1901 and 1911, Calgary’s population grew from 4,000 to 44,000 with 20% of that growth in Victoria Park.  From 1920 to 1940, many of the early Victoria Park residents, having made their fortunes moved out and their large homes were converted to short-term low income housing for temporary and migrant workers. 

Starting in the 1940s, the area became less residential and more light industrial and commercial as the CPR corridor became increasingly more freight-oriented. Increased car ownership also resulted in Calgarians being able to live further out from the City Centre.

Jump to 1968 when City Council approved the Stampede Park expansion to 14th Avenue which resulted in decreased property values, further depopulation and demolition of houses for surface parking. This continued until 1998 when all remaining property owners agreed to sell.

The Round Up Centre opened in 1981 and was expanded and rebranded the BMO Centre in 2007.   In 1983, the Saddledome opened replacing the Corral (opened in 1950) as he Calgary’s major arena and home the NHLs Calgary Flames. 

In 2003, the communities of Victoria Park and neighbouring Connaught were amalgamated and named the Beltline. Starting in 2005, new condo development commenced especially near the Stampede LRT Station and along 1st Street SW.  In 2006 City Council approved the Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan, a key tool in revitalization of all of the land south of the CPR railway tracks to 17th Avenue, from the Elbow River to 14th St. SW.

  Proposed site of new arena is just a block north of the existing Saddledome and just east of the BMO Centre.  To the east of the site is the Stampede's Youth Campus which is under construction. 

Proposed site of new arena is just a block north of the existing Saddledome and just east of the BMO Centre.  To the east of the site is the Stampede's Youth Campus which is under construction. 

East Victoria Park

I have always thought East Victoria Park (EVP) was all of the land east of Centre Street, logical as it bisects the community in half and there is a very different urban vibe east of Centre Street vs west.  Wrong.  Turns out there are seven character districts (see map) in Victoria Park as identified in the 151-page Victoria Park Density and Diversity Planning and Policy Guide published in 2013 (aka Everything you wanted to know about Victoria Park but were afraid to ask).

However, for the purposes of current Victoria Park master planning I am told EVP is all of the land east of 4th St SE to the Elbow River, from the 10th Avenue 10 to 14th Avenue SE.

SHED

The new arena/event center would be synergistic with the Stampede’s plans for a mega expansion of the nearby BMO Center into a multi-purpose event centre for trade shows, conventions and other events.

The proposed Green Line LRT will pass through EVP along 12th Avenue with a station at 4th St SE that will serve EVP, Stampede Park and East Village.  This new station would be specifically designed to accommodate the traffic of major events in the new arena and Stampede Park.

Together EVP and Stampede Park would become what, in the urban planning world, is called a SHED – Sports Hospitality Entertainment District.   Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary warns, “In order for a SHED to work, it will need a mix of uses – including residential, retail and restaurants - to create a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape.”  

A new multi-purpose arena combined with an expanded BMO Centre would achieve the critical mass and diversity of events year-round to attract one or more hotels, as well as cafes, bistros, restaurants, pubs and bars has been the Stampede’s concept for the Stampede Trail since the late ‘90s.

  Arriva and Guardian condo towers were part of an ambitious plan for revitalization of East Victoria Park ten years ago. The Stampede Park Expansion & Development sign has been at the corner of 4th Street and 12th Ave SE for over 15 years.

Arriva and Guardian condo towers were part of an ambitious plan for revitalization of East Victoria Park ten years ago. The Stampede Park Expansion & Development sign has been at the corner of 4th Street and 12th Ave SE for over 15 years.

  Stampede Park's Youth Campus is currently under construction. 

Stampede Park's Youth Campus is currently under construction. 

Residential Catalyst

The transformation of EVP into a SHED should be the catalyst needed to continue Victoria Park’s early 21st century residential development. Keynote, Sasso, Vetro, Alura and Nuera condos at Stampede Station could soon be surrounded by more condos, as living near event centres is very popular with young professionals and empty nesters, the two target markets for urban living in Calgary.

