Big Toys For Big Boys

I have to admit I think I missed out in getting the male gene that makes males lust over big construction equipment.  Maybe it has just been dormant, as over the past two and half years our neighbour boy (now 3.5 years old) has been enlightening me on the fascinating world of big machines. 

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Shopping For Big Toys

It all started on my way home from yoga when I found a book in a Little Library in Hillhurst titled “My Big Big Book of Machines”and grabbed it for him.  I must have read it to him a hundred times since then. 

By age two, he knew the names of over 20 pieces of construction equipment  - and so did I.

So, when I was offered the opportunity to write a piece for Construction Connect titled “Big Toys for Big Boys,” I jumped at it.  Specifically, the assignment was to pretend I was shopping for a big piece of construction equipment, it couldn’t get much better.

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First stop - Cervus Bobcat.  

I thought I’d start small and work my way up, but boy was I in for a surprise. Who knew a bobcat could do so many things?  In fact, they have a 78-page glossy catalogue titled “We have an attachment for that.”  Indeed, they have 80+ attachments that can convert a bobcat into a backhoe, excavator, skid loader, grader, bulldozer, trencher and forklift.  They are like mega transformers!

From a construction perspective, I am told the bobcat, because of its smaller size, works great on sites with limited space for manoeuvring.  The bobcat’s versatility allows it to be used for everything from digging basements and small parkades to lifting trusses into place.  It can even clear sidewalks of snow and dirt and then be used for landscaping and fence post digging.  There is even a 3D grade control system that allows the driver to quickly and accurately sculpt the land around a new house or larger buildings.

I am beginning to wonder how I have lived without one for so long.

  At almost two year's of age we watched together as a big toy demolished the housed next door. 

At almost two year's of age we watched together as a big toy demolished the housed next door. 

Next stop - Wajax Equipment.

Their inventory included nearly three dozen types of construction machinery including backhoe loadersskid steersfull size and mini excavators, soil stabilizersarticulated dump trucks, and earthmoving equipment, among many, many others. It is exhausting learning all the names and what they are used for let alone all the details.  Almost as complicated as analyzing the golf swing.

And, not only do they offer a huge selection of construction machines, but also a choice of brands with intriguing names like Yale, Hyster, Liu Gong, YMZ, Hamm and Wirtgen

  Thanks to friends at University District for allowing me to get up into a big toy and see their mega construction site from the a unique perspective. 

Thanks to friends at University District for allowing me to get up into a big toy and see their mega construction site from the a unique perspective. 

Excavator Is King

Buying big toys is truly mindboggling to the first time buyer. What I did learn was on any construction site, the excavator is KING, able to be used for demolition, digging and lifting.  They come in all different sizes - mini (.5 to 7 tons), midi (7 to 12 tons) and large (40 to 60 tons) and can be equipped with wheels or tracks. I even learned some that can do 60 km/hr. on roadways.

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Dos and Don’ts

Ritchie Bros. website has a blog on the Five Factors to consider when deciding to rent or buy heavy equipment.  Some are pretty obvious:

  • Know your current financial situation,
  • Consider the length of project,
  • Consider how frequently will you be using the equipment (it depreciates even when sitting idle),
  • Consider the equipment’s availability to rent when you need it. 

The comment I found most interesting was that when you rent, you are often paying for the newest equipment with the latest technology, which can be more expensive and you may not need or use all of the features (sounds a bit like buying a smart phone).  The blog also suggests purchasing well-maintained used equipment can be more cost effective than renting over the long term. 

Link: When To Buy or Rent Heavy Equipment Blog

  Getting my feet dirty.

Getting my feet dirty.

Auction vs. eBay vs. Kijiji

Ritchie Bros. sells thousands of pieces of heavy equipment every week through their live unreserved auctions and online marketplaces - IronPlanet and EquipmentOne.  Established in Kelowna, BC in 1958 and now headquartered in Burnaby, BC with 110 locations in 25 countries, they opened their first permanent auction site in Edmonton in 1976.

Trent Vanderberghe, Vice President, Sales, at Ritchie Bros. thinks “one of the top reasons people buy equipment and trucks from us is selection. Our live auctions are often called equipment supermarkets, but without price tags. We conduct more than 350 live auctions around the world each year. We sell hundreds, if not thousands, of items in each auction, with each item being sold completely unreserved—no minimum bids or reserve prices.”

He adds, “At our live unreserved auctions and IronPlanet’s weekly online auctions, buyers choose the final selling price; not us nor the seller. There are no price tags; every item is sold to the highest bidder, regardless of price. We offer clear title or your money back. We identify and arrange for the release of any liens or encumbrances on the equipment we sell. If we can't deliver clear title, we offer a full refund of the purchase price.”

Just this past June, Ritchie Bros. sold a 2013 Manitowoc 16000 440-ton self-erecting crane for $2.25M US at a Houston Texas auction. Impressive.

Who knew you could learn things on eBay about the dos and don’ts of buying construction equipment. I loved the blog on buying Construction Excavators which gives valuable tips like making sure you know about all of the excavator’s features, parts and functions before you go shopping and lists some of them for you.  It suggests asking about things I never would have thought about – like an anti-vandalism feature.  And yes, you can buy construction equipment on eBay - they even suggest search words to use. Who knew “zero tail swing excavator” was a good search term.

The eBay article also provides tips for buying used equipment. “The seller should be clear about owner history, how long, and in what capacity, the excavator has been used, and what the reason for selling is. Records of service and repairs should be available, as well as descriptions of any problems or issues. If buying online, the shopper should carefully inspect photos, which should be of the equipment for sale rather than stock images. Communication between buyer and seller is crucial: if a seller withholds information or does not answer questions, it is best to walk away.” 

Just for fun, I went on the Calgary Kijiji site and typed in “excavator.” Well, 305 ads came up. On the first page alone there was everything from a 2010 John Deere 350D LC Excavator for $94,900 to a HOC TE301 to a 2006 Hitachi ZX 270LC Hydraulic Excavator for $65,000.  On the second page was a Cuso 5327 PD(13-Yard) Hydro-Excavator Truck for $194,000 – very tempting (the little guy next door would be impressed if I had one of these).

Link: eBay: Dos and Don't of Buying Construction Equipment 

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On Site Education

I wasn’t done yet. More “field research” needed. I asked so I decided to ask my friends at University District if they could set me up with someone to chat with about all the big toys being used to prepare their site for their mega development. I met up with Chris Peters, Project – Supervisor/Estimator – Special Projects with Volker Stevin Contracting Ltd who was wealth of knowledge. 

I learned that over this summer they had $2.3 million of equipment on site – Two Track Excavators ($1.1M) Track Loader ($300K), Track Dozer ($400K), Wheel Loader (250K), Padfoot Roller ($130K), Smooth Drum Packer ($80K) and Skidsteer ($60K).  FYI…they own, not lease or rent.

Peters also enlightened me as to what the sequence of events is that takes place to get a bare piece of land ready for housing developers to build their projects.

