Calgary residential developers upping the “fun factor" for millennials!

Calgary’s City Centre residential market is very competitive these days, which means developers are looking for ways to differentiate their new project from others.  One method is to offer the latest and greatest amenities. 

For example, Calgary-based developer Battistella lists one of the amenities at their new condo project, “NUDE” is a “Community Coordinator.” 

SODO’s party room has all the elements of a cool lounge.

SODO’s party room has all the elements of a cool lounge.

While there are no specific images of NUDE’s amenities on their website, here is what they are promising.

While there are no specific images of NUDE’s amenities on their website, here is what they are promising.

Computer rendering of new Annex in Kensington condo’s rooftop amenities.

Computer rendering of new Annex in Kensington condo’s rooftop amenities.

Lifestyle Curator?

Not to be outdone, The Underwood on First Street SW next to Haultain Park will be hiring a “Lifestyle Curator,” aka concierge to book reservations at restaurants, get theatre tickets, collect deliveries and give tips on what to see and do in the city. 

While the concept of residential developers providing a “community coordinator” might seem like it is a new idea, luxury condos have, for decades, had doorman who offered some of these services.  Leanne Woodward, The Underwood’s manager notes even with new amenity rich developments “if you visit them not long after occupation, the amenities will almost always be underutilized and, if used, used individually rather than in a community sense.”  

As a result, The Underwood will be much more proactive in managing its amenities.  Woodward says, “we will engage personal trainers who will come to site to show residents how to use the equipment and create a fitness plan and yoga teachers to teach classes. Our entertainment lounge will host tenant appreciation parties, be available for private parties, but also rotating life seminar classes such as how to invest, tax tips during tax season, wine tasting from local merchants.” 

She adds, “the lifestyle curator’s role is to create a community within the building, to curate what the residents need to make their home into a community for all. The lifestyle curator will create blogs on the interactive tenant portal, curates gatherings, arranges specialized services when necessary and promote community and vitality throughout the building. The secondary role is to assist residents on an individual basis with parcel deliveries, recommendations for dining, transportation, hotel bookings, dry cleaning drop off and similar

Creating a strong sense of community, be it in a building, or in the ‘hood, is also evident in East Village where Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (who is managing East Village’s mega makeover) has three staff who help organize and promote everything from yoga to concerts, from pop-up events to this summer’s Bounce - a funky basketball court on an empty lot.  All in an attempt to foster a stronger sense of community.  University District staff are also busy organizing events to attract people to come and see what is happening in their new community and help new residents meet their neighbours.   

CMLC staff manage a very active year round program of activities for people of all ages which they promote heavily on social media.

CMLC staff manage a very active year round program of activities for people of all ages which they promote heavily on social media.

University District is also very active promoting its events on social media.

University District is also very active promoting its events on social media.

 Huge Market

Today, there are more than 7 million millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) in Canada. A 2018 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation survey found millennials make up half of all first time homebuyers in Canada. Currently, about 300,000 millennials call Calgary home.

Given the condo is the new starter home, the millennial demographic is a huge market for condo developers.

In a 2017 Stanford University Press blog, Bob Kulhan (adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, and the Founder and CEO of Business Improv) says, “millennials just want to have fun.” 

Indeed, many millennials have had their lives curated for them since infancy. Many have never had a summer off to hang out on their own and make their own fun with neighbour kids. They went to week-long camps all summer – science, computer, sports, music, art etc. Their parents organized their lives to maximize their fun from cradle to condo.  

So, it’s logical for Calgary multi-family residential developers to change how they not only design their suites, but also what amenities they provide to make living in their buildings more fun. 

N3 rooftop patio with BBQs, seating and great views of downtown and mountains.

N3 rooftop patio with BBQs, seating and great views of downtown and mountains.

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

Mark on 10th penthouse lounge is like a huge communal living room where you can easily mix and mingle with your neighbours.

Mark on 10th penthouse lounge is like a huge communal living room where you can easily mix and mingle with your neighbours.

