In a recent blog, I discussed why the City of Calgary’s approval of $100 million to help fill up downtown office space was not a good idea. However, given it is a done deal, it will be interesting to see what plans Calgary Economic Development and the downtown property owners come up with for the approved monies - even the Mayor admitted was an “arbitrary number.”
Pitch other HQs
While Calgary is out of the running for Amazon's HQ2, Calgary Economic Development and all of its partners learned what we need to do to retool our City (not just the downtown) for the 21st century. That being said there are lots of other corporations who could be approached to move to Calgary or use our downtown as a Canadian or North American headquarters.
American cities are big on providing incentives for corporation to move to their city, but Calgary isn't allowed to provide incentives so we will have to entice them to locate in Calgary based on economic rationale.
FYI: Providing incentives for businesses to relocate is a fool’s game. Businesses should only locate in downtown Calgary if it is economically viable based on current market conditions and conservative future market projections.
The cost to create Calgary’s Amazon HQ2 bid was $500,000 (supplemented by a significant amount of in-kind research and volunteer hours), was one of the most intensive and complex bids any economic development agency would ever have to produce. At best, there are probably a dozen major bids for corporate relocation or expansion to Calgary, but they would be only a fraction of the work of the Amazon bid and much of the baseline information has already been collected. So that doesn't account for the need for $100M.
“Out Of The Office” Ideas
Perhaps it would be wise to use the $100M to fund feasibility studies and incentives to help diversify our downtown away from corporate offices.
Here are some ideas I have heard suggested by various urban development professionals:
- Convert office space to enable the Alberta College of Art & Design to relocate downtown, build a public art gallery in the same building as well as spaces for commercial galleries and artists’ studios. In other words, create a downtown arts hub. Note: The City spent $30 million to create cSPACE in the former King Edward School.
- Convert older downtown office buildings into student or affordable housing, maybe a youth hostel or a boutique hotel.
- Study the feasibility of attracting a major international university, medical center or NGO (non government organization, e.g. health, humanitarian agency) to locate in one or more of our downtown office buildings.
- Lobby the Federal government and Larco Investments Lid who own the Harry Hays Building to relocated Calgary's Federal government offices to a downtown office space. A location on or near the 7th Avenue Transit corridor would be much more convenient for customers/clients and employees. Perhaps we can lobby the Federal Government to relocated one or more other major offices/agencies to Calgary. The Harry Hays site would make for a great mixed-use condo development.
- Earmark some of the money to help convert an office building into an Innovation Hub – a current hot button for economic development. FYI: This is already happening with the old 30-storey Pan Canadian/Encana Tower, which was recently renamed The Edison by Aspen Properties – with no government help. They have plans to renovated the space to create a unique work place they hope will be attractive to young entrepreneurs. Amenities include: exclusive tenant lounge with board games and library, fitness facility, dog-friendly patio, dog spa area, basketball half court, golf simulator, third floor outdoor patio, rooftop patio, conference facility, multi-purpose game room, bike sharing program and bike storage. Hmmmm…is this a place to work or play? (See photo below for information on the East Village Parakade /Innovation Centre recently annoucned)
- Renovate Stephen Avenue Walk to create an attractive 21st century street that can better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, vendors, deliveries, taxis and events. A vibrant main street (weekdays, evenings and weekends) is a key element in attracting major IT and Tech firms to locate in downtown Calgary.
- Improve Calgary's cycling infrastructure. Perhaps, pilot an inner-city bike share program. Being cycling friendly is important when competing with other cities for young creative entrepreneurs.
I hope none of the $100 million is earmarked for marketing and brand campaign. Do we really want another “Be Part Of The Energy” or “Heart of the New West” campaign? Trying to contrive a new brand for a city is another fool’s game. The best brands grow organically based on authentic attributes of the city. No major corporation is going to relocate to Calgary because we have a new brand with a sexy marketing campaign.
Backstory: Tourism Calgary has already spent a significant amount of time and money researching Calgary’s global brand and reputation over the past year. Look for an announcement shortly on how they intend to revise Calgary’s brand and market our city to the world.
As one Calgary developer/office manager who works for a major International property management company said to me “We lack big ideas on how to dramatically evolve our downtown to thrive in the economic reality of the early 21st century.”
However, others think rather than waiting for the big idea or chasing the big saviour (Amazon HQ2), what Calgary needs are several smaller initiatives each designed to diversify our downtown core from being a corporate office ghetto into a vibrant mixed-use “work, live, play” community.
Indeed, successful cities continually adapt to local, regional, national and global economic changes; unsuccessful ones cling to old economic paradigms.
Can Calgary adapt to the 21st century?
If you like this blog, you will like these links:
CBC Calgary News: Revitalizing Calgary's core: Some ideas for rebirth
CBC Calgary News: Suburban Fabric Shifts As Jobs Move To the Suburbs