Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

Downtown Calgary ‘flies under the radar” for most Calgarians when is comes to being a place to live.  However, that is not true for the 9,000 people who live in what the City of Calgary calls the “Downtown Commercial Core” (i.e. from 3rd St SE to 9th St SW and from 9th Ave to 4th Ave SW.

  Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

  It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other . 

It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other

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Downtown vs Beltline

While the Beltline, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington get all the attention as Calgary’s urban living hot spots, when you combine Downtown West End, Commercial Core, Downtown East Village (the City’s official names for these three communities), Eau Claire and Chinatown (together they are roughly the same geographical size as the Beltline) there are over 18,000 people living downtown vs. Beltline’s 21,357 and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s 10,345). 

While downtown's shiny office towers get all the attention – good and bad – downtown (using the broader boundaries) is definitely a cool place to live.

Here’s why!

  Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

  Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

  Chinatown is a   fun place to shop for groceries.

Chinatown is a fun place to shop for groceries.

  Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Festivals/Events

There is a festival or major event in downtown almost every weekend. Everything from the High Performance Rodeo to major international festivals (Children, Film, Folk and SLED) Downtown also hosts Calgary’s largest single day event - The Calgary Stampede Parade the first Friday every July. 

Major outdoor concerts and music festivals also happen at Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park every summer.

  The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

Shops

An amazing diversity of shopping opportunities exists in Downtown – department stores (Hudson’s Bay, Simons and Holt Renfrew) to the uber chic Core and grassroots Chinatown.

In addition there are shop at Bankers Hall, Scotia Centre and Bow Valley Square.  Calgary’s downtown shopping not only surpasses anything Portland, Nashville or Austin have, but also rivals Calgary’s Chinook Centre (one of Canada’s top malls).

There are also off-the-beaten path shops like Map World with its incredible collection of wall maps, globes, travel and topographical maps.  Or, if you are into fly-fishing, Hanson’s Fishing Outfitters in the Grain Exchange building has everything you might need. Bonus: you can walk from Hanson’s to fish in the Bow River in just a few minutes.  How cool is that?

  The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

 Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

  Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Cafe Culture

Downtown Calgary is blessed with an amazing array of coffeehouses. Alforno Café and Bakery is arguably Calgary’s coolest café. Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters has two locations Simmons Building and on Stephen Avenue.  Calgary based, Good Earth Café also has two locations Eau Claire Market and 7th Avenue at 5th Street. Caffe Artigiano has two locations along Barclay Mall. Calgary’s Monogram Coffee can be found in Fifth Avenue Place.  

Downtown also has a very unique Starbucks in Eighth Avenue Place with its  minimalist open design with long communal tables rather than individual small tables for two and four. 

  Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

  Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Restaurants

Downtown Calgary offers both high and lowbrow dining.  It includes four signature Calgary restaurants, the rustic River Café, classic Teatros, Murietta’s West Coast Bar & Grill, and Sky 360, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Calgary Tower.  The new kid on the block is Charbar in the Simmons Building, its roof-top patio offers spectacular views of the Bow River and RiverWalk.

There is a kaleidoscope of ethnic restaurants downtown, Anatolia (Turkish), Atlas (Persian), Jonas (Hungarian), Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar to name just four.  And of course, there is no shortage of Asian restaurants in Chinatown. 

If you love Alberta beef, downtown offers five signature steakhouses – Buchanan’s, Caesar’s, Hy’s, The Keg and Saltlik.  Buchanan’s Chop House is known not only for food, but for its its selection of more than 300 malt whiskeys from around the world.

The Fairmont Palliser offers a themed afternoon tea by reservation.  The theme at the time of this blog posting was a Mad Hatter Tea Party that included Tweeledum Tweedeldee Yuzu tarts and Queen of Hearts red velvet cupcakes – very cool.

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s renowned food and restaurant critic has called downtown’s Stephen Avenue Walk one of the best restaurant rows in Canada. 