More Like Hotels  

Many of the new City Centre residential developments are being designed with hotel-like amenities – meeting rooms, gyms, party rooms, hot tubs and yes, a concierge - something only available in luxury condos in the past.    

For example, when Qualex Landmark found penthouse units didn’t sell well in Calgary, they designed their Mark on 10thproject (opened in 2016) with its top floor being an amenity space for use by all residents.  With a hot tub, BBQ, kitchen and a huge lounge where everyone can mix, mingle and party. And, it offers some of the best mountain and downtown views in the city.  It is a great place to chill, meet your neighbours or host a party that will impress your friends.  

Today, it is common practice for mid and high-rise residential buildings in Calgary to have roof-top amenities.  

Bucci Development’s recently completed Radius in Bridgeland offers 16,000 square feet of amenities including separate studios for yoga/barre, spin, weight and cardio training with state of the art equipment. It also offers the “SPUD” room, a common pantry that allows residents to order groceries online (at SPUD.ca) and have them delivered any day of the week.  In addition, its 8,000 square foot roof-top patio is like having your own private pocket park. 

SODO, another recently completed residential development on 10thAvenue SW in the Beltline has 38,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor amenities.  On the fifth floor is a demonstration kitchen with a wine chiller and Nespresso coffee bar, as well as a Games Room with a huge pool table, 70” TV and a built in retro ‘60s arcade game system. Who needs to go to the sports bar? There is also a fully quipped gym.  Outside are several BBQs, lots of lounge chairs and even a dog run.  

This is SODO’s lobby, it could easily be mistaken for a hotel lobby.

This is SODO’s lobby, it could easily be mistaken for a hotel lobby.

Radius condo includes not only a well equipped gym, but also a yoga studio.

Radius condo includes not only a well equipped gym, but also a yoga studio.

Laptop Generation 

Joe Starkman, CEO at Knightsbridge Homes who built the four University City condos calls millennials the “laptop generation” as they do everything on their laps. They don’t need space for a big TV as they watch Netflix and YouTube on their laptops or iPads, more than mainstream TV.  They don’t need big kitchens as they eat takeout on their laps while listening to music. They don’t need space for a big stereo system complete with monster speakers as they use tiny wireless ear pieces or headphones.  The phone is the new stereo.  

He also says they like to entertain and have a large circle of friends making an open concept kitchen, dining, living space a must.  Used to having their own bedroom and bathroom, a luxury master bedroom with spa-like bathroom is also important in attracting millennials.  

SODO’s modern open kitchen design is perfect for hosting friends.

SODO’s modern open kitchen design is perfect for hosting friends.

Last Word

What’s next? One City Centre high-rise residential developer is looking at either a craft brewery or distillery on site, perhaps even a small Food Hall with several micro food kiosks – think coffee, ice cream, tacos, sushi and donuts.  

21stcentury urban development is all about creating fun entertainment experiences and conveniences. And developers are fully aware that these don’t just appeal to millennials. Empty nesters are attracted by these too! 

Note: An edited version of this blog, was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday, June 29th 2019.

If you like this book you will like these links:

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Liveability

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

 

 

 

Calgary: Needs to foster more "Transit Oriented Communities"

One of the things I was most impressed with during my month long visit to Vancouver was the amazing Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that has happened in that city over the past 15 years.  I couldn’t help but think the future of urban living in North American cities is linked to creating vibrant, dense communities next to LRT stations. 

Followed by, why isn’t Calgary fast tracking TOD development next to existing LRT Stations, rather than expanding LRT to the north and SE edges of the city. And why hasn’t anything happened at Westbrook Station which open in December 2012?

So I decide to ask David Couroux (City of Calgary’s TOD planner), Joe Starkman (a developer with TOD experience) and Gary Andrishak (a planner with 25+ years of TOD planning experience across North America, who lives in Vancouver) why Calgary isn’t a leader when it comes to TOD development?

The answers were very insightful and informative….

FYI: A shorter version of this blog was published by CBC Calgary as part of their feature “Caglary At A Crossroads.” It didn’t include Andrishak’s thoughts on why he has stopped using the term “TOD.” And, the photos are all different.