In addition, the new arena and BMO expansion should make Lamp Development’s Orchard two tower condo project next to the Victoria Park LRT Station at 4th St SE viable.  And it could also be just the impetus Remington needs to dust off their plans for a major mixed-use mid-rise development on their land just to the north of the arena and the 4th Street SE Station.

Residents in Arriva and Guardian condos should also be excited as one of the reasons for moving there was to be within walking distance to all of the events at the Saddledome and Stampede Park.

  The parking lots west of Stampede Station were considered an ideal site for a major convention centre 30 years ago.  Eventually several condos and office buildings were constructed close by, but the land next to the Station is still surface parking lot.

The parking lots west of Stampede Station were considered an ideal site for a major convention centre 30 years ago.  Eventually several condos and office buildings were constructed close by, but the land next to the Station is still surface parking lot.

Synergy

Unlike the CalgaryNext proposal for West Village, the synergistic development of a multi-purpose arena and the expansion of the Stampede’s BMO Centre is symbiotic with the City of Calgary’s plans for the revitalization of Calgary’s City Centre east of Centre Street.  There is also a high probability it would be the catalyst for numerous private sector projects that would significantly increase the area’s tax based by converting ugly surface parking lots into tax-paying buildings.

 BMO Centre is a well used trade show facility, however, if it is going to become a successful convention centre it will need to have adequate hotel, restaurant, pub, bars, lounges and shop amenities.  The pedestrian link to downtown and 17th Ave will also have to be significantly improved. 

BMO Centre is a well used trade show facility, however, if it is going to become a successful convention centre it will need to have adequate hotel, restaurant, pub, bars, lounges and shop amenities.  The pedestrian link to downtown and 17th Ave will also have to be significantly improved. 

Last Word

David Low, Executive Director of the Victoria Park BIA (Business Improvement District) says, “EVP is posed to coherently integrate three giant infrastructure projects, the Green Line Station, Arena and BMO Centre expansion to create a world class entertainment destination. The local business community will welcome the new developments as Victoria Park has a 100+ year history of hosting major events.” 

How refreshing to have a community welcoming new development rather than fighting it. It is Victoria Park’s time to shine once again as it did early in the 20th century!

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald, on Saturday May 13, 2017 in the New Condos section. 

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Calgary's City Centre Transformation

For those who want a “room (or two) with a view,” several City Center highrise condos offer their own unique urban lifestyle.

Avenue West End by Grosvenor and Cressey Development Group, provides spectacular downtown, river valley and mountain views from its Downtown West location.  You are also only a hop, skip and a jump from the Bow River pathway for evening and weekend jogging, walking and cycling and a pleasant 10-minute walk to work downtown every day. And just minutes away from Shaw Millennium Park, home to numerous festivals or to shoot some hoops or play some beach volleyball.

 Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Another option is Park Point by Qualex-Landmark. It not only provides residents with outstanding views, but Calgary’s historic Memorial Park/Library is in its front yard. Located at the corner of 12th Ave and 2nd Street SW, residents are equidistant to all of the City Centre’s hot spots - Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stephen Ave/Core, 17th Ave, Mission and Stampede Park.  For those looking ahead, Park Pointe will be on the doorstep of future new Green Line LRT.

  The Royal grocery store at street level. 

The Royal grocery store at street level. 

Then there’s The Royal by Embassy BOSA offers not only luxury living, but the convenience of having an Urban Fair grocery store and Canadian Tire store right in your building.  And if being at the crossroads of the 17th Ave and 8th St SW you have all the shops, cafes and restaurants you will ever need, including Jelly Modern Doughnuts!

 

Lamb Development Corp.’s very modern, 31-storey, 6th and Tenth condo is located on one of the City’s hottest urban addresses – 10th Avenue SW.   Live here and you can get a little more shuteye given you are probably only a 5-minute walk to work.  Just outside your front door, take a left and you can chill with friends at the funky new Bridgette Bar or grab a bottle of your favourite vino at Metrovino for entertaining.  And being next to the Beltline’s Gallery District; you’ll have no excuse for blank walls!