  The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

  Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

  Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Art/Architecture

There area few places in Canada let alone Calgary that can match downtown for its combination of architecture and public art all within a few blocks of each other.  From the historic sandstone buildings (old City Hall and McDougall Centre) to the glittering glass office towers (Bow Tower, Eighth Avenue Place, Nexen Tower and 505 7th Avenue) to the three iconic bridges (Peace, King and Centre Street) and the National Music Centre. 

Coming soon are two new architectural gems – the new Calgary Public Library and Telus Sky office/residential tower. The Library was designed by internationally renowned architectural firm, Snohetta from Oslo while Telus Sky’s was designed by the esteemed Bjarke Ingels Group from Copenhagen. 

Downtown has literally hundreds of artworks along its streets, in its parks and plazas and along its pathways.  You could easily stroll around downtown all say enjoying the art - from the Famous Five tea party at Olympic Plaza to the Wonderland on the Bow Tower plaza to the Conversation on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Did you know that there are artworks in almost every downtown office lobby?  The Eighth Avenue Place lobby includes works of renowned Canadian painters Jean Paul Riopelle and Jack Shadbolt.  There are also some fun contemporary paintings in relatively new Calgary Centre office tower.

Downtown Calgary is one huge public art gallery waiting to be discovered.

 The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

  I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

  Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

  Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

  Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

  The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

Calgary’s downtown is also blessed with some of the best public spaces of any city its size and age in North America.  Any city would be hard pressed to match Prince’s Island (one of the best festival sites in Canada) and St. Patrick’s Island parks.

Add Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park to the mix and you have four major downtown urban parks. Let’s not forget about Century (soon to get a mega makeover), Devonian and Hotchkiss Gardens, as well as James Short, McDougall and Sein Lok Parks. Impressive!

Downtown also boasts Eau Claire and Olympic Plaza, both with wadding pools in the summer, with the latter becoming a skating rink in the winter.

As for pathways, downtown offers easy access to people of all ages wanting to walk, run, board, blade or bike along the Bow River pathways.  In addition, there is the a-mazing 20 km +15 elevated walkway.

  St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

  The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

  The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

  Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

  The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

Fitness/Recreation

The Eau Claire Y has been a very popular family fitness center for decades.  Its proximity to the Eau Claire Promenade and Bow River pathway system has resulted in creating a busy year-round outdoor running track.

There is also Shaw Millennium Park's mega skateboard park and river surfing on the Bow River under the Louise Bridge. 

Downtown also has several private fitness centres – Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Club and two Good Life Fitness Centres (including one in the historic 1931 Bank of Montreal building with its gold leaf ceiling on Stephen Avenue).

  River surfing is become more and more popular on the Bow River.

River surfing is become more and more popular on the Bow River.

  The skateboard part has three separate areas - beginners, intermediate and experts. It is one of the largest free public skate parks in the world.

The skateboard part has three separate areas - beginners, intermediate and experts. It is one of the largest free public skate parks in the world.

  Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Culture/Nightlife

Downtown Calgary is home to Arts Commons with its 3,200 seats in five performing art spaces, as well as the Theatre Junction Grand, Palace Theatre, Lunchbox Theatre, Vertigo Theatre (two spaces). If you stretch the boundaries a bit, there is also the Pumphouse Theatre way on the west side.  It is also home to the Globe Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire for movie buffs. 

Live music venues include The Palomino Smokehouse and Dickens Pub, as well as three churches – Knox United, Anglican Church of the Redeemer and Central United Church.

Downtown also is home to The Glenbow Museum, National Music Centre, Fort Calgary and Contemporary Calgary, as well as several private art galleries.

Culture vultures love living downtown as theatre, concerts and exhibitions are all within easy walking distance.

  Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

The James Joyce pub on Stephen Avenue is downtown’s quintessential pub, followed closely by Dickens, Fionn MacCool’s, Garage Sports Bar and Unicorn. In the summer the patios along Stephen Avenue Walk create one long beer garden.

Downtown is home to Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey Store with its 850 different varieties of whiskey.  It is located on the +15 level at 333-5th Avenue SW.  In East Village’s N3 condo, the Brewer’s Apprentice offers up 48 craft brews. Not only can you sample a few, but you can take home a freshly poured growler or crowler of your favourites.