Calgary’s Chinook LRT Station is in the bottom right hand corner and Chinook (shopping) Centre is in the top left corner. (sorry couldn’t figure out how to mark them using the new Google Earth). The land use around the Chinook LRT Station is dominated by surface parking lots, which is the poorest use of the land.

Calgary’s Chinook LRT Station is in the bottom right hand corner and Chinook (shopping) Centre is in the top left corner. (sorry couldn’t figure out how to mark them using the new Google Earth). The land use around the Chinook LRT Station is dominated by surface parking lots, which is the poorest use of the land.

Google Earth image of Calgary’s Anderson LRT Station (see red mark, not sure why it worked on this one) surrounded by surface parking lots and major roads. There is poor pedestrian connectivity to the Southcentre shopping mall, Fish Creek Library and surrounding neighbourhoods. .

Google Earth image of Calgary’s Anderson LRT Station (see red mark, not sure why it worked on this one) surrounded by surface parking lots and major roads. There is poor pedestrian connectivity to the Southcentre shopping mall, Fish Creek Library and surrounding neighbourhoods. .

Vancouver’s Metrotown not only includes the SkyTrain station and the mega MetroTown Mall, but numerous high-rise condos, office buildings, public library and several park spaces. There is very little surface parking.

Vancouver’s Metrotown not only includes the SkyTrain station and the mega MetroTown Mall, but numerous high-rise condos, office buildings, public library and several park spaces. There is very little surface parking.

What is TOD?

Transit oriented development (TOD) is commonly defined as high-density, mixed-use development within a 15 minute walk of a transit station. TOD provides a range of benefits including increased transit ridership, reduced regional congestion and pollution, and healthier, more walkable neighborhoods. TOD neighborhoods have a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, as well as a mix of commercial amenities – grocers, restaurants, cafes, shops, fitness studios and professional services.  

Every TOD needs to be a mixture of uses and a mix of housing types.

Every TOD needs to be a mixture of uses and a mix of housing types.

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 8.39.45 AM.png

Calgary lags behind

I was gobsmacked by the numerous high-rise residential towers next to the Metrotown SkyTrain station and Metrotown Mall in Burnaby.  I couldn’t help but wonder why there hasn’t been major residential development next to Calgary’s Chinook and Anderson LRT stations as they have much the same conditions as Metrotown i.e. both have major malls and major road nearby. The Metrotown SkyTrain didn’t open until 1985, while Chinook and Anderson opened in 1981.  

The more I rode Vancouver’s Skytrain train the more impressed I was with how almost every station is surrounded not only by mid and high-rise residential, but with grocery stores and other amenities to create an urban village.  

By clustering a large share of the region’s population and employment growth and new major public spaces, community facilities and cultural amenities in locations well-served by public transit Vancouver has become a being a leader in the development of walkable, transit oriented communities throughout the region not just in the City Centre.  Metro Vancouver currently has nine major town centres and 18 smaller ones, each with its own LRT station. 

Recently the Daily Hive an online Vancouver newspaper published a list of 21 mega transit-oriented developments in the works for the lower Main Land. These are not just one or two towers next to an LRT station but entire new communities like Calgary’s East village, University District and Currie.  Some of the plans are so big they include four separate LRT Stations. 

While Calgary has its share of 21st century TOD happening – Bridgeland, East Village, Brentwood and Dalhousie, we are lagging behind cities like Vancouver and Portland who both opened their LRT after us.  

Upon arriving home, I contacted several planners and developers to try to understand why Calgary hasn’t seen more TOD development.  I was especially curious why TOD along the South Leg - Chinook, Anderson, Stampede Park, Manchester (39th Street) hasn’t happened given they are all surrounded by underutilized land perfect for mixed-use TOD development 

Link: 21 Major Developments Plan Near SkyTrain Stations

Metrotown Station lets you off across the street from the Metrotown Mall, three office towers and numerous residential buildings.