  6th and Tenth is one of   several   buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

6th and Tenth is one of several buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

Vogue is the latest condo development by LaCaille and Calgary’s S2 architects.  It's art deco-inspired design features a five-floor podium with an arched glass entrance that grounds the strong vertical lines of the 35-story condo tower creating a very fashion forward design. Located at 914 - 6th Avenue, it is the closest condo to the downtown core of any of the new City Center condos. 

In East Village, FRAM+Slokker’s Verve not only offers a spectacular 25th-floor rooftop lookout terrace, but easy access to Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island and soon the new Central Library and 5th & Third shopping complex that includes a Loblaw’s City Market grocery store (both now under construction).

Modern Mid-rise

If architecture is your thing and money is no object, the opulent Arthur Erickson-designed (Canada’s most celebrated architect) Concord condo in Eau Claire should be on your must-see list.  The 14-floor west tower is currently under construction and will have seven penthouse homes thanks to a design that sees the building terrace upwards from the Bow River pathway to 1st Avenue SW.  Concord residents will savour their proximity to the delicious Alforno Bakery & Café and Buchanan’s restaurant. They will also have a bird’s eye view of the Calgary International Folk Festival.

  AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

If the charm of Inglewood is more to your liking, the new Jeremy Sturgess (Calgary’s most celebrated architect)- designed AVLI on Atlantic condo (Atlantic Avenue is the original name of 9th Avenue) is a very cool design.  It's angular, ghost-like uber modern design is destined to become one Calgary’s signature early 21st century condos. Those into live music can hang out at Ironwood or Blues Can. Into fine dining? It doesn’t get any better than Deane House or Rouge or maybe you have regular cravings for a Spolumbo’s sandwich.

Across the Bow River from Inglewood sits Bucci’s seven-story new condo Radius, in the increasingly hip community of Bridgeland. Located on Centre Avenue at 9th Street on the edge of Murdock Park, residents will be within walking distance of the very hipster Cannibale (bar and barbershop), Lukes Drug Mart and Bridgeland Market.

  Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Also north of the Bow River, in Hillhurst is Ezra on Riley Park, which offers 8 floors of sophisticated urban, living.  Imagine living in a 3,000 sq. penthouse with a 6,000 sq. terrace looking out to the lovely Riley Park.  If that is not in your budget, there are many one and two bedroom homes in the middle of the building, as well as two-storey townhomes at street level.  Ezra living also means enjoying Hillhurst Community Centre’s weekly farmer’s market and Sunday Flea Market or the Bodhi Tree yoga studio. 

Last Word

It will be interesting to see in 50 or 100 years what historians say about the early 21st-century transformation of Calgary’s City Centre into a mosaic of vibrant urban neighbourhoods.  You could be part of history-making!

Note: This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Xtra supplement in Swerve Magazine on February 10, 2017. 

  Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

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Community Engagement: The Community's Perspective

Over the past few months, I have done a Q&A with Greg Morrow, an urban growth academic at the University of Calgary and Chris Ollenberger, an experienced Calgary developer about Calgary’s community engagement process. To close the circle, I thought a Q&A with a community leader was needed.

Recently, I met with Elise Bieche President of the Highland Park Community Association who has been leading the community’s response to the redevelopment of the Highland Golf Course. I was impressed with her professionalism - no ranting, no name-calling and no unrealistic demands. 

  Centre Street is already a busy bus route, in the future it will be home to the new LRT Green Line. 

Centre Street is already a busy bus route, in the future it will be home to the new LRT Green Line. 

Q: What are your biggest frustrations with the City’s current community engagement process?

The fact the engagement process wasn’t lead by the City’s administration from the beginning. The developer “hosted” some engagement sessions, asked for the community’s feedback on two options and then things went really silent for a long time. We learned, after the fact, what the developer submitted to the City didn’t resemble what the community “endorsed.”  Then as the file was being completed to submit it to Planning Commission, the City hosted an “information session.” This gave residents the false belief their feedback would be incorporated into the final submission, but it was too late. 

We were frustrated we were never able to easily access the file as it progressed through the City’s approval process. The community wasn’t treated as a key stakeholder.

 Highwood Golf Course tree-lined fairway.

Highwood Golf Course tree-lined fairway.

Q: What changes would you like to see in how the City implements in their engagement process?

