Calgary: Recreation Centre the new cathedral? 

With the opening of the 330,000 square foot Brookfield Residential YMCA at SETON Calgary now boasts the largest and second largest YMCAs in the world. Yes, the world!  The second largest is also in Calgary - Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge which opened in January 2018.   

 Both are more than just a YMCA, they serve as a mega community centers. 

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Recreation: The new religion?

In my opinion, recreation amenities are the key to creating successful communities today. More so than a grocery store, retail or restaurants. Why? Because in Calgary, recreation plays the biggest role in our everyday lives.  Most families have their kids in two or three recreational activities at any given time and weekends are spent at one or more recreation centres. Singles and young couples love to go to the gym, swim or participate in a yoga or spin class several times a week.  

It is almost like fitness is the new religion. 

My parents and grandparent’s generation never went to a gym, but nearly all of my friends 55+ years of age are actively engaged in recreational activities several times a week.  As for grocery shopping, we fit that in once or twice a week often on the way to or from recreational activities. 

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Recreation Centre: The New Cathedral

It is isn’t no coincidence the naming sponsor for many of Calgary’s new suburban YMCAs are real estate developers or home builders, as they realize the recreation center is to Calgary’s suburban communities, what the cathedral and historic town square is to European city centres. It is the gathering place for almost everyone living in the surrounding communities.  And like the European cathedral, the new centres are also architectural wonders. 

When I chat with suburban developers about urban development issues and trends they often remind me “they are not in the business of building homes, but developing communities.”  While having a park, playground and pathways used to be sufficient for creating new communities, today having a mega multi-use recreation centre is a must. 

In fact, I am surprised Calgary’s new inner-city communities - Currie, East Village and University District - don’t have a boutique recreation centre as part of their master plans. To be fair, both are very close to post-secondary campuses with large recreational facilities that might be used by residents.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Not A New Idea

Indeed, Calgary’s home builders have a long history with sponsoring community recreation centres.  The Trico Centre opened in 1983 as the Family Leisure Centre (they were called leisure centres back then), and was called that until 2008 when Trico Homes purchased the naming rights for $1.5 million.  Today, the 150,000 square feet building attracts over 1 million visitors per year. 

Backstory: The original building cost only $9.4 million dollars (there are single family homes that cost more today), but the 2010 addition of a new arena and other renovations cost $17.2 million.  While the Trico Centre doesn’t have a library inside, the Fish Creek Park Library sits next door and Southcentre Mall is across the street, creating a community hub. 

The South Fish Creek Complex, which opened in phases beginning in 2001, combines the Bishop O’Byrne High School, Shawnessy YMCA, Shawnessy Library, Chinook Learning Centre and South Fish Creek Recreation Association.  Then in 2015, the Association entered into a 10-year naming rights partnership with Cardel Homes, becoming Cardel Rec South.  

Cardel Place opened in 2004 in north-central Calgary and quickly become the heart and soul of Calgarians living in the city’s north central suburbs.  After the ten year naming relationship with Cardel Homes expired, both parties amicably agreed it was time for a new name. As a not-for-profit community facility, it was decided the new name needed to reflect its new vision of “raising healthier generations.” “VIVO” a Latin word meaning “with life and vigour,” was chosen with the subtext “for Healthier Generations.” 

In the northeast, the Genesis Centre opened in 2012 and quickly became the “living room” for over one million visitors each year from Calgary’s northeast communities. Genesis Land Corporation contributed five million dollars for the naming rights as part of the community’s $40 million dollar fundraising campaign for the $120 million, 250,000 square foot building. 

Another slightly more modest 94,000 square foot, Remington YMCA in Quarry Park opened in September 2016.  FYI: Remington Development is responsible for the ambitious vision of converting a gravel pit into a new master-planned, mixed-use urban community that integrates a major employment district (Imperial Oil moved its head office there in 2014) with a retail/recreational district and a residential district with a mix of single-family and multi-family homes.  

I am surprised a home builder hasn’t attached its name to the Westside Recreation Centre which opened in 2000 and ten years later completed a major renovation. 

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

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Last Word 

In the mid 20thcentury, separate buildings for arenas, indoor pools and other recreational activities were scattered around the city, rather than centralized. And, developers were busy building lakes and golf courses as the recreational amenities to attract home buyers. 

Today, there has been a paradigm shift to creating mega, integrated multi-user community centres that include not only an indoor arena with a couple of sheets of ice, but perhaps a curling rink, a couple of gyms, a pool, with separate areas for families and lane pool swimmers, as well as public library, art, dance, martial arts and yoga studios and meeting rooms.  

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

As one friend said to me recently, “we’ve come a long way from the neighbourhood outdoor skating rinks and pools with perhaps a small building as a change room.”  

Others have asked, “Is this a good thing?”

Today, the City and developers are thinking about community not as individual neighbourhoods based on subdivisions or even quadrants, but rather as districts based on logical boundaries like major roads, transit routes and geographic features.  

As Bob Dylan said in 1964, “For the times they are a-changin’.”  

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

Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?

Shane Homes Rocky Ridge YMCA: Architecture Gone Wild?

Calgary: Playgrounds gone wild