Metrotown Station lets you off across the street from the Metrotown Mall, three office towers and numerous residential buildings.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

Metrotown office towers.

Metrotown office towers.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Here’s what I learned…

I first met with David Couroux, the City of Calgary’s TOD Planner, and he informed me the biggest barrier to TOD development in Calgary is funding for the infrastructure needed to undertake TOD development – everything from upgrading water and sewer, to the need for better sidewalks, parks and integrating bus services with trains i.e. a transit hub.  

He said with a smile, “creating policy and plans is cheap, it is the implementation that is expensive.”   

Indeed, the City often gets bog down in creating endless policy and plans that often act as a barrier to development vs an incentive.  And, while many think infill projects in established communities are free to the City i.e. no need for more roads, water, sewer, parks, police and emergency services, that is not true as all of the infrastructure is old and won’t support more development. 

That being said, Couroux noted Calgary has seen significant new TOD development in East Village, Bridgeland, Brentwood and Dalhousie and Stampede Station over the past 15 years. 

He pointed out in 2009 the City approved the Hillhurst Sunnyside ARP Transit Oriented Development and almost immediately mid-rise developments began to happen – St. John’s on Tenth, Ven, Pixel, Lido and Kensington with the new Memorial Drive and Annex condos currently under construction and Theodore being marketed.  

Couroux thinks The Bridges is perhaps the best example of TOD in Calgary. It has proceeded slowly but steadily and there are only 2 or 3 parcels of land left to develop. It features all the characteristics of TOD one would expect, higher density, mixed-use development, a pedestrian focus to the mobility network, parks, mains street and upgraded public realm.   

Anderson station remains an unrealized opportunity, as do other south-line station areas like Heritage and Southland. The requirement to maintain park and ride spaces adds significant cost to the redevelopment of these site for TOD because it would need to be accommodated by an expensive underground parkade. 

Couroux is optimistic that redevelopment around stations like Brentwood and Dalhousie and get long-awaited projects at stations like Anderson and Heritage will get off the ground in the near future.

Link: TOD Bridgeland

The Bridgeland LRT Station sits in the middle of Memorial Drive making it difficult to integrate it into the community. Many of Calgary’s LRT Stations are in the middle of busy roads, resulting in lots of stairs to climb to bridges over the road and long walks before you get into the community.

The Bridgeland LRT Station sits in the middle of Memorial Drive making it difficult to integrate it into the community. Many of Calgary’s LRT Stations are in the middle of busy roads, resulting in lots of stairs to climb to bridges over the road and long walks before you get into the community.

Another view of the Bridgeland LRT Station illustrating how isolated the station is from the community with major road on either side.

Another view of the Bridgeland LRT Station illustrating how isolated the station is from the community with major road on either side.

The Crowfoot Station which opened in 2009 sits in the middle of Crowchild Trail freeway. It is going to be impossible and expensive to integrate this station into the community. Perhaps in the future we will built a new community over-top of the roads at LRT stations?

The Crowfoot Station which opened in 2009 sits in the middle of Crowchild Trail freeway. It is going to be impossible and expensive to integrate this station into the community. Perhaps in the future we will built a new community over-top of the roads at LRT stations?

By contrast Calgary’s Sunnyside Station is integrated into the community with grocery store next to it, shops just a block away and homes right next to it. This is the ideal way to design TOD redevelopment into an existing community. Even the station design has a home-like look to it.

By contrast Calgary’s Sunnyside Station is integrated into the community with grocery store next to it, shops just a block away and homes right next to it. This is the ideal way to design TOD redevelopment into an existing community. Even the station design has a home-like look to it.

Developer frustrations…

Joe Starkman, President of Knightsbridge Homes, expressed in a telephone chat his frustration with the City’s focus on creating plans and policy vs implementation.  Starkman who is responsible for the playful yellow, red and green condo towers at the Brentwood station, says he wouldn’t do TOD again. Why? Because it takes too long to get approvals - it took four years and one million dollars to get University Village approved.  He said he wouldn’t go to the City for a “rezoning” today as it is too costly and there is too much uncertainty if you will get approval.  