I believe the City should own the engagement process from the beginning when big developments are first proposed in established communities. This is a 50-acre site that will radically change our community and the entire north central area of the city over the next 25 years.

I think the City had an obligation to seek feedback from the community early and understand what we valued to ensure the development is complementary to both the topography of the site and existing community. I think the City should be obligated to respect and incorporate the community’s feedback wherever possible.

There needs to be a mechanism in the community engagement process that when major changes have been made to the proposed development after the community has endorsed it, then there must be a re-engagement with the community before it goes to Planning Commission. In our case, the community was presented with slope adaptive buildings, the re-establishment of the buried creek and a density of 1600 in the original plan. All of these were important to the community yet were missing both in the Planning Commission and City Council submissions.

Our community recently participated in a charrette for the Green Line’s 40th Ave North Station (includes the Highland Golf course redevelopment site) organized by the City and lead by Gary Andrishak from IBI’s Los Angeles office. It was very useful. and should be the model for community engagement.

I believe a charrette should be done as early as possible with the community, developer and city to foster a shared vision and key principles to guide major developments in established communities.

 Highwood development is closer to downtown than many people think...that is the Bow Tower in the background. 

Highwood development is closer to downtown than many people think...that is the Bow Tower in the background. 

Q: What changes would you recommend to developers in engaging with a community where they are proposing a major new development?

Make sure you are doing genuine engagement. The community is not your enemy; we should and could be your ambassadors. I am positive getting community support early would save the developer and City money not only during the approval process but also as the project is being built.  Don’t think you can “outsmart” the community - be transparent throughout the process.

It’s really important for there to be integrity in the entire planning process. A developer should not present options to a community and then take something completely different to administration. I think developers have an obligation to ensure they aren’t “falsely advertising” something to the community.  

I would highly recommend developers spend more time in the community and get to know the community before they develop their plan. Find out what the issues are and talk to key individuals. 

 Old multi-family housing on the west edge of the golf course. 

Old multi-family housing on the west edge of the golf course. 

Q: How do you respond to the claims by some that the Highland Park’s community’s protest to the golf course redevelopment is just another case of NIMBYism? 

If you look closely, our neighbourhood is very much in favour of the development of the golf course. Our community was also in favour of the Centre Street alignment of the Greenline. We just want quality redevelopment.

Volunteers from our community have literally put in thousands of hours on this issue because we learned early on we could not rely on City administration to represent our interests.  Communities are often criticized for being too vehement about their wants and desires, but ultimately the poor engagement process forces communities into this role.

I think the City’s community engagement process fosters NYMBYism by allowing the developer and administration to develop the initial site plan without the community at the table. This means when the draft plan is presented to the community they have a lot of catching up to do and when they question or reject some or the entire proposed plan they are immediately labeled as NYMBYist.   That is not fair.

I also think the planning process shouldn’t be just focused on just the proposed project but should look at it within the context of the entire community. You can’t evaluate a 50-acre site properly without evaluating how the proposed development will impact the pre-existing community.

Q: What advice would you give other Community Associations in established communities facing major developments?

  • Get involved as early as possible in the planning process.
  • Be constructive, reasonable and respectful at all times. 
  • Accept development is going to happen. Taking a position of “no development” is not a reasonable option.
  • Learn as much as you can about the complexities of the City’s development approval process, as well as how the Calgary Municipal Development Plan and Province’s Municipal Government Act apply to the site’s development.
  • Ask lots of questions of your community, the developer and administration.
  • Communicate clearly and concisely.
  • Accept the new development will not right all the wrongs of the past.
  • Be prepared to ensure mistakes of the past aren’t repeated, especially when it comes to green space.
  • Don’t expect City Administration to look after your community’s interests.
  • Be prepared to review and comment on documents on short notice.
  • Foster a good relationship with your Councillor.
  Public Welcome?

Public Welcome?

Something To Think About? 

In chatting with Bieche, a couple of new ideas were hatched. What if the City hired third-party professionals to manage all future community engagement so there is no conflict of interests? The City and the developer would share the costs 50/50. Ideally, a standard community engagement protocol should be developed so all communities would be treated equally when a major new development is being proposed.