For the deep utilities the sequence is:

  • Large Excavator: digs out the trench, places gravel on the bottom, drops the pipe to the crew, places gravel on top of the pipe, repeat
  • Wheel Loader: feeds gravel to the bucket of the excavator with spoon, brings pipe to the side of the trench from storage area
  • Track Dozer: pushes material back into the trench for backfill, smoothes out the dirt once backfilled to grade
  • Track Loader: carries material for backfill, works in conjunction with the dozer, moves piles of excess dirt
  • Padfoot Roller: compacts each lift of backfill as the track loader and dozer push it back in
  • Small Excavator: compact in tight areas, around manholes and utilities
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For the surface work the sequence is:

  • Grader: pushes clay and gravel from high to low areas, spreads dumped materials, sets material to grade
  • Scraper: picks up and hauls excess material which grader has windrowed or places material for grader to spread
  • Smooth drum roller: compacts the clay and gravel as the material is placed in lifts
  • Paver: once curbs have been placed (either machine poured or hand formed) the paver lays out asphalt mix from dump trucks
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University District 101

As for what challenges they faced in preparing the University District site, I was surprised to learn some of the pipes were placed 9+ meters deep.  I also hadn’t thought about the issue of their working adjacent to the Alberta Children’s Hospital meant keep dust and noise to a minimum and working around traffic and pedestrians.  As well, they had to maintain water and services to the all the buildings nearby while performing upgrades.

Peters even invited me to come to the University District site and see the equipment for myself, even climb up onto one of their pieces of equipment for an “operator’s view” of what it is like to operate a big toy.  I felt like I was the “king of the castle” as little boys would say.  Tim, the real operator told me that a good shift is about 10 hours long with about 9 of those actually sitting and operating the equipment.  He said, “the bigger the toy, the easier it is on the body as you don’t get bounced around as much as you do on smaller equipment.” Good to know.

  This is fun...

This is fun...

Learning To Operate

Part of my assignment was to take at least one piece of equipment for a test drive and perhaps attend a training lesson. My first thought was to check to see what post secondary schools offered heavy equipment operator (HE0) training. I quickly found that Olds College has a 12-week program followed by a two-week practicum - that seemed a bit excessive for my needs. All I needed was a quickie lesson. 

And no, I couldn’t just train on one or two pieces of equipment either.  You must successfully complete training and testing on six pieces of equipment – Grader, Skid Steer, Loader, Excavator, Packer and Rubber Tired Hoe.

Also, certain my assignment editor wouldn’t spring for the $12,000 tuition and the next class didn’t even start until September (my deadline was mid August), Olds College was a “no-go.”

Nonetheless, a quick call to Sharyl James, Trades Programmer at Olds College was enlightening.  She told me they have had students as young as 17 enrolled in the program, but they must be 18 at the time of completion.  And they also have had several students over 65 take the training. Guess I have a couple of years yet to take the training.

Students have included retired bus drivers, outsourced IT specialists, correctional officers, landscapers, oilfield workers and of course, individuals wanting to start their own building company and do the excavating for their projects themselves. 

Olds College’s HEO program is also popular with new Canadians - with students from around the world, including Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Korea and Cameroon – signing up. James points out “one of the big advantages of our courses is that we are a college so we can help special needs students whose second language in English.”

  A view from the driver's seat!

A view from the driver's seat!

Last Word

If you think buying, leasing or renting a new or used car is complicated, don’t even think about becoming a procurement officer for construction equipment. The options are mind-boggling, and a mistake could be very costly.  I think I might stick to Toys-R-Us.

If you like this blog, checkout these links: 

University District: Calgary's First 24/7 community?

2015 Year of Calgary's Mega Infill Projects

 

 

 

 

Downtown Calgary: The Elephant In The Room?

While everyone seems to be in shock that Calgary's downtown office vacancy rate its 25%  our downtown still has more occupied office space than Vancouver, Portland or Austin. Cities with vibrant downtowns.  

Do we need to panic? Should we offer incentives for companies to move to Calgary? That is the elephant in the room....

 Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

  The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

SWEET DEALS

In 2001, Chicago got Boeing to move its head office from Seattle with a sweet deal - $60 million in tax breaks and incentives. In 2015, General Electric moves its head office from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston thanks to a whooping $145 million in incentives.

There's a general acknowledgement that tax incentives work. That they are a key tool for getting major corporations to bring business to town. But Calgary hasn't used this economic siren song to lure new business.

Is it time we did? Should we offer huge tax incentives to lure Amazon to downtown Calgary? Do drastic times call for drastic measures?

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

Look downtown and you'll see a whopping 10 million square feet of vacant office space.

It's hard to wrap your head around those kind of numbers, but it's the equivalent of 5,000 empty single-family suburban homes, or 10,000 condos, or about seven Chinook Centres.  Yikes.

Now traditionally, Calgary’s oil and gas sector has absorbed an average of 500,000 square feet of office space per year. So, even when (or if ) we get back to the old normal, it could take well over a decade to fill up the existing vacancy.

That being said, I remember planners and politicians in the mid ‘90s saying, that Calgary had so overbuilt, there would never would never be another new office building built in downtown Calgary again.  They were wrong.  We've added over a dozen new towers since then.

Clearly, we aren’t very good at predicting the future.  

  This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.     Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.

Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS

Over the past year, Calgary Economic Development has hosted numerous Real Estate Advisory Group meetings involving Calgary’s most experienced property owners, managers, leasing professionals and city staff. But where have these meeting got us. 

R. Scott Hutcheson, Executive Chair of the Board of Aspen Properties (which owns several downtown towers, including The Edison aka rebranded Pan Canadian building) is emphatic that “we need both Notley and Nenshi at the table, everybody needs to be working together.”  He adds, “a lot of work has already been done analyzing the situation and looking at many different strategies. We have looked at various case studies like converting office building to residential, but it doesn’t work without some sort of incentives.” 

While he and other downtown building owners won’t say it publically, it is going to take some drastically different thinking (i.e. incentives) to fill up 10,000 million square feet of office space.  

The Alberta government has a poor track record of “meddling” in the economy – failures include MagCan (a magnesium plant), Canadian Commercial Bank, Gainers (a meatpacking plant) and NovaTel (the cellular subsidiary of Alberta Government Telephones). 

In 2005, the City of Edmonton lured Dell to set up a call centre (that would create 1,000 jobs) with a 20-year agreement to waive property taxes, a concession worth $1.1 million over the first five years. The company closed the call centre and left 2008.  

One has to wonder just how wise it is to provide huge incentives to win the Amazon Sweepstakes.

Trevor Tombe, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, “cautions governments against using scarce public dollars to try and attract individual businesses. Such incentives distort economic activity, lower our productivity and require tax dollars be levied elsewhere to pay for them. Cities are also particularly ill-equipped to lean against business cycles. We would be better served to focus on neutral policies that improve the city overall: ensuring taxes are competitive, ease zoning rules, and maintaining a highly livable city to attract young and skilled workers.” 

He points to the paper “Head Office Location: Implications for Canada” by Head and Ries at Saunder School of Business, University of British Columbia commissioned by the Government of Canada’s Competitive Policy Review Panel in 2008, where they concluded, “While it may be appealing to offer inducements to attract head offices, there is no compelling case for promotional policies. Subsidies are likely to be counter-productive, since they can be subject to misallocation based on lobbying and they are likely to serve mostly to attract away headquarters from one Canadian city to another Canadian city.”

Link: Calgary Economic Development Report: Calgary's Economy In Depth

  Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

DOWNTOWN’S FUTURE

What happens if the oil & gas sector doesn’t come back, how do we back fill 10+ million square feet of office space.  Could downtown Calgary become an “innovation district?”  

Yes, the new buzz term in city-building and economic development is “innovation district” but there is no recipe on how to create one. Most happen organically rather than by design.  Usually, two or more synergistic businesses that are on the cusp of new technology locate near each and become huge successes, so others flock to be near them hoping the success will rub off.  

Could downtown Calgary become a green energy innovation district?  Could Calgary attract major Canadian and international solar and wind energy research companies to locate downtown. In fact, Suncor has operated six wind farms since 2002? Alberta and Calgary is rich in solar and wind power opportunities - could this be our downtown’s future.

