While Calgary’s Downtown’s East Village has been getting lots of attention for its amazing transformation, Downtown West is quietly being transformed into an urban village also.
Indeed, East Village has lots of headline grabbing projects in East Village – the spectacular new library and museum, the mixed-use St. Patrick’s Island Park, bridge, riverwalk, the fun community garden and playground, as well as the shiny new condo towers.
At the other end of downtown, Downtown West, has quietly been evolving since the mid ‘90s with new condos, parks and public art making it an ever more attractive place to “live and play.” So much so, that over the next 10 years, it could become a hidden gem. But first it needs to sort out its name as some City documents refer to it as Downtown West, while others call it Downtown West End. The Community Association calls itself Downtown West so that is what I’m going with.
Personally, I would love it if they renamed it Mewata, a Cree word for “pleasant place” or “to be happy.” Seems appropriate to me.
Downtown West 101
Downtown West is the neighbourhood between 8th and 14th Streets SW and between the CPR tracks and the Bow River.
It is home to University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus building, the historic Mewata Armoury, Shaw Millennium Park and the Kerby Centre.
Its two LRT Stations, (at 8th and 11th Street SW) give its residents connections to both LRT legs.
Back in the late ‘90s, (i.e. long before East Village’s renaissance), new residential towers were popping up everywhere in Downtown West – including Axxis, Discovery Pointe, The Barclay and The Macleod at Riverwest, Five West and Tarjan Pointe. These were the first new residential developments in Calgary’s City Centre since the late ‘70s.
One of the key developers to kickstart the ‘90s Downtown West condo craze was Vancouver’s Nat Bosa, father of Ryan Bosa, President of BOSA Development who today ironically is the leading condo developer in East Village (he is also building Royal condo in the Beltline). The BOSA Development website’s section on Calgary proudly states, “In the mid-’90s we offered an alternative, delivering a series of five high-quality condominium developments in the downtown West End.”
Today, Downtown West it home to 2,757 Calgarians. The community’s largest cohort is 25 to 34 year olds i.e. young professionals, who love the fact they can walk to work, run along the river and/or play at Shaw Millennium Park.
Fast forward a decade or so later. Early in the 21stcentury, Downtown West development began to stagnate as other City Centre communities became more attractive– Beltline, East Village, Mission and Bridgeland. In fact, there was no increase in the community’s population from 2009 to 2014, and an increased of only 470 since then.
Unfortunately, Downtown West without a master plan to guide its development and a walkable main street to provide those important the everyday walkable amenities (e.g. grocery store, cafes, restaurants, medical services) is at a huge disadvantage compared to Calgary’s other City Centre communities.
Until recently, that is. First, Grosvenor/Cressy completed phase one of their two tower upscale Avenue West project adding 195 new condos. Then, La Caille completed Vogue, their art deco -inspired 36-storey project, adding 232 new condos. Cidex isactively building phase 1 of their Dubai-inspired West Village Towers (the project was co-designed by NORR’s Dubai and Calgary architectural teams), a three towers project that will see 575 new homes and 90,000 square feet of retail added to the community.
In fact, West Village Towers could be a game changer for Downtown West if the retail space includes a urban grocery store and other key amenities to make urban living in the community more attractive. I do wonder thought about the confusing name “West Village” as this project not in West Village a proposed new community west of 14th Street SW several blocks away.
In addition, a major $10 million redevelopment of Century Gardens is currently underway at the southeast edge of the community will provide a passive urban space that will complement Shaw Millennium Park.
East Village vs Downtown West
The iconic Jack Long-designed Planetarium/Science Centre built in 1967 is about to become a new public art gallery. While not on the scale of East Village’s new Central Library or the National Music Centre, it will put Downtown West on Calgary’s art and cultural map. While East Village has Calgary’s two new iconic buildings (Library and National Music Centre), West Village has Calgary’s best historic iconic building – Mewata Armouries. It is like having a castle in your backyard!
Shaw Millennium Park is home to numerous summer festivals, and the equivalent of East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island Park.
While Downtown West doesn’t have a high profile public art program like East Village’s, the lovely Nat Christie Sculpture Park along the Bow River just east of the 14thStreet bridge and several other pieces scattered in the community definitely make it more attractive.
Downtown West is not only well connected to the downtown, but it is within easy walking distance to Kensington with its shops and major grocery store, as well as to the Beltline and its tow two grocery stores. While East Village will be getting a grocery store eventually, it can’t match Downtown West’s array of grocery stores, including Kay’s, an independent grocery store and the “coming soon” Urban Fare in the Beltline.
Like East Village’s N3 condo, which has no parking, Cidex Group has plans for “The Hat on 7th” building at the 11th Street LRT station with no parking.
Community involvement on the rise
The Downtown West Community Association was successful this past summer in lobbying the City to create three murals, a temporary park on land that is currently unused and the sprucing up of the small plaza next to the Avatamsaka Monastery as a means of making the community more attractive. Proof positive that Downtown West’s residents are taking pride and ownership of their community’s future.
Even without a master plan, a champion and the investment of mega tax dollars in infrastructure, public spaces and buildings, Downtown West has seen significant improvements over the past 25 years as a place to live and play. Imagine what might happen as the community becomes even more involved in shaping its future.
A real game changer for Downtown West would be if the City and community work together on the redevelopment of the huge Louise Crossing site - currently an ugly surface parking lot on the southeast side of the Louise Bridge. Technically the site is in Eau Claire but really should be part of Downtown West. At one time this site was considered for the new Central Library, while I believe some thought it might be a good home for an Opera House. It could be (and should be) something special.
The time has come to set up a steering committee to look at the biggest and best use of the site to create an attractive link between Downtown West End, Eau Claire and Kensington, as well as create another multi-user urban playground along the Bow River.
It is also an opportunity to create a vibrant mixed-use TOD (transit-oriented development) around the 11th Street SW LRT station, given the Kerby Centre’s plans to relocate and its adjacent surface parking lot begging to be developed.
While East Village is shouting out “look at me,” Downtown West is quietly positioning itself to become the City Centre’s next vibrant urban village.
Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on Nov 17, 2018.
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