Shouldn't we finish East Village before starting the Stampede makeover?

What if a new arena, expanded BMO Centre and expanded/renovated Arts Commons don’t attract billions of dollars in private sector projects (fancy new hotels, dozens of funky condos and a street full of bars and restaurants) like the Ernst Young (EY) Report says they might?

I don’t want to put a kibosh on everyone’s enthusiasm that Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) can magically redevelop Stampede Park and Victoria Park (SVP) by adding 8,000 new residents and 4 million square feet of mixed use development. After all, that is what they are doing in East Village after several failed attempts by others for revitalization. 

However, I can’t help but wonder….shouldn’t we finish East Village before we start another mega urban revitalization project? Will SVP compete with East Village for new development?

The new Victoria Park / Stampede Park Master Plan establishes seven districts with the Culture, Entertainment and Education District in the middle. The words “culture and education” have been dropped in most conversations. It is a new “Entertainment District.” It is essentially a new arena (event centre) and expanded BMO Centre with a Main Street along Olympic Way from 10th to 17th Ave SW).

The new Victoria Park / Stampede Park Master Plan establishes seven districts with the Culture, Entertainment and Education District in the middle. The words “culture and education” have been dropped in most conversations. It is a new “Entertainment District.” It is essentially a new arena (event centre) and expanded BMO Centre with a Main Street along Olympic Way from 10th to 17th Ave SW).

The plan for the new Entertainment District is not much different from the Stampede’s Master Plan that they have been trying to develop since 2009 with the exception of a new arena in a new location.

The plan for the new Entertainment District is not much different from the Stampede’s Master Plan that they have been trying to develop since 2009 with the exception of a new arena in a new location.

The proposed new arena is just one block away from the existing arena. However, it will be located between the existing Stampede LRT station and the new Green Line station, making it more accessible to LRT users.

The proposed new arena is just one block away from the existing arena. However, it will be located between the existing Stampede LRT station and the new Green Line station, making it more accessible to LRT users.

Let’s add some caution to the debate 

 The 66-page EY Report basically says if the City, Province and Feds spend money on these three mega projects it will create jobs and attract significant private investment.  You could probably say that about any mega development.

However, would we just be cannibalizing development that would have happened at other sites nearby - further west in the Beltline, Inglewood, and yes, maybe even East Village? 

What new events will be attracted to the new arena – oops - I mean “events centre?”  I expected to see a long list of events that don’t come to Calgary because the Saddledome is inadequate.  

Give me a list. Please! 

The EY Report says since Edmonton, Columbus, Denver and Nashville all have created successful new sports & entertainment districts (commonly known as SHED, with the H standing for hospitality), so can Calgary. In each of these cities, the new facilities created a new cluster of attractions at a new site. Calgary’s plan is very different in that it involves expanding existing facilities and moving the arena one block.

There is no new hub.

How does moving the arena one block become a game changer for the redevelopment of area?  Are there examples of cities trying to create new sports & entertainment districts that have failed? Hamilton? Quebec City? 

And, what impact will the SVP mega makeover have on future development in East Village? The vision is almost identical to East Village’s - create two major attractions and surround them with new public spaces, improved streetscapes and build residential and hotel towers. 

Shouldn’t we finish East Village before we start a new one? 

In fact, there are signs East Village’s private sector redevelopment is slowing down, as Bosa Developments has taken down the cranes that were supposed to build Arris a two condo tower development above the 200,000 square foot retail development.  

Is this a red flag that things are not as rosy in East Village as they once were? Yes, SVP will compete with East Village for future private investment.

The fiscal success of East Village is in large part due to a last minute change in the boundaries of The Rivers district to include The Bow - a mega tax paying office tower. The taxes paid by The Bow ensured the Community Revitalization Levy would be fiscally viable.  

There is no Bow Tower project for SVP.  It takes a lot of condos to pay the taxes of one mega office tower. Is there a private developer on the sidelines interested in building a new mixed-use hotel, residential, retail complex if we get a new arena? If so, please let them come forward.

I highly doubt the expansion and renovations of Art Commons will attract any new private investment.

I am hopeful the expanded BMO center will attract a hotel or two, but that isn’t enough to warrant all the development planned.

To make the Community Revitalization Levy work for the revitalization of Victoria Park and Stampede Park requires a lot of new towers to be built by 2047. A couple will be hotels with some office but the vast majority will be residential with some commercial at street level. It is an ambitious initiative given there is currently a glut of residential development in the City Centre with over 9,000 units at various stages of development.

To make the Community Revitalization Levy work for the revitalization of Victoria Park and Stampede Park requires a lot of new towers to be built by 2047. A couple will be hotels with some office but the vast majority will be residential with some commercial at street level. It is an ambitious initiative given there is currently a glut of residential development in the City Centre with over 9,000 units at various stages of development.

Last Word

Calgary currently has a huge cash flow problem. It now receives $200+ million less in annual taxes from downtown offices and has no idea how to replace it without increasing taxes to the small business or residential taxpayers. That’s a whopping $2 billion dollars shortfall over the next 10 years which is the timeline for the expanded BMO Centre, new arena and Art Commons improvements to be completed.

And the same time, Calgary is currently on the hook for $1.6 billion as its share of the $4.7 billion first phase of the Green Line and will probably need another billion as its share to complete the project in the late 2020s.

While excited by the plans for the redevelopment of Stampede Park and Victoria Park and Arts Commons – all long overdue – my enthusiasm it tempered by my belief the City is not in a position to take on any more mega million dollar projects at this time.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the April issue of Condo Living Magazine.

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