A hundred years ago, the Robin Hood Flour Mills dominated the downtown skyline where Gulf Canada Square now stands. Perhaps it isn’t too far fetched to think that in the future the names of our downtown office towers might be Alberta Wind Energy Company or the Calgary Solar Power Corp.  

  Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Last Word

Do we let downtown Calgary evolve naturally based on market demand and entrepreneurial forces? Or do we try to manipulate the office market by providing incentives for select businesses like Amazon?

That is the elephant in the room...

  The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

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.

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Amazon created a feeding frenzy when it announcement plans to open a second North American headquarters that would result in 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures for the chosen city. Politicians, economic development CEOs and planners were busy tweeting out why their city should be the winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes.   

 Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

  West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries.   Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.      While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries. Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.  

While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

  If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

Can't Imagine A Better Place

Calgary mayor Nenshi was among them. He noted we have been selling our city to some of the biggest brands in the world for decades.  "Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying too much on specific files we've been working on," Nenshi added, "But I can tell you that we're very familiar with this particular pitch and were not surprised by Amazon bringing this forward now. Looking at the criteria Amazon has put forward, he couldn't imagine a place that meets their needs better than Calgary.”

Calgary Economic Development President and CEO, Mary Moran, quickly confirmed Calgary would be making a strong pitch to Amazon.  "The value proposition that we offer aligns with what Amazon is looking for. This is an innovative city with a highly educated and globally connected workforce, we have affordable available real estate, low-cost of doing business, exceptional transportation links and quality of life for their employees,” said Moran.

  The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

  The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

 Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Top Picks

The New York Times went so far as to pick the perfect city for Amazon HQ2. From 25 cities, they short-listed Portland, Denver, Washington and Boston areas, then. picked Denver as the winner.

Link: Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for you

Brookings Institute picked Charlotte N.C., Bloomberg thought Boston was the best choice and Creative class guru Richard Florida is betting on Washington, D.C.

The only city in Canada that got any real attention in the scramble to predict a winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes was Toronto.  Then Jens Von Bergmann posted “Amazon – The Canadian Data” on twitter, looking at Amazon’s HQ2 requirements and Canadian cities and guess who came out on top – Calgary.  

Link: Amazon- The Canadian Data.

  Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

  Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Calgary’s Pitch

After reviewing Amazon’s Request for Proposals (RFP), here are my thoughts on why Calgary would be a good fit for Amazon HQ2.  I will not address all of the technical issues and of course I can’t comment on what incentives our municipal, provincial or federal government might be able to give, which will be huge factor in their decision. 

Rather, I will focus on three key areas identified in the RFP as important factors in Amazon’s decision: Thinking Big, Urban Living and Unique Culture.

 Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

  Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Thinking Big

Calgary was an early adopter (1981) of LRT as a core element of its city-wide transit system, long before Seattle, Denver or any American city for that matter.  Today Calgary has the highest per capita LRT ridership in North America and with the development of the Green Line (46 kilometers, 28 stations, serving 27 communities) it will also have one of longest. In addition, Calgary is currently constructing two BRT routes as part of its ambitious rapid transit vision.  And, if that isn’t enough, in 2001, our LRT became the first wind-powered public transit system in North America.

  Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

  Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Calgary is also the cleanest city in the world as a result of our commitment to state-of-the-art water treatment plants.  According to the Mercer Global Financial list, Calgary has been the world’s cleanest city in the world for several years now based on:  availability and drinkability of water, waste removal, quality of sewage system, air quality and traffic congestion.  

Calgary is on the path to becoming a premier green energy hub in North America, according to a Delphi Group’s study of the Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy. The research showed in 2015, Calgary’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $3.63 billion in gross output, $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and approximately 15,470 jobs. (Calgary Economic Development website)

Calgary, the largest logistic hub in Western Canada and one of the largest inland ports in North America, fits perfectly with Amazon’s operations. 

Link: Calgary: An Inland Port

Calgary also thinks big when it comes to parks and pathways.  We have over 5,200 parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Fish Creek (13.5 sq. km) and Nose Hill (11 sq. km).  Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas across the city. Our three City Centre island parks (Prince’s, St. Patrick’s and St. George’s) in the middle of the Bow River are spectacular urban oasis. And don’t forget our easy access Banff National Park and Kananaskis Provincial Park.

  Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

In addition to our City Centre bike lanes (something asked for in the RFP) we also have over 1,000 km of pathways city-wide including the new 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that encircles the city connecting over 400,000 Calgarians. Calgary is a cyclist’s paradise for commuters and recreational cyclists.

  Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

  Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Young & Active

As well, Calgary is currently building four mega recreation facilities (to the tune of almost half a billion dollars) – Rocky Ridge, Seton, Great Plains and Quarry Park.

The iconic Repsol Sports Center (formerly the Talisman Centre) with its iconic Teflon-coated semi-transparent fibreglass dinosaur-like roof is the second most used recreation facility in North America attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.  It opened in 1983 and was the catalyst for creating mega, multi-use recreation centers across the city.

  The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.    With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under   17 minutes = olympian,   17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur,   20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.  With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under 17 minutes = olympian, 17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur, 20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

  There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

  Yes we love our hockey.

Yes we love our hockey.

  Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Urban Living

Having visited Seattle, Denver, Portland and Austin recently, none of those cities can match Calgary’s amazing infill housing development occurring in our City Centre and inner-city communities.  Tour any community within 10 km of Calgary’s downtown and you will find old homes being torn down and new family homes being built in their place on almost every block.  You will also find dozens of multi-family buildings being built at strategic locations.

And, Calgary currently has seven mega new urban villages in various stages of construction in our inner city – Bridges, Currie, East Village, Eau Claire, Stadium, University District and University City/Brentwood.

In addition, Inglewood was chosen as “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners and Kensington was short-listed in 2014 (both communities have improved since then).

Add in the Beltline (the hipster capital of North America), Chinatown, Erlton, Mission, Ramsay and Sunalta and Calgary offers some of the most diverse and affordable urban living options in North America - from penthouses to micro-condos, from single-family infills to mansions, from transit-oriented living (N3 condo in East Village has no parking) to walking and cycling-oriented living.  

All at affordable prices compared to most major North American cities.

Link: NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Link: Beltline: Hipster/GABSTER Capital of North America

 Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

  Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

  17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

 Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

 The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

  Penthouse living....

Penthouse living....

  You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

  East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

  Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Unique Culture

Calgary is home to one of North America’s most unique annual festivals – Beakerhead. It is a smash up of science, engineering, technology, innovation, art and culture that takes place at multiple sites across the city. In 2017, there are 14 sites that area expected to attract over 125,000 participants over five days.   It is exactly the kind of funky, futuristic, techy stuff Amazon loves.

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is Canada’s second largest comic-com event attracting over 100,000 visitors.  Theatre Sports, the precursor to the current improve theatre craze was invented in Calgary, at the University of Calgary in 1977.

Calgary is quickly becoming a major music city with the opening of the National Music Centre.  We also have several major music festivals including Calgary International Folk Festival, Sled Island and the Performing Arts Festival (4,000 entries, 12,000 participants, makes one of the largest amateur competition music festivals in North America). The Honens Piano Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious events of its kind in the world. Cowtown Opera Company takes their satirical performances to the streets and shopping malls of the city.

Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo has been showcasing the best in contemporary international performance every January since 1986.  In 2017, it featured 28 shows over 32 days with 150 performances by 200 artists from around the world. Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre is North America’s longest running lunchtime theatre company.