He pointed out Westbrook Station’s “Request For Proposals” was 400 pages making it too arduous to review and understand.  In his opinion, the red tape at City Hall is getting worse not better. 

He is frustrated by the City’s double talk i.e. they say they want more density near transit corridors, but when a developer comes to them with a proposal instead of being fast tracked it, it gets bogged down in endless reviews and community engagement.  He noted “it is often City Roads and Water engineers who are barrier to TOD development, not the planners.”  

Other developers have shared similar experiences with me over the years.

Google Earth image of University City condos next to Brentwood Mall and Coop grocery store with Brentwood LRT station in the bottom left hand corner.

Google Earth image of University City condos next to Brentwood Mall and Coop grocery store with Brentwood LRT station in the bottom left hand corner.

TOD Planner says….

I then contacted Gary Andrishak, Director, IBI Group in Vancouver, who has over 30 years of experience in TOD planning in North America to get his insights into Calgary’s TOD history and future.  Given has been involved in the development of many of Calgary’s TOD plans (including the new Green Line) so he knows Calgary’s situation well.  

Andrishak was indeed insightful and forthright in his comments.  He said upfront comparing Calgary is Vancouver is unfair as “Vancouver is as good as it gets when it comes to TOD development in North America and it is a very different city than Calgary.”  He quickly added “a city that can sprawl will sprawl, “which is Calgary’s problem as there are no barriers to sprawl like the ocean or mountains in Vancouver.  

One of the biggest failures in Calgary is Council hasn’t linked transportation and land use planning, i.e. all of the land along transit corridors and near LRT stations has be zoned for mixed-use, multi-family development to stream line TOD development.

He also suggested that early on the City treated rapid public transit as a utility rather than the “glue that can hold a city together. Calgary lost a generation of TOD over cities like Portland, who saw the synergies of building density adjacent to transit back it he ‘90s.”

Some of the other barriers to good TOD development in Calgary include the fact that too much TOD development is still negotiated between the Councillors and the developers, shutting out the planners, which leads to complications later. 

He also noted most of Calgary’s TOD developments are not well designed when it comes to the mix of uses and the incorporation of mid-rise buildings.  Andrishak thinks Calgary has a tendency “to go too big, too quickly.”  He said in Vancouver developers understand the importance of investing in quality useable public realm that creates a more attractive walkable pedestrian experience; that is not the case for most developments in Calgary. 

With respect to the South Leg of the LRT, Andrishak thinks the decision to use the CPR right-of-way has resulted in making TOD development difficult as people simply don’t want to live next to heavy rail lines due to noise and safety concerns.  

Similarly, the decision to run the NW leg in the middle of Crowchild Trail is also a barrier as you need to be able to build right up to the station to have good TOD development.  Building LRT in next to or in the middle of a freeway just doesn’t work in Andrishak’s experience. 

The New Westminster SkyTrain station is right next to heavy train tracks, like the south leg of Calgary’s LRT but they have managed to still create urban village next to the tracks.

The New Westminster SkyTrain station is right next to heavy train tracks, like the south leg of Calgary’s LRT but they have managed to still create urban village next to the tracks.

The train tracks separate the downtown from the river’s edge requiring several pedestrian bridges.

The train tracks separate the downtown from the river’s edge requiring several pedestrian bridges.

The SkyTrain station is integrated into a huge parking lot and high-rise development with a grocery store as the anchor.

The SkyTrain station is integrated into a huge parking lot and high-rise development with a grocery store as the anchor.

There is a lovely linear park between the tracks and river creating a mixed-use recreational destination. TOD must include creating public spaces where people can meet, relax and play.

There is a lovely linear park between the tracks and river creating a mixed-use recreational destination. TOD must include creating public spaces where people can meet, relax and play.

Transit Oriented Communities 

In fact, Andrishak has stopped using the term Transit Oriented Development and instead says we should be focused on “Transit Oriented Communities,” as transit is just one element of a creating good communities, which should be the ultimate goal.  

