With the addition of several new condos – Kensington by Bucci, Ezra by Birchwood and Lido by Battistella – Kensington Village now has 10,000 people living within walking distance, a number considered by many urban strategists to be the threshold needed for street retail, restaurants and cafes to thrive.
Annie MacInnis has been the Executive Director of the Kensington Business Improvement Association (BIA) for the past 15 years. She recognizes the important role the new condos and their 1,000+ new residents have played not only in increasing the number of shoppers and diners, but also the new energy these newcomers have brought to the community. She is looking forward to next wave of condos - Annex by Minto and Memorial Drive by Anthem Properties – that will add to the growing vibrancy.
MacInnis has a long personal history with Kensington, living in the community when the LRT was first proposed in the early ‘80s and opposed by many in the neighbourhood.
She laughs when she thinks about how today, the community’s LRT connection to the downtown and the University of Calgary is one of the community’s key attractions.
One of the biggest changes she has noticed over the past 15 years is how the BIA and the Community Association are now working together to build a vibrant community. It wasn’t always the case.
Fifteen years ago, the business district was in a decline, the public realm needed replacement, and the BIA and the community association were not working easily together.
Another watershed moment happened in the ‘90s when the two anchors at each end of the village were established - Safeway renovating its store on the north end of 10thStreet NW and Shoppers Drug Mart opening its store at the west end of Kensington Road – together, meeting most residents’ everyday needs.
Since the opening of Calgary’s first Starbucks in the mid ‘90s next to the independent café Higher Ground, not only have both survived, but together they’ve enhanced Kensington’s reputation as Calgary’s premier coffee house destination.
While The Plaza theatre has had its ups and downs, it is a key differentiator for the village and critical to it ongoing vibrancy.
Reinvesting Parking Revenues
In 2015/16, MacInnis worked with the City of Calgary to manage the six million dollar makeover of Kensington’s public realm – new sidewalks, street lighting, furniture and replacement of all the unhealthy trees. The results have exceeded her expectations and will enhance the street for existing and new businesses for decades.
In fact, the Kensington BIA won two international awards in 2014 for the innovative funding of the public realm improvements – “Best in the West” Excellence Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the BIABC/International Downtown Association Western Canada and Pacific Northwest US Conference, as well as a Merit Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the International Downtown Association conference. What particularly made the project unique was the securing of $4.5 million from the City of Calgary’s surplus parking revenues which opened the door for negotiations between Calgary’s Business Improvement Districts (BIA) and the City for an ongoing parking revenue sharing program for public realm improvements.
In 2016, the City of Calgary, in partnership with Calgary Parking Authority and the BIAs developed an annual Parking Surplus Reinvestment Program, making monies available to any BIA or community with paid street parking for public realm improvements.
The More Art The Better
With the streetscape now upgraded, MacInnis is focusing her efforts on enhancing Kensington’s alleys and side yards. “More murals and more art” is her mantra today. Building on the existing street art in the back alley along the east side of 10thStreet NW, she has several projects on the go. Three alleys between buildings have been activated with murals and lighting - east side of Pulcinella, east side of Norfolk Housing Association, and east side of 10thSt by Charisma.
She is also working on installing a 17-foot tall kinetic, wind sculpture that is also have an interactive seat for two at its base, as well as a bicycle that allows you to you to charge your phone as you pedal.
MacInnis’ vision for Kensington is for it to be an “irresistible destination where people want to come because there is cool art and whimsical activations to charm and delight, as well as lots of interesting shops and places to eat and drink in between exploring all its nooks and crannies.”
MacInnis is very optimistic about the future of Kensington. With several more condos in the works, the future of Kensington continues to look bright, as a fun place to live, eat, drink, play and shop in Calgary.