Calgary’s unique culture also includes an amazing diversity of recreational opportunities from speed skating to show jumping. Spruce Meadows is one of the best equestrian centres in the world and Shaw Millennium Park has one of the largest public skate parks in North America.  Canada Olympic Park offers unique recreational experiences - downhill skiing, zip line, mountain biking, luge and bobsled.  Calgary’s Olympic Oval has the fastest speeedskating ice in the world. In the winter Calgary boasts over 100 outdoor community skating rinks.

  Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

  Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

  There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

Canada: A Safe Haven?  

When Amazon announced they were looking to set up a second headquarters, they indicated that it could be anywhere in North America.  While most crystal ball gazers are assuming they will choose an American city, given the current political and social upheaval in the USA, Canada could well be a safe haven for Amazon.

Calgary is probably the most American friendly city in Canada.  We have a strong entrepreneurial, business-oriented, future thinking culture, while at the same time having a strong community spirit.  In 2016, Calgarians donated $55 million to United Way, the highest per capita United Way contribution in North America. 

West Village aka Amazon Village

  West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

  The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

  The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2.   It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan .

The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2. It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan.

  Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Last Word

In many ways, Calgary has retained all that is good about the pioneer culture that created our city just over 100 years ago.  While Calgary is a long shot to win the Amazon HQ2 headquarters, everyone loves an underdog. 

FYI: Calgary may have a little insider help. James Gosling, a Calgarian and University of Calgary grad, who invented the Java computer language found on 97 per cent of enterprise computer systems and virtual-machine systems, joined Amazon in May 2017.

Link: Amazon Request For Proposals

  And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

Olds: The Fastest Town in Canada?

We’d been hearing good things about Olds for awhile, including the fact it was Canada’s first “gig town.”

  The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

Backstory: One gigabit per second is super high-speed Internet that only a few North America cities have.  With that kind of bandwidth, you can stream at least five high-definition videos at the same time (allowing multiple people to watch and download different things in different rooms of a house or busines.  The Olds Institute’s Technology Committee conceived the idea back in 2004 as one of its economic development strategies to attract new businesses to locate there.   Called O-NET, it not only offers residents and businesses the fastest internet in Canada but also free community WiFi in dozens of public places across town – pretty much everywhere.   

Link: Gigabit Broadband in Olds

Then, a few weeks ago, a visiting young couple from Olds (they were picking up a bed that we were storing in our garage for friends) enthusiastically shared with us why they loved living in Olds and some of their favourite things to see, do and eat.

We decided we must go.  So we did, the next weekend.

  We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

Six good reasons to visit Olds

#1 Garden & Butcher

Olds College started as a demonstration farm back in 1911, followed by the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1913.  Today, it has a wonderful park-like campus and yes, the farm is still there.  A relatively new feature is the Botanical Gardens (started in 2001) has evolved into 13 specialty gardens including – Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Iris Collection, Wetlands, Water Garden, Alpine Garden, Apple Orchard, Conifer Bed, Heritage Grove and Perennial Border.  Visit the garden several times a year and get a different experience each time. 

A popular spot for weddings, they added some pageantry and colour on our Saturday visit.

Link: Visit the Gardens

You also won’t want to miss the Olds College National Meat Training Centre.  The College has the only facility in North America where students have the opportunity to learn everything from humane animal slaughter to retail meat cutting. 

For the public, this means there is a retail store on site that carries a wide variety of beef, pork, lamb and poultry cuts. They also have smoked sausages and ready-to-eat meals. Time your visit accordingly as they are open Monday to Friday (noon to 5 pm) and Saturdays (10 am to 4 pm).  It is located in the Animal Science Building. (Note to self: bring a cooler and ice packs with you.)

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 Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

#2 Pandora’s Boox and Tea (PBT)

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No, that isn’t a typo! The rationale for the name is that every time one opens a book, a new realm of possibilities opens up which is play on the Greek myth, Pandora’s box.

The name is very apropos for this unique shop.

Located in an early 20th century CIBC bank building, PBT is a lovely urban-esque surprise - it combines a bookstore, games entertainment hub and teashop.  For Calgarians, think Sentry Box meets Pages bookstore meets Tea Traders.

A lovely hour was spent browsing the shelves (full of books, games and cards), sipping tea and watching some board gamers play. This would be a good place to check out just how fast this “gig town” is.

  We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch.  

We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch. 

  Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

   eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

#3 Shoe Shopping

If you are looking for a new pair of shoes, you might want to think about heading to Olds.  They have a couple of great shoe shops. Our favourite - Henry’s Shoes - had over 15,000 pairs of shoes (we were told their Trochu store is even larger…hmmm a future road trip).  A great range of quality brands and sizes, and second-to-none service and fitting to boot (pun intended). 

It was all we could do to resist buying a pair. 

   Shoes or folk art?

Shoes or folk art?

  A blast from the past!

A blast from the past!

Not to be outdone, Jensen’s Men’s Wear also has a large selection of men’s and ladies’ footwear worth checking out, as well as a huge collection of western wear.  You are in the heart of cowboy country after all!

And then there’s Craig’s, serving Olds and community with quality fashions, fabrics, yarns and giftware for 119 years. 

To celebrate Canada 150, they have created several displays using vintage store artifacts from their collection 

I was even invited to check out the historic vault in the back room. 

Craig’s is fun a walk back in time

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#4 Retro Fun

Rockin’ Retro is a huge antique, retro, vintage shop.  While there is some rock and roll memorabilia (as the name suggests), there is a diverse selection of artifacts including one of the best collections of old tins that I have seen in a long time.

The Nu2U Thrift store located nearby is also worth a visit. You never know when or where you will find a hidden treasure!

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#5 Aggie & Old Skhool

Don’t leave town without a visit to the Olds College Teaching Brewery and Tasting Room established in 2013 (exactly 100 years after the school opened, wonder what took them so long). Attached to the Olds Pomeroy Inn & Suites, it offers tasting of seasonal brews as well as four commercially branded beers – Aggie Ale, Old Skhool, Hay City and Prairie Gold.  I came home with a 6-pack of Aggie (amber) and Old Skhool(brown), which may well become my new “go to” beers.

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#6 Mountain View Museum & Archives

Housed in the Olds AGT building (1920), this museum has a collection of 7,000 artifacts, 14 meters of textual documents and 2,000 photographs.  Group and guided tours are available.  Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday (it is only open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 pm).  We were told it is worth a visit. Next time.

Where to eat?

Our pick for lunch was the Black Forest German Bakery where everything is made from scratch and baked on site in their stone ovens, which keeps in the moisture and gives their breads a beautiful golden crusty exterior and a soft, tasty interior. They use local flours when possible, including spelt and rye and crack their our own grains for their multi-grain loaves. The European‐style bacon used in their famous Bacon Bread is sourced locally.

The daily lunch special immediately caught my eye. Who could resist Schnitzel & Spaetzle with salad, your choice of soup and dessert for $15.  We loaded up with some yummy cinnamon rolls and a huge piece of apple strudel (only $5) to enjoy at home. 

The Bakery and restaurant is part of a larger space that includes a mini marketplace with locally grown/made fresh foods and food products. 

  The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

Last Word

From Calgary (or even Edmonton or Red Deer) you could easily combine a trip to the Torrington Gopher Museum and Olds to create a kickback, fun rural day trip. We did and we plan to do it again - perhaps on a Thursday so we can check out the Olds Farmer’s Market, hit the museum and and maybe even play a round a of golf at Olds Golf and Country Club. 