He thinks there are three keys to successful TOC development are: 

  • Public/Private collaboration

  • First/Last Mile connectivity

  • Real Community Engagement in the planning process 

Good public/private collaboration includes respecting each other’s needs, willingness to negotiate trade-offs, understanding with density comes amenities and a willingness to work together.  

In the urban planner world “First/Last mile connectivity” refers to the fact that most important part of the transit experience happens as you get on and off the bus/train - be that driving to the station/bus stop and finding a place to park or walking/cycling to the station/bus stop and waiting for the transit.  It refers to what everyday amenities are available within walking distance of transit so you don’t have to make extra stops.   

Andrishak thinks “real community engagement” happens when you combine EQUALLY the best insights of planning professionals, with best practices from committed local knowledge.”   

Finally, as Andrisak noted, “the car – no, make that the pick-up truck - is still king in Calgary,” adding “Calgary has one foot in the city and one in the country; there is still lots of room to grow.  You can still see the downtown from the edge of the city, so people think What’s the problem.” 

I wonder when Calgary will be able to wean itself off of its addiction to suburban “park and ride” lots and convert those parking lots into mixed-use town centres, rather than being so downtown centric.  

Calgary’s Sunalta Station is perhaps the most similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain as it has an elevated station next to railway tracks and major roads.

Calgary’s Sunalta Station is perhaps the most similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain as it has an elevated station next to railway tracks and major roads.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is the ramp network on the north side of the Sunalta station to get to the, old Bus station and the future West Village community.

This is the ramp network on the north side of the Sunalta station to get to the, old Bus station and the future West Village community.

 Calgarians love their single family homes

Not only do Calgarians love their cars and pick-ups but they also love home ownership and living in single family homes.   

One of the key factors driving the incredible demand for new condos in Vancouver is the high cost of single family homes. "Single family homes, generally speaking, are beyond the reach of most households that don't already have very significant savings or a home of their own," said University of British Columbia economist Tom Davidoff in a September 2018 CTV Vancouver digital post based on a Zoocasa blog (Canadian real estate blog). 

A 2018 survey by Mustel Group for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada found 78% of Metro Vancouver’s young families reported they would like to own a single-family home, however, only 46 percent actually bought a detached house, with 27 percent buying a townhome and 27 percent a condo. The survey also found that 55% of those who don’t own a single family home today have given up any plans to do so.  

The same study found “the preference for single family home ownership (91%) is higher in Calgary than in any other metropolitan area in Canada. In addition, the rate of single family home ownership is significantly higher than any other city at 74% as the price of home ownership is more accessible in Calgary than other major cities. 

Link: https://mustelgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018-Modern-Family-Home-Ownership-Trends-Mustel_Sothebys-International-Realty-Canada.pdf 

The fact Calgary has the highest home ownership of any major city in Canada and the most affordable single family home prices means our market for TOD development which is exclusively mid to high-rise multi-family residential is smaller than any city in Canada. 

 Something to think about?

After all of these discussions, I couldn’t help but wonder would it be better for the city, province and federal governments to fund infill projects at LRT stations in major cities vs constructing new LRT lines.  

Rather than taking the LRT out to the edges of Calgary i.e. Green Line, which will just encourage more developments in places like Airdrie, Cochrane and Okotoks and more new edge community development in Calgary, wouldn’t it be better if we invested in the infrastructure needed to create more housing where we already have LRT and bus service? 

FYI: Calgary actually has a long history of TOD development dating back to the early 20th Century. For more information on this check out these links:

LInk: How Calgary’s Historic Street Car Network Shaped Our Inner-city

Link: Calgary’s Great TOD Neighbourhoods

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

Eveyday Tourist Transit Tales

Love it: On It Regional Transit

Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly

 

 

 

 

 

Eau Claire: Still a work in progress 

Recently, Harvard Developments Inc. announced yet another delay in their planned mega redevelopment of the forlorn Eau Claire Market site they bought in 2004. Though unfortunate, it’s understandable given the current economic reality of Calgary.  