I recently heard Caesar’s Lounge described as nearest thing to time travel in Calgary – think Mad Men. This family-owned Calgary institution hasn’t changed since it opened in 1972.  It is known for its “Emperor” size cocktails, i.e. 3oz of your favourite spirits.

  Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

For some, POW (Parade of Wonders) is the best FFQ event in Calgary.  Every spring as part of Calgary Expo, hundreds of Calgarians of all ages get dressed up in their favourite fantasy character and parade from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza.  It is literally a sea of vibrant colours and characters.

For others, Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade each August ranks as the best FFQ event in the City. It attracts thousands of colourful participants and tens of thousands of spectators. 

Downtown Calgary’s “Power Hour” (term coined by a former downtown Hudson’s Bay department store manager in the mid ‘90s for the thousands of downtown workers who power shop at noon hour) is like a parade as tens of thousands downtown workers parade up and down Stephen Avenue.

It doesn’t get much quirkier than having an authentic bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of the Suncor Centre.  Or does it? The Udderly Art Pasture on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is definitely FFQ.  Here you will find a herd (10) of life-size cows with names like Chew-Choo or Moony Trader who have been put out to pasture.

  Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Last Word

Downtown Calgary is a hidden gem when it comes to urban living and it is only going to get better with several new residential developments in East Village, Telus Sky and the new West Village towers under construction. 

I can’t wait to see the “Northern Lights” light show on the façade of Telus Sky developed by Canadian artist, Douglas Coupland.  I have been advocating a Northern Lights inspired light show for a downtown office building for over 20 years.

  The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

 Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Note: This is the second in a series of blogs examining what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods so cool.

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Downtown Calgary Glows With Fun

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in parkades

Importance of Cultural Philanthropists

I was intrigued to learn while recently shopping at a Bashas’ grocery store in Mesa, Arizona, that this family-owned grocer not only has its own public art gallery, but houses the largest collection of Western American & American Indian Art in the USA.

Eddie Basha Jr. began collecting art as a hobby in the ‘70s under the guidance of his Aunt Zelma.  The hobby quickly grew into a passion that combined his keen interest in the history of the American West, his admiration of the American Indian and appreciation of art.  The official name of the gallery is the - Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery - in honour of his aunt.

Visiting this gallery reminded me of the important role philanthropists play in shaping the culture of cities.

  Alberta's first library, Calgary's Memorial Park Library built in 1912 was funded in part by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.    More info at:  Memorial Park History

Alberta's first library, Calgary's Memorial Park Library built in 1912 was funded in part by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  More info at: Memorial Park History

The Importance of Philanthropists

The Andrew Carnegie philanthropic legacy is legendary – he helped fund 2,509 libraries around the world from 1883 to 1929, including Calgary’s Memorial Park Library.

In Seattle, Paul Allen funded the entire cost of the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project) and its Frank Gehry signature building in 2006.

In Mexico City, Carlos Slim did the same - building the striking Museo Soumaya in 2011 to house his 70,000 works of art including hundreds of modern masters. These two iconic museums have been the catalysts for creating urban vitality in their immediate neighbourhoods. The free admission helps the Museo Soumaya attract over 1 million visitors a year.

Then there’s Robert J. Ulrich, former CE0 & Chairman of Target. He funded the creation and operations of the world-class Musical Instruments Museum in Scottsdale and the acquisition of 15,000 instruments from 200 countries. Using the Target design and construction team, it took just five years from conception to completion.

  Museo Soumaya is an outstanding building inside and out.    Link: Museums of Mexico City

Museo Soumaya is an outstanding building inside and out. Link: Museums of Mexico City

  The facade of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture is an ever changing work of abstract art. 

The facade of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture is an ever changing work of abstract art. 