But most likely we will visit again on Victoria Day when Torrington has its longstanding annual community-wide yard sale.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

Nanton: Bomber Museum 

Torrington: The Kitsch Capital of Alberta

We’re Going to Medicine Hat

 

Torrington: Kitsch Capital of Alberta

Finally! We made the trek to the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. And, we weren’t disappointed. 

For years, friends have been saying this quirky museum would be right up our alley.  The museum has attracted lots of media attention - including Huffpost calling it “Alberta’s Most Insane Hilarious Destination” to Calgary’s Avenue Magazine proclaiming, “You must see it to believe it.”

  Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

  Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Summer Only!

And, we weren’t disappointed.  Since 1996, this grassroots museum has been attracting 6,000+ visitors every summer (it is only open from June 1st to September 30th, when the gophers go into hibernation). 

Arriving shortly after it opens at 10 am on a recent Saturday, we were the first to arrive, but by the time we left, there were several visitors and a motorcycle caravan was expected later in the day as part of a scavenger hunt. 

So popular with visitors, a great unofficial website guide to the museum was created by fans as a tribute.  Very professional and comprehensive, the website has lots of fun information. I loved the “Meet The Team” link.

Link: Gopher Hole Museum

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Gopher Hole Museum 101

The museum is located in Torrington, Alberta on Highway 27 just 15 minutes east of the QEW II highway, about an hour’s drive north of Calgary. 

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Housed in an unassuming, cottage-like former house just off of Main Street, it is not an iconic building designed by a star international architect as we have become accustomed to in big city museums. 

Murals on the west side of the building let you know you have found it.  You can park right next to the museum at no charge. Try that in the big city.

Speaking of cost, the museum admission fee is $2 for adults and 50 cents for children under 14. How good it that?

  Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

  This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

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Very Welcoming!

  Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Once inside, the friendliest person we have encountered at the front desk of a public museum or art gallery in a long, long time welcomed us.  

Dianne Kurta, the museum’s curator since it first opened in 1996, greeted us. She seems as proud and enthusiastic today as if the museum had just opened.

After a hearty welcome, you are free to explore the single exhibition room that houses the 47 dioramas with 77 mounted gophers.

They look like old box televisions, with the innards replaced by miniature scenes from early 20th century rural life in a small Alberta town, the “twist” being the humans are represented by (real!) stuffed gophers. 

The result is hilarious; there is a clever tongue-in-cheek sensibility to each of the scenes. 

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  This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale.  

This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale. 

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Gift Shopping!

Local artist Shelley Barkman who lives on a farm west of Three Hills painted the murals for each of the dioramas.  She had become well known in the community for her work painting animal portraits as well as farm scenes.  When asked if she was interested in painting the murals for the Gopher Hole Museum, she jumped at the chance. Working inside a box was a bit more challenging that painting scenes of the flat surface of a canvas but she was up for the challenge. And she did a great job!

You will probably spend 20 to 30 minutes looking at the dioramas, depending on how many photos you take and there is lots of documentation on the history of the museum to read as well.

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Like all good museums, you exit (you also enter) through the gift shop which is full of a wide variety of souvenirs, hand crafted by the volunteers. It has the feel of a good old-time church bazaar.

No mass-produced, made in China junk that ends up in garage sales here! They even have their own postcards.

Whether you buy or not, make sure you vote on your favourite diorama and also make sure your town or city has been identified with a pin on the world map hanging on the wall.  This is truly an international tourist attraction.    

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Kitschy Fire Hydrants?

As you leave the museum, you are invited to tour (an easy walk) the town to check out the 12 kitschy fire hydrants, all painted to look like a gopher, each with a name and story. 

Grab a copy of the Torrington Tourism Action Society’s map to guide the way.  You can easily spend another 20 minutes or so wandering the town, taking selfies with the likes of Butch, Gramps, Tubby and Peggy Sue and reading their life stories. 

You will also pass by the huge Clem T. GoFur statue at the entrance to town – great family selfie opportunity.

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  Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Why A Gopher Museum?

The museum idea was in response to the decline of the small agricultural towns in the late 20th century, as large-scale agricultural farms gobbled up the 100-year old family farms across Prairies, including Torrington.

Many once thriving small towns with a post office, school and a few stores became almost ghost towns.  In Torrington’s case, it couldn’t compete with larger towns nearby – Olds, Trochu and Three Hills. Soon, the gophers began to take over the town and local folklore says a town council member suggested, “we should stuff them and put them on display.” 

While the museum and fire hydrants are fun, there is a sadness that permeates the town as you enter and wander the hamlet of about 200 people. Many homes lack a pride of ownership and there are only a few businesses left. Gone are the school, post office, general store, bank and other businesses you would expect in a bustling community.

Like lots of towns and cities, down and out on their luck Torrington looked to tourism to rescue a declining economy.  (Perhaps the most famous example being Bilbao, Spain who hired Frank Gehry, a famous international architect to create an iconic art gallery for them. It captured the world’s imagination and today, what was a dying city is a mega tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, Bilbao is the exception not the rule.)

  Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Last Word

After 21 years, the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum is still going strong, but as you wander around the hamlet you have to wonder about its long-term future. Will anyone have the same passion for the museum as Kurta? While she has endless optimism and pride in the town, will there be a next generation to carry the gopher torch?

I really hope so. The world needs more kitschy fun that everybody can enjoy!

  Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Calgary/Banff Transit: It is about time!

Yahooo…Calgary’s Regional Partnership is piloting a Calgary/Banff bus this summer. It’s about time….

It has always amazed me that there isn’t a regular Calgary/Banff bus or train service for that matter.  Twenty years ago I was in Bali and experienced how they picked up tourists in small vans from various hotels and resorts took us to a central bus station where coach buses then drove us to our various tourist destinations.  It was a great “hub and wheel” system that I thought Calgary could learn from. 

I was reminded of this again recently when in Berlin and wanted to go to Leipzig, a popular tourist destination about 200 km away.  We had our choice of several trains a day, as well as an hourly bus service.  We booked a bus seats online for $15CDN/person each way.   It was easy to use local transit to get us to the Central Bus Station, where we boarded a comfortable coach bus that took us directly to Leipzig’s city center  - just a 5-minute walk to our hotel. 

It was very slick.

On-IT Calgary/Banff Transit Pilot

I was very excited to recently learn the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), a collaborative network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary Region who work together on a volunteer basis to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner, has taken the initiative to pilot an On-IT Calgary/Banff bus service on weekends and holidays from June 17 to September 4.

There are two routes:

  • Calgary / Banff Express running between Calgary’s Crowfoot LRT station and Banff
  • Calgary / Banff Regional with additional stops in Okotoks, South Calgary at Somerset- Bridlewood LRT station, Cochrane and Canmore.  

From the looks of the schedule they have tried very hard to create a schedule to accommodate a variety of needs. 

I was also pleased to learn you are not just dropped off in the middle of Banff, but your fare (Special Canada 150 pricing of $10 each way; kids under 5 ride free) includes free transfer to Banff’s Roam Transit and Parks Canada’s shuttle, the latter gives you access to get to many different hot spots including Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Tunnel Mountain and other popular park destinations.

Kudos to CRP & Partners

Kudos to CRP for initiating this regional transit service pilot project.   I admire their ambitious goal of creating a seamless regional transit system that will offer increased mobility for locals wanting to get to jobs or recreational activities, as well as to enhance regional tourism.

Kudos also to Parks Canada, Banff and Canmore for partnering with CRP to test the idea of a seasonal bus service for tourists and locals.  I expect the information gathered this summer will be very useful in determining the need for a seasonal bus or perhaps even a train from Calgary to Banff in the future.