In fact, the current plan may never happen as Eau Claire has struggled to adapt to changing economics and urban design thinking. 

Harvard Development Inc. has ambitious plans for the development of the Eau Claire Market site in downtown Calgary.

Harvard Development Inc. has ambitious plans for the development of the Eau Claire Market site in downtown Calgary.

Today Eau Claire is a ribbon of residential development with the Bow River and Prince’s Island on one side and the downtown office towers on the other.

Today Eau Claire is a ribbon of residential development with the Bow River and Prince’s Island on one side and the downtown office towers on the other.

Eau Claire Market vs Granville Island Market

Eau Claire Market opened to much fanfare in 1993 as part of an urban renewal scheme for to create an urban village next to Prince’s Island. Unfortunately, the Market didn’t thrive as hoped and has waiting to be redeveloped for almost 15 years now.  

While most people think the original concept for Eau Claire Market was based on the success of Vancouver’s Granville Island, nothing could be further from the truth.  Granville Island’s success was the result of its being a huge mixed-use development, not just a farmers’ market and a few shops.  

I recently toured Granville Island for a day and was amazed by the critical mass of things to see and do. It includes over 100 small shops, boutiques and art galleries, 75 food outlets in addition to the farmers’ market, 10 restaurants and 12 theatre/entertainment venues.  It is also the hub for a number of water adventures (including the fun False Creek Sea Ferries) and small businesses.  Originally, it was home of the Emily Carr School of Art, which recently moved to a spectacular new campus, leaving the old school now being redeveloped.  

Calgary Eau Claire Market was an early attempt at creating an entertainment retail hub by combining some food kiosks, boutiques, theme restaurants, a brand name nightclub (Hard Rock Café) and a small cinema complex (including Calgary’s first IMAX.)  However, it lacked the critical mass and the unique Calgary sense of place needed to become a tourist attraction. 

 And thought it was popular with locals for a few years, once the “lust of the new” wore off, locals moved on to Chinook (which was revitalized in the late ‘90s) and other malls for their retail therapy. 

Eau Claire Market is a small two storey building with a dozen so food, restaurant, coffee and retail vendors on the main floor.. The second floor has a cinema complex and offices.

Eau Claire Market is a small two storey building with a dozen so food, restaurant, coffee and retail vendors on the main floor.. The second floor has a cinema complex and offices.

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

The Public Market on Granville Island is just one of dozens of tourist attractions on the site.

The Public Market on Granville Island is just one of dozens of tourist attractions on the site.

Granville Island includes other markets, performance spaces, art galleries etc. It is a village.

Granville Island includes other markets, performance spaces, art galleries etc. It is a village.

Eau Claire vs East Village 

In fact, Eau Claire has perhaps more in common with Calgary’s East Village than Granville Island.  Many new Calgarians don’t realize Eau Claire in the ‘80s was much like East Village with its huge surface parking lots and lots of undesirable activities.

The City’s Eau Claire revitalization plan revolved around enticing private developers to build an urban village at the base of Barclay Mall, the new pedestrian link to the downtown core next to the lagoon and the new Eau Claire YMCA. The plan called for residential towers, mixed with a new hotel, office towers and a retail, restaurant and cinema complex.   

That is not very different from East Village’s masterplan with River Walk, St. Patrick Island redevelopment, new library, new museum and the new Fifth & 3rd grocery store/retail complex slated to open in 2020. 

Somehow East Village gets all the media attention and accolades.

Eau Claire has lots of public spaces, but there are not as well integrated and programmed as East Village’s.

Eau Claire has lots of public spaces, but there are not as well integrated and programmed as East Village’s.

Eau Claire’s wading pool is the gateway to Prince’s Island.

Eau Claire’s wading pool is the gateway to Prince’s Island.

East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island's pebble beach is popular with families as there are lots of weekend programs in the summer.

East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island's pebble beach is popular with families as there are lots of weekend programs in the summer.