Calgary’s Cultural Philanthropists

Perhaps Calgary’s greatest cultural philanthropist is Eric Harvie who helped establish the Glenbow Museum when his Glenbow Foundation donated 200,000 artifacts and $6 million (the equivalent of $45 million today and matched by the Province) to create the museum, which opened in 1966.

  Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall is part of Arts Commons complex, which is one of the largest performing arts complexes in North America with four theatres and one concert hall. 

Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall is part of Arts Commons complex, which is one of the largest performing arts complexes in North America with four theatres and one concert hall. 

In the ‘80s, Max Bell and Martha Cohen each donated $1 million towards the construction of the Calgary Performing Arts Centre (now Arts Commons) for naming rights to the two theatres, while Jack Singer donated $1.5 million to get the concert hall naming rights. 

In 2006, the Taylor Family became Calgary’s biggest cultural philanthropists with a $25 million donation to the University of Calgary to build the Taylor Family Digital Library and Quadrangle (total cost $206 million). This was followed, in 2010, by a $21 million donation to Mount Royal University to build the Taylor Family Performing Arts Centre and Bella Concert Hall at a cost of $90 million.

There are also a number of Calgary philanthropists – past and present - who donate to cultural endeavours without attaching their name to a building.

  Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University is one of Calgary's newest cultural gems .  Link:  TCPA Profile

Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University is one of Calgary's newest cultural gems. Link: TCPA Profile

For example, Ron Mannix’s support of the arts began in 1987 with the $750,000 purchase of the Carthy Organ for the Jack Singer Concert Hall. 

That was the genesis for his support of the International Organ Festival and Competition from 1990 to 2002, as well as building a collection of over 1,000 keyboard instruments. In 2003, he funded the creation of the Cantos Music Foundation in the historic Customs House building to house his growing collection and offer music programs. Cantos was the catalyst for the development of the National Music Centre, which houses his now 2,000+ rare instruments and artifact collection.

One of the most unique and ambitious examples of cultural philanthropy in Calgary is that of Jim and Sue Hill who not only built Inglewood’s Atlantic Avenue Art Block with a 15,000 square foot public art gallery on the top floor, but also fund operating costs and the curation, shipping and installation of three impressive contemporary exhibitions each year.  FYI: Admission is free!

  Esker Foundation Art Gallery is located on the top floor of the Atlantic Avenue Arts Block in Calgary's historic Inglewood community.    Link: Esker Foundation Art Gallery    

Esker Foundation Art Gallery is located on the top floor of the Atlantic Avenue Arts Block in Calgary's historic Inglewood community. Link: Esker Foundation Art Gallery 

WANTED: More Cultural Philanthropists

The Basha Gallery got me thinking there should be a similar museum at Stampede Park, a “must-see” museum showcasing the Stampede’s 100+ year connection to western art, cowboy art, indigenous people and rodeo culture. An IMAX theatre attached would allow visitors to enjoy the “spills and thrills” of the Stampede experience (rodeo, chuckwagon races, midway, grandstand show) year-round.  You would think in Calgary there would be a few philanthropists who would be all over this idea. 

In reality, there aren’t many cultural philanthropists in our city. Both the Glenbow and Arts Commons have struggled for 15 years to find the funds needed to update spaces to meet 21st century expectations. One cultural champion told me there are probably only a dozen individuals in Calgary who are million dollar plus cultural philanthropists.

The philanthropy world has changed significantly since Eric Harvie’s day. Cultural groups now have to compete with schools, hospitals and illness groups (which used to be fully funded by governments) as well as newer groups (e.g. environmental) that didn’t exist in the 60s.

  Free First Thursdays at the Glenbow have become very popular. 

Free First Thursdays at the Glenbow have become very popular. 

Last Word

Great cities have several thriving museums, galleries, libraries, concert halls and theatres, each helping to manifest a sense of the city’s unique past and present.

Great cultural places are critical not only to creating an attractive City Centre for Calgarians to work, live and visit, but are also key to a successful economic development and tourism marketing and branding initiatives.  

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

Postcards From Musical Instruments Museum

Glenbow: Strokes of Genius

Rise of Public Art, Fall of Public Art Galleries