Last Word

Perhaps one of the legacies of Canada 150 will be the development of a permanent Calgary/Banff regional transit system in 2018. 

More information & purchase tickets at: onitregionaltransit.ca

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Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park?

Let me see if I have this straight…most Calgarians would support the city getting involved in the construction of a new arena that will cost $500M (give or take a few million) as long as it doesn't increase their taxes! Sounds a bit crazy, but let’s keep an open mind. It would also seems that support is growing at the City for site in East Victoria Park just a block away from the Saddledome, but the neither the City or the Flames own - it belongs to the Calgary Stampede.  Sounds a bit crazy, but I am sure the Stampede would be willing co-operate if the terms were right.  But that isn't the only elephant in the room of the crazy new Calgary arena saga.  

Several Elephants In The Room

As the Calgary Stampede currently owns the land on which the proposed new arena is to be built, there has to be something in it for them.  They need City approval and funding for the expansion of the BMO centre. They have plans (feasibility, concept, costing and conceptual drawings done) and are ready to move on a mega expansion of the BMO Centre to the tune of $500M.  Plans include tearing down the 1950 Corral arena and expanding east to 4th St. SE. across the street from the proposed new arena site.  And they still have plans to convert Olympic Way into Stampede Trail with western-themed restaurants, bars, lounges and retail.  

It will be very interesting to see how negotiations with the Stampede play out.

  Proposed Stampede Trail would create a year-round pedestrian street based on Stampede theme.

Proposed Stampede Trail would create a year-round pedestrian street based on Stampede theme.

Downtown Convention Center’s Future?

So, what happens to the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre if BMO Centre is expanded as part of their vision to create a world-class meeting and events destination in Victoria Park? Can Calgary operate two convention facilities?  The City has a contract with Marriott Hotel to operate a convention centre at the current location until 2030. 

What other uses could be made of the downtown convention space? Expand the Glenbow?  Create a new Art Museum? Something else? What would those costs be?

What happens to the Saddledome?

What other uses could be made of it? Current wisdom is that Calgary couldn’t support two major arenas (Edmonton is struggling with what to do with its Rexall Place now they have Rogers Place.) Current thinking is to tear it down, perhaps not until after Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid - if we do bid on and are awarded the Games.

  The current plan is to literally move the arena one block north, which will locate it between the current Stampede LRT and the new 4th Street SE LRT station as part of the Green Line.

The current plan is to literally move the arena one block north, which will locate it between the current Stampede LRT and the new 4th Street SE LRT station as part of the Green Line.

No Rush?

Mayor Nenshi believes we don’t need to rush the planning process. While, the 2026 Olympics is 9 years away, a new arena, BMO Centre, LRT station etc. could easily take six to eight years to negotiate funding, design, get approvals and build.  There might not be much time as some think.

Link: Calgarians Support Olympic Bid

Profits & Losses?

What will be the funding model for the arena? Should the City invest any money in the arena, as most of the reasons for building a new arena are to increase revenues from NHL games to make the Calgary Flames more profitable?  How does the City benefit from the increased profits of a new arena and protect itself from any losses?

 Link: Forbes: Calgary Flames Value Breakdown

Windfall Benefits?

The value of an NHL team will increase with a new arena and long-term lease. For example, the value of the Edmonton Oilers increased from $225M US in 2013 to $445M US in 2016 when the new arena opened.  Today, the Flames’ worth is estimated at $425M US but with a new arena and long-term lease, the value would increase significantly - maybe not as high at the $700M US of the Vancouver Canucks but certainly north of $500M US.  Shouldn’t the City somehow benefit from this windfall?

Link: Oiler's Increase Value With New Arena

No Cash Cow?

The Rivers Community Revitalization Levy District that was created for East Village revitalization includes Victoria Park and Stampede Park.  So far the City has upfronted $375 M to be paid back from new tax revenues generated by future private sector projects on land in East Village. Back in 2007, the boundaries were extended to include The Bow office tower, which would pay sufficient taxes over 20 years to pay off the debt even it no other developments happened in East Village. Is there another private sector cash cow for the redevelopment of East Victoria Park and Stampede Park? 

Herd of Elephants? 

A few other elephants include, should the Calgary Transit’s Bus Barns stay or do they become a development site?  How do we deal with the huge Enmax substation and vacant land along the CPR lands that create a significant barrier to linking East Victoria Park to East Village and downtown, which is critical to the success of any convention and events district. 

Wonder What Bob Holmes Thinks? 

Holmes was Planning Commissioner, Chair of the Calgary Planning Commission and member of the Olympic Committee in the ‘80s and was heavily involved in negotiating the deal to get the Saddledome built.  He has put together many mega projects including Calgary TELUS Convention Centre/Hyatt Hotel/Calgary Parking Authority project, Alberta Children’s Hospital and South Health Campus.

Holmes thinks “The City should have taken a leadership role in the determining the need for and location of a new arena from the beginning.  There should never have been the “propose and oppose” conflict that was forced on the Flames.”  He adds, “The City is responsible for proactively planning all types of land uses, special districts and public assembly facilities, not just residential, commercial and industrial, as they contribute to our quality of life.”

Holmes is optimistic the new collaborative approach to planning for East Victoria Park will be successful in developing a comprehensive and practical master plan that benefits all Calgarians. He likes the move away from the “silo planning” of the past with the Stampede Board planning Stampede Park, CMLC planning East Village and City planners focusing on the City Centre.

He feels strongly, “the revitalization of East Victoria Park is more than just a new arena and expanded BMO Center. It is about developing a range of compatible land uses, public and private.” In his mind, “one of the most important planning objectives for East Victoria Park and Stampede Park must be must to create better linkages south to downtown and west along 10th, 11th 12th and 17th Avenues. We need a major mixed-use project overtop of the CPR tracks, like Hudson Yards in New York City to connect with East Village and downtown.”

Holmes wonders if perhaps Remington Development Corporation could be convinced to dust off their 10+ year old plans for a major redevelopment of their lands on both sides of the CPR tracks just north of the arena site.

Let’s hope Holmes is right and we have assembled the right team of professionals who can create wins for Calgarians, Flames, Stampede and Victoria Park. 

Link: It is what happen around stadiums and arena that make them successful

Let’s Not Fool Our Selves

The master planning of East Victoria Park (EVP) to accommodate a new arena and expanded BMO Center is just as costly, complex, risky and messy as the West Village site. The big advantage in EVP over West Village is all the stakeholders are ready for the challenge.

Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary thinks, “what is the most critical for everyday urban vitality of EVP is what get built around the arena and convention centre. You need a critical mass of residential, retail, restaurants and hotels, to create vibrant streets and public spaces, not just mega event centers.”

We must create a SHED (sports hospitality entertainment district) we can all be proud of not only when it is built, but as it evolves over the next 50 even 75 years.

  Maybe a new $500+M arena just a block away from the current arena isn't a crazy idea, but is sure one that we need to think about carefully.  Creating sustained urban vitality in East Victoria Park and Stampede Park is more than just building a new arena. 

Maybe a new $500+M arena just a block away from the current arena isn't a crazy idea, but is sure one that we need to think about carefully.  Creating sustained urban vitality in East Victoria Park and Stampede Park is more than just building a new arena. 

Last Word

Moving the arena two blocks may or may not be a crazy idea! And in defense of Nenshi, we shouldn’t rush this process.  We need to take our time and make sure we get this RIGHT.  

