Calgary’s Beltline has been growing in leaps and bounds since the community took the rather unusual step to develop its own vision document, “Blueprint for the Beltline” in 2003.
The vision - to create a vibrant community of 40,000 people by 2035.
Blueprint for success
Yes, the community produced its own vision, at its own cost and then presented it to the City. And, while the “Blueprint for the Beltline” had no official status with the City, it served as the catalyst to get the City to approve a new Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan in 2006. Ultimately, it resulted in the amalgamation of Connaught and Victoria Park, two of Calgary’s oldest communities with a population base of 17,500.
While the Blueprint identified the need for more amenities like green spaces, public realm improvements and character districts, it also embraced the idea that the community needed more density.
Yes, you read right. They wanted more high-rises and mid-rises as a means of creating a vibrant community with lots of urban amenities - grocery stores, shops, pubs, clubs, lounges, galleries, festivals, bike lanes and great streets.
So, while other communities protest new residential towers in their community, Beltliners have been embracing them for over a decade.
Blueprint for success
Indeed, the Beltline’s evolution as Calgary’s premier urban neighbourhood has been outstanding. It was Avenue Magazine’s Best Neighbourhood in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (slipping into second place in 2017). Last year, it was also Calgary’s fastest growing community with a population increase of 1,668, just edging out Saddleridge’s 1,656 newcomers.
This is definitely not a one year blip given the Beltline’s population has steadily increased by a healthy 3,530 since 2014 to 24,887.
Beautifying the Beltline
And yes, with the increased density has come a variety of improvements – including the new Barb Scott Park and Thomson Family, a lovely renovation to Memorial Park, a dedicated bike lane along 12thAve SW, infrastructure and sidewalk improvements to 17thAvenue SW and the 13thAvenue Greenway. As well, over the past two summers, the Beltline has been transformed into an intriguing outdoor art gallery with 11 major murals.
Link: Beltline Urban Mural Project
In addition, all of the underpasses linking the Beltline with downtown are getting mega makeovers to make them more pedestrian-friendly, benefitting the many Beltliners who work downtown. To date, the 8th and 2nd St SW and 4th St SE underpasses have been completed.
Condo vs Rental
In the early years of the Beltline renaissance, almost all of the new residential development were condominiums, of which some units were rentals. However, over the past few years, most of the residential development has been purpose-built rental towers.
And there are good reasons for the rise in rentals.
Probably the major reason is that 74% of Calgary’s rental properties are pre 1979, meaning they lack the amenities today’s urban dwellers, be that an empty nester or young professional, are looking for. Things like an ensuite bathroom, larger closets, washer and dryer in the unit, high ceilings and an open concept layout. Also, the new rental towers offer other desirable amenities like rooftop patios, BBQs and fire pits, games rooms, demonstration kitchens and even dog runs.
There are currently seven new purpose-built Beltline residential towers at various stages of development, representing about 1,500 new homes coming on stream over the next few years.
I toured the recently completed SODO tower (10thAve just west of 5th Street SW) and it is more like a hotel than an apartment. Next up is One, Strategic Group’s 37-storey One tower with 379 new homes (201 - 10th Ave SE) including two luxury penthouse suites. Also, under construction is phase one of Hines’ 500 Block two tower project (461 homes) at the corner of 4th St and 12th Ave SW and The Underwood, 192 homes at 202 - 14th Ave SW.
Strategic Group is also finishing up the conversion of an older 7-storey office building across from the Midtown Co-op into a 65 funky residences, with rooftop amenities.
All of these new purpose-built rental buildings are designed to meet the growing demand for urban rentals in Calgary’s fastest growing community.
In addition, there are seven new condo towers, representing about 1,000 new homes, at various stages of development. This includes the recently completed Park Point, by Qualex Landmark (which has a second tower in the works) and the soon-to-be-occupied The Royal by Bosa Developments which includes a Canadian Tire urban format store and Urban Fare (opening soon). The “new kid” under construction is Intergulf’s 11th+ 11thproject which, at 44-storeys will be the tallest building in the Beltline.
The addition of purpose-built rental towers in the Beltline should be good news for condo developers and owners, as today’s renter is probably tomorrow’s buyer. In fact, the Canadian Home Builder’s Association’s Earncliffe National Poll documented that 79% of Canadian renters would like to own their own home (April 2018). And, BILD Calgary Region’s survey (June 2018) found 75% of Calgarians think owning a home provides greater financial security.
Great communities provide a diversity of housing options (rental and ownership) for people of all ages and backgrounds. It would remiss not to acknowledge the Beltline’s vision as Calgary’s premier urban community includes its fair share of social housing and services including the expansion of the Mustard Seed, the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre and the relocation of CUPS to the Beltline.
The addition of 2,500 new homes (for about 4,000 new residents) over the next few years will keep the Beltline on track to achieving its path to a population of 40,000 by 2035.
Note: This blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos feature on March 9th, 2019.