I have been visiting Avenida Village regularly over the past few years as it is home to Golf Traders and I still believe you can “buy” a golf game. And, every time I visit, I think what a great place for an urban village as it already has an eclectic mix of shops and medical offices and is within walking distance to Canyon Meadows LRT Station and Southcentre Mall.
Now it has a “Food Hall” it is ripe (pun intended) for a couple of mid-rise residential developments with restaurants and shops at street level to transform it into a 21st century urban village. And could the Food Hall concept help to revitalize other sites in Calgary like Eau Claire Market.
A Little History
Avenida Village, built in the early 80s, was one of Calgary’s first big box developments. Located next to Mcleod Trail just east of the Canyon Meadows LRT station, sits its five single storey white stucco buildings each with arched colonnades, creating a faux Mediterranean-village look (albeit without the signature red roofs). Originally, each building had its own parking and was home to one major tenant (e.g. Sport Chek) or a few smaller tenants. Now, it is a tired looking with most of the original tenants having left for new power centres decades ago.
But, fortunately, over the past few years, Avenida Village has become home to some trendy places like Pies Plus, YYC Cycle, Breathe Hot Yoga and Spectacular Eyewear, as well as an expanded Golf Traders. It has also become a bit of a medical hub with numerous health-related offices.
And then, in Fall 2018, the Avenida Food Hall opened. It could be the catalyst for a mega-makeover.
What is a Food Hall, you ask?
It’s a hybrid between a farmers’ market, food court and restaurant. Food Halls are designed to serve people as quickly as possible, but rather than franchised outlets serving bland food, the vendors are experienced, local food producers and chefs. Don’t be surprised if Calgary superstar chef Duncan Ly of Foreign Concept himself serves up your order from Takori, his new Asian taco shop. And yes, Food Halls also have vendors where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables to take away.
The Food Hall could well be the game changer for Avenida Village’s future. Its 40 vendors are attracting thousands of people every weekend creating an urban buzz that is sure to bring more trendy shops. Think craft brewery, maybe a distillery, a major restaurant - perhaps a bike shop.
I recently checked in with Strategic Group, the owners of Avenida Village to see if they had any plans to transform the site into a true mixed-use urban village. Though Daorcey Le Bray, Strategic’s Director, Brand and Community was unable to provide details about plans for the site, I noticed they are removing the gas station at the south end and replacing it with a new building designed to become home for four new tenants.
Given Strategic’s bullish approach to urban residential development in Calgary’s City Centre, it won’t take long for them to realize (if they haven’t already) Avenida Village is ripe for residential development.
FYI: Strategic is currently building 1,000 new homes in multi-family buildings - including the conversion of the iconic Barron Building downtown into 94 residences. They are quickly positioning themselves as a leader in urban multi-family residential development in Calgary.
Link: Avenida Food Hall
Food Hall Madness
I couldn’t help but wonder where else in Calgary the Food Hall concept might work? Maybe Eau Claire Market? I know the concept didn’t work in the early ‘90s when it first opened, but it isn’t the ‘90s anymore.
Today, Calgarians are much more into unique local food experiences. Also, there are many more people living and working near Eau Claire Market today 20 years ago. Case in point: Anthem’s mega Riverside project immediately east of Eau Claire Market alone provides 1,000+ homes that didn’t exist in the ‘90s.
Yes, I know there are plans for a mega makeover of the site, but I am betting it is 5+ years before we see any new construction there. Creating a Food Hall could be a wise move to add some much needed life into the building and surrounding community in the interim.
Another possible site for a Food Hall might be the old Central Library downtown. Or, what about the old SEARS building at North Hill Shopping Centre? It offers lots of parking and LRT access, as well as lots of new multi-family development nearby. Future plans call for upscale residential development on the site, which could easily incorporate a food hall into its design. Why not experiment now?
What about Northland Mall? It was suppose to be home to Calgary’s first Whole Foods store. Perhaps a Food Hall with local producers, chefs and restauranteurs would be an even better way to revitalize the mall.
Ken Aylesworth, the master mind behind the Avenida Food Hall, was instrumental in the development of the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Symons Valley Ranch Market. Rumour has it he is close to announcing another new project soon.
FYI: The Calgary Farmer’s market will be opening a second location in 2020 in the new community of Greenwich across from Canada Olympic Park. It will have many of the elements of a Food Hall.
Avenida Village could well become a shining example of how Calgary’s big box retail sites can and will evolve into mixed-use urban villages in the future.
It will be interesting to see how - or even if - Strategic Group capitalizes on the success of their new Food Hall. What would be really exciting is if a master plan was developed which integrates the redevelopment of the four neighbouring car dealerships, Nutrien’s head office building and the Canyon Meadows Cinema into a model 21st century mixed-use urban development.
Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan envisions the addition of hundreds of thousands of more people into established communities like Lake Bonavista and Canyon Meadows. Avenida Village’s redevelopment provides a perfect opportunity to create a transit-oriented village in the middle of these two communities.
Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on March 30, 2019.