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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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East Village: A Billion Dollar Work Of Art?

It seems every time I flaneur East Village, I find a new artwork - or two.  And, sometimes I find them in the oddest – underpasses, stainless steel public washrooms, retaining walls and construction hoarding. 

What is hoarding art, you ask? It is the plywood boards put up around construction sites so you can’t see in. 

  One of several paintings on the hoarding around the new Central Library construction site.

One of several paintings on the hoarding around the new Central Library construction site.

On a recent warm slushy day, I found myself in East Village and decided to check out the progress on the new Central Library – a work of art in itself. Usually I view the site from a distance, but wanting to get a better look at the unique façade tiles, so I wandered to the temporary sidewalk next to the hoarding.  The hoarding was in fact an interesting (to me) temporary art exhibition.   

I loved the narrative of the images created by the juxtaposition of the man-made and nature, past and present and birth and nurturing.  It seemed so appropriate and clever for East Village, given its brand as “Calgary’s oldest new community” and the amazing rebirth of the community.

  Another of the hoarding artworks.

Another of the hoarding artworks.

Unknown Artists

Once home, I quickly went online for more information the hoarding exhibition. Apparently, it was installed in September 2016 and is the work of Kai and Ricole Cabodyna. The artists’ statement read “a collage of images illustrating the local flora and fauna, and humanity's place within it all. The work is an exploration and remembrance of culture's intimate relations with nature's rhythms.”

In addition, I discovered this is the second hoarding show at the new library construction site. The previous artwork was done by illustrator Serena Maylon, who created watercolours that depicted the historical timeline of East Village from the untouched grasslands of the early 19th century to library completion in 2018.

While I applaud the idea, sadly I doubt many people see the hoarding art exhibitions, as most walk along the sidewalk on the other side of the street.  

Lesson learned - It pays to walk on the sidewalk less travelled.
  One more hoarding painting by   Kai and Ricole Cabodyna .

One more hoarding painting by Kai and Ricole Cabodyna.

Temporary Street Art

Since day one, of East Village’s urban renewal by CMLC (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation), public art has been an integral part of transforming the area into a fun, pedestrian-friendly environment.

The inaugural street art project, in 2010, was by Calgary artist Derek Besant, entitled, “I am the river.” Consisting of 13 larger-than-life portrait photos of Calgarians floating underwater at six sites along the newly opened Riverwalk. The artist’s intent was to celebrate everyday Calgarians’ connection to their rivers.  The installation was bit of shock for many as floating heads and naked upper body portraits had a haunting ambiguity – were they dead, alive or just a dream?

Today, you will find a series of paintings along Riverwalk by Curtis Van Charles Sorensen entitled “Window to the Wild.” It consists of flowers, leaves and animals (beaver, fox, coyote and heron) indigenous to Southern Alberta and the Bow River. Though too decorative for my tastes, I am sure there are some who love it.

Every few years, the street art along the Riverwalk changes creating a slightly different sense of place. 

  Derek Besants, "I am the river" utilizes the facade of the public washrooms for his art.

Derek Besants, "I am the river" utilizes the facade of the public washrooms for his art.

 The second rotation of curated temporary public art -   The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence -   by Calgary art collective  Light & Soul  brings exactly that to RiverWalk’s storage sheds, bridge abutments and bathrooms.

The second rotation of curated temporary public art -  The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence -  by Calgary art collective Light & Soul brings exactly that to RiverWalk’s storage sheds, bridge abutments and bathrooms.

Permanent Public Art

Calgary artist Ron Moppett’s colourful, 110-foot mural, “SAMEWAYBETTER/READER” (I don’t get the title either) incorporates 956,321 tiny glass tiles manufactured in Munich, Germany.  The mosaic mural tells the story of Calgary’s evolution as a city in seven panels using different styles from black and white etching to playful Matisse-like cutouts.  It is easy for pedestrians to miss it as it is tucked away on the 4th St SE retaining wall at the 5th Ave SE flyover. 

Promenade

London, England’s Julian Opie’s computerized LED-animated art showcasing faceless cartoon figures of everyday figures walking in circles around what looks like a mini rectangular downtown Calgary office tower. It located on a hill above the 4th St SE sidewalk next to the 5th Street flyover, making it more visible to drivers than pedestrians. 

And yes, the artist’s message is “it represents urban cities where people endlessly pass by oblivious to each other.”

A strange choice of location and statement given East Village is being designed as a friendly, people- oriented urban village aimed at becoming an urban meeting place for people of diverse ages and backgrounds.

  Promenade artwork by Julian Opie, with Norman Foster's Bow Tower and Bill Milne's Calgary Tower in the background is easy to miss when walking along the sidewalk.

Promenade artwork by Julian Opie, with Norman Foster's Bow Tower and Bill Milne's Calgary Tower in the background is easy to miss when walking along the sidewalk.

Humour Me

The “Paper Plane” sculpture, just west of the Simmons building right on the Riverwalk by the “Light and Soul” artists’ collective – Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher, Daniel J. Kirk and Ivan Ostapenko.  The metaphor is obvious – the east-facing paper plane is still in the grasp of a human hand but ready to take flight, just like the development of East Village.  It is popular photo spot as it lines up nicely with the Calgary Tower in the background.

Art & Nature

The most recent public art piece is “Bloom” by Michel de Broin. It uses vintage streetlights to create what looks like a seven story industrial flower on the edge of the Bow River at the entrance to St. Patrick’s Island by day - and like a constellation by night.  It soon became a hit (and home) for a local pair of osprey. 

However, Roland Dechesne, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Calgary chapter had concerns about the negative impact the light would have on bats, insects, fish and other wildlife given it shines in all directions.  

When it comes to art, you can never make everyone happy.

Link: East Village Public Art Program http://www.evexperience.com/public-art-program/

  King Bridge over the Bow River with Bloom artwork on the right.

King Bridge over the Bow River with Bloom artwork on the right.

Architecture as Art

Look beyond the obvious and you will discover many of East Village’s new buildings - National Music Centre, Central Library, George C. King Bridge and the Tool Shed - are artworks in their own right.

The heavy, ominous-looking, odd-shaped National Music Centre with its multi-faceted, reflective façade changes colour with changes in sunlight. Sometimes it can appear black; other times silver, brown or bronze. 

It makes a dramatic gateway to East Village on the southern edge of the community. 

Its sculptural shape reminds me a bit of a Henry Moore reclining nude?

  National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

  Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

The new Central Library, definitely a work of art, destined to become one of Calgary’s signature buildings and a postcard to the world. It will further enhance Calgary’s image as a design city internationally.  I love the funky, house-shaped, honey comb-like skin of the building. It will help put Calgary on the map for architectural tourism.

  New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

Bridges As Art

The George C. King Bridge (pedestrian/cycling) could also be consisted a work of art. From the beginning it was nicknamed the “Skipping Stone” bridge, with its first arch skipping over the main channel of Bow River from East Village’s Riverwalk to St. Patrick’s Island. The second skip is under the bridge with the third skip over a secondary river channel to Memorial Drive.  The design has a transparency that draws the eye to the majestic Bow River without competing with it. 

It has a bucolic beauty I admire and it the polar opposite of the bold Peace Bridge linking the Eau Claire Promenade to Memorial Drive a kilometre west.

  King Bridge over the Bow River at night, with "Bloom" artwork in the background.

King Bridge over the Bow River at night, with "Bloom" artwork in the background.