We also wondered if there may be a role for the Provincial government to play given ultimately some of the development issues are governed by the Municipal Government Act.  Perhaps the funding of the community engagement process then should be a third, a third, a third. Something to think about?

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Condos: If you build them they will come?

Recession, what recession? I can’t believe the number of developers who keep announcing plans for major new condos or are proceeding with development permits applications despite the economic downturn in Calgary’s economy.  It seems that every week a new project is announced.

Ezra condo's construction is moving forward - I was wrong.

This is especially happening in the communities near downtown where the employment population has declined the most, which should result in a decreased demand for City Centre condos. Perhaps condo developers know something I don’t?

I was sure Ezra by Birchwood Properties wouldn’t go ahead in Hillhurst at Riley Park, but I was wrong. It is out of the ground and the site is buzzing with workers.

The same is true for Truman’s Upper West condo on 2nd Ave NW at Crowchild Trail where 3 single-family homes are becoming a 45-unit boutique condo building.

Battisella Developments plans to break ground by the end of year on Ink in East Village with its micro condos i.e. four units at or under 400sf.  

Avli on Atlantic is moving forward in Inglewood while Bucci has broken ground in Bridgeland on their Radius project.

As for Qualex-Landmark they remain bullish on the Beltline, before they finished up Mark on Tenth this summer, they had already started Park Point across from Memorial Park. 

Computer rendering of Ink condo in Calgary's bustling East Village community. 

In October, Wexford Developments and Oxford Properties indicated they had engaged Zeidler Partnership Architects and BKDI Architects to design 37 and 19 storey condo towers (585 condos in total) for the old Calgary Co-op site (the block bounded by 11th and 12th Ave SE and 1st and Centre Streets).

Embassy Bosa is full steam ahead on The Royal condo, which will include a Canadian Tire (second floor) and Urban Fare (street level), making it one of the most complex and ambitious condo projects in Calgary’s history.

And though, the Concord Pacific Development’s uber luxury condo in Eau Claire designed by iconic Canadian architect Arthur Erickson has been struggling since construction began in April 2015 (it was a big hole, with nothing happing this summer) now has a crane on site and a neighbour living in the Princeton next door says, “they are going full-bore, six days a week.”

I couldn’t even finish this column without another project being announced.  Village in Bankview by developer RNDSQR and designed by MoDA architects is at funky 78-unit condo that will have 30 unique floor plans.  It is designed to appeal to empty nesters, young professions, families and those with special accessibility needs; that is why it called Village.

Computer rendering of the proposed Village in Bankview project. 

By The Numbers!

It is not my imagination there is a condo boom in Calgary’s City Centre, CMHC’s stats show 862 new condo unit starts in the first nine months of 2016 – an 87% increase over the same period last year.

Not only were the number of starts impressive but so were the number of completions – 1,786 condo units were completed in the first nine months of 2016. Granted not all of the units are sold, this still means there are probably 2,500 more people living in the City Centre today than there were this time last year.

Outside The City Centre

While the City Centre is hot, condo starts overall in Calgary for the first nine months are down significantly from 4,333 in 2015 (a record year for condo construction city-wide) to 2,882 this year.  However, some recent non City Centre condo development announcements might be an indicator of optimism in 2017.

In September, West Campus Development Trust announced its first two University District residential projects - Ivy by Brookfield Residential and Noble by Truman Homes. And, in October, Calgary Co-op announced it is looking to redevelop its Oakridge site with a new grocery store surrounded by condos. 

Phase One of Park Point is now above ground and construction is on schedule for occupancy summer of 2018. 

Last Word

As 2016 comes to a close, I am cautiously optimistic 2017 will be a turnaround year for Calgary’s economy and I am not alone.  Bruce McKenzie, VP Business Development, NORR architects’ Calgary office recently told me they are busy with “new projects for Truman, Birchwood, Cardel, Cedarglen, Brookfield Residential, Hopewell and others.”

He added, “They are all well financed, strategically located, mostly out of the inner city with at least half are mixed-use mid or high rise projects.”  

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