Functional Art

And then there is the East Village “Tool Shed!” What you ask is the tool shed? It is the rusted metal structure on 6th Street SE at that is part of the lavish community garden, children’s playground along 6th Street SE. at 7th Ave. As the name implies, it is where the gardeners’ tools and other equipment for programming the space is stored. 

The sculpture looking shed is made of shipping containers with a lovely honeycomb archway in the middle creating a gateway to the garden/playground. 

The rusted metal gives this artwork an appropriate earthy look for a garden and playground. 

Last Word

For most of the 20th century Calgary, was seen as a frontier town lacking in local and international art, architecture and urban design. That is simply no longer true. East Village is Calgary’s multi-billion dollar artwork. 

It is the benchmark for new communities in Calgary, be they inner-city or on the outer edge.

Link: East Village Public Art Program

Even the benches in St. Patrick's Island Park are works of art.

This blog was originally published April 29th, 2017 by the Calgary Herald for its New Condo section.

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More Hoarding Art

What does "Smarter Growth" mean?

We have likely all read or heard the term “smart growth” but do we know what the term means? Smart Growth America defines smart growth as “an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighbourhoods, and community engagement.”  

Makes sense.  Seems reasonable.

The devil is in the details.

In Calgary, the Smarter Growth Initiative website (smartergrowth.ca) is the work of BILD Calgary Region, the new name for the recent amalgamation of the Calgary Home Builders’ Association and the Urban Development Institute.

If you are at all interested in urban development or city building in Calgary, check this site out.  It is full of articles written in plain English covering almost every urban development or city building topic you can imagine. While some of the articles may be a bit too simplistic for some (writing for the public is a delicate balance between too much and too little information), in my opinion most Calgarians will benefit from the clear, concise and credible information presented.

It a also a great place to learn about the various acronyms that developers, planners and politicians throw around - like MGA (Municipal Government Act), MDP (Municipal Development Plan) or MAC (Major Activity Centre). Here, these and more are explained in layman’s language.

Everything You Need To Know

Want to understand the Calgary’s infrastructure saga? If so, there is a great article entitled “Who Pays For What?” outlining who pays for roads and pathways, streetlights, public spaces, traffic lights, sound barriers, water, sewer and other utilities. Dig deeper and you can download a Deputy City Manager’s Office Report to Council that details the new off-site levies bylaw and all the rates. It will be an interesting read for some.

Interested in Affordable Housing? The video,“4 Factors In Housing Affordability” is worth watching. Want to know more about the benefits of mixed-use developments, or what placemaking is or the new energy codes of Alberta Homes? Links to articles on these subjects and more can be found on the home page.

Or, click on the “Innovation” tab and you can read articles about “A Natural Cure For Urban Stress,” “Centres of Innovation,” and “Do tiny homes have a future in Canada?”

On the Policy page, you can read what Councillor Farrell thinks about growth, what Guy Huntingford, CEO, BILD Calgary Region thinks about the housing crunch or how to make sense of developer levies.

The Development page has instructive pieces like, “Main Streets YYC,” “Innovation in a New Complete Community,” “Designing Streets for Safety” and “Secondary Suites With A Difference.”

There is even a Smarter Growth Initiative newsletter that you can sign up for, which will keep you posted on new development news as it unfolds.

Something To Think About

The stated goal of the Smarter Growth Initiative is “to engage Calgarians in dialogue on the topics affecting planning and development.”  Given the municipal election this fall, it would be wise for all Calgarians to educate themselves about how Calgary can grow smarter.

Note: This blog was commissioned by the Smarter Growth Initiative. However, they had no influence on its content.  

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2026 Winter Olympics Bid: Insights From Holmes & Parker

I received two very informative emails in response to the blog Calgary 2026 Olympics: To Bid or Not To Bid?” from two, very respected and knowledge able Calgarians.

Parker’s Insights…

The first was from Richard Parker, former Head of the City of Calgary’s Planning Department from 1988 to 2003. He wrote:

“I enjoyed your article on the Olympic Bid but I think you missed two very important points.

We won the 1988 Games in September 1981. The boom was still going strong although signs of trouble were beginning to appear. As I used to say we won the bid in a construction boom but built it in a bust, hence coming in under budget on a number of construction projects. (Everyday Tourist’s Note: Let’s hope our current bust doesn’t last until 2026.)

Also, the 1988 Olympics were the last time the local Organizing Committee got the TV revenues. I may not have the figures correct but the order of magnitude is right - we budgeted to get around $200 million and got that from outside the USA and got over $350 million for the US rights.

Our timing was perfect; we put out the bid just after Los Angeles, often referred to as the first true TV Olympics.”

Parker also cc’d his email to me to Bob Holmes who was on the Board, the Executive Committee, and the Finance Committee of the Calgary Olympic Organizing Committee (OCO’88).  

Holmes’ Insights….

Holmes confirmed the US TV rights were sold for $309M in 1983, far and away the largest ever for a winter games. And shared additional insights:

“The US Men’s Olympic Hockey team won gold in Lake Placid in 1980. It was referred to as the “Miracle on Ice.” This heightened the interest in the US TV rights for the Calgary games, as did the fact Calgary was in a “good time zone” for US TV.

The next Winter Olympics after Lake Placid were in Sarajevo, located in a much less desirable time zone for live broadcast back to North America, thus making the 1988 Calgary Olympics the first real opportunity for US television networks to capitalize on the “Miracle on Ice.”

In fact, the bidding for the US TV rights to the Calgary games was deliberately – and strategically - conducted in 1983 before Sarajevo. The timing of the bidding, the memory of Lake Placid, Calgary’s time zone, as well as the US hockey games being strategically placed on the schedule for the US audience, all led to very high bids by all three US networks for Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics.

Los Angeles in 1984 set a new standard for corporate sponsorships, and the revenue derived from this source, as well as TV rights. Their sponsorship program was at an international as well as national level, attracting worldwide corporations like Coca Cola and Visa to pay millions for the rights. Calgary benefitted greatly from this. By contrast, Lake Placid in 1980 had the official potato chip sponsor, and dozens of other small categories, generating small revenues.

After the financial success of Los Angeles and Calgary, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the cost sharing formula between the Host City/Organizing Committee’s share and IOC. The IOC also took over both the TV rights and worldwide sponsorship program and gave a share of these revenues to the host city/organizing committee.

More recently, there has been a shortage of bidding cities - many have considered but backed out because of cost and uncertainty of revenues. Sochi is mentioned as an example of this although I think the costs in Sochi were driven as much by the Russian government as the IOC. The IOC is apparently concerned about the lack of interest and has recently said it was going to streamline the bidding process and also take steps to reduce the costs of staging the games.

It is absolutely critical that before any bid takes place, Calgary understands as much as possible how the IOC intends to streamline the bidding process and staging of the games as well as what will be the total revenue projections and how they will be shared.   

As well, before any bidding decision is made, Calgary must determine the cost/benefits of the infrastructure legacy opportunities. How much would Calgary benefit from having a new, state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena, a new convention centre (media centre for Olympics) and renovated or replaced McMahon Stadium for opening ceremonies paid for by all three levels of government and corporate sponsorships that we would never be able to access without the Olympics? As well, maybe an LRT link to the Airport and/or to Canmore and Banff could be added bonuses.

Nor should we underestimate the value of the publicity and civic pride benefits that comes with an international event like the Olympics. 

Last Word

“Indeed, the world has changed since 1988, but it is too soon to dismiss the idea of the hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics. I commend the City for taking the time to do their due diligence before deciding ‘Yes or No’ to what could be a great opportunity to kick-start the next phase in Calgary’s evolution as a city,” says Holmes. 

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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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