East Village’s RiverWalk is an upscale multi-use pathway with high-end materials and furnishings like these lounge chairs.

East Village’s RiverWalk is an upscale multi-use pathway with high-end materials and furnishings like these lounge chairs.

East Village’s summer pop-up container park converts a surface parking lot into a funky people place thanks to CMLC. Eau Claire residents would love to see their parking lots programmed like this.

East Village’s summer pop-up container park converts a surface parking lot into a funky people place thanks to CMLC. Eau Claire residents would love to see their parking lots programmed like this.

Eau Claire would love to have a community garden like East Village’s.

Eau Claire would love to have a community garden like East Village’s.

Eau Claire’s Revitalization History

Eau Claire’s revitalization began in 1981 with the completion of Eau Claire 500 condo complex.  Designed by Chicago’s famous SOM architects who have designed signature buildings around the world for the past 40 years. The building reflects urban thinking of the time, i.e. luxury residential communities should be behind a wall to protect resident’s privacy.

Big mistake by today’s urban design aesthetics and urban living dynamics. 

Unfortunately, Trudeau Sr’s National Energy Program hit in 1982 and downtown went into a decline.  Sound familiar? 

Then in 1986 the first phase of Barclay Mall opened linking downtown to Eau Claire. But by 1988, optimism began to return to Eau Claire with the opening of both the new Y, the Canterra office Tower, Shaw Court and the completion of Barclay Mall.  More development followed and by 1992, the Chinese Cultural Centre has opened, followed by Eau Claire Market in 1993 and Sheraton Suites Hotel, River Run and Prince’s Island Estates condos by 1995. 

The early 21stCentury has seen a building boom in Eau Claire with the completion of the two- tower Princeton condo project with its low rise townhomes, as well as the massive Waterfront development (on the old Bus Barns site) east of Eau Claire Market added another 1,000 homes.  And, the luxury Concord condo is nearing completion.  

Several more office towers were added including Ernst Young Tower (2000), Livingston Place (2007), Centennial Place East and West (2010), City Centre (2016) and Eau Claire Tower (2017).  

The City has also made significant improvements to Eau Claire’s public realm including improvements to Prince’s Island and Bow River Pathway (1999), the $22M Peace Bridge (2012) and the $11M West Eau Claire Park (2018). 

And yet, Eau Claire Market has struggled. 

River Run townhouse condos opened in 1995 as part of the ‘90s attempt to convert Eau Claire into a mixed-use urban village.

River Run townhouse condos opened in 1995 as part of the ‘90s attempt to convert Eau Claire into a mixed-use urban village.

Princeton (left, opened in early ‘00s)) and Eau Claire 500 (right, opened in 1981) was the beginning of the redevelopment of Calgary’s Eau Claire community from small cottage homes into an urban village. The redevelopment is still not complete almost 40 years later. There are still large surface parking lots dominating the landscape.

Princeton (left, opened in early ‘00s)) and Eau Claire 500 (right, opened in 1981) was the beginning of the redevelopment of Calgary’s Eau Claire community from small cottage homes into an urban village. The redevelopment is still not complete almost 40 years later. There are still large surface parking lots dominating the landscape.

New Eau Claire office towers from the ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s.

New Eau Claire office towers from the ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s.

Over the past 30 years the City of Calgary has made significant improvements to Eau Claire’s public realm including the Peace Bridge and expansion of the Bow River promenade.

Over the past 30 years the City of Calgary has made significant improvements to Eau Claire’s public realm including the Peace Bridge and expansion of the Bow River promenade.

The City has also made significant improvements to Prince’s Island to accommodate festivals like the Calgary International Folk Festival.

The City has also made significant improvements to Prince’s Island to accommodate festivals like the Calgary International Folk Festival.

The new West Eau Claire Park includes a pebble beach that has become a poplar place sit people watch.

The new West Eau Claire Park includes a pebble beach that has become a poplar place sit people watch.

Future of Eau Claire Market?

Harvard Development’s ambitious Eau Claire Market redevelopment master plan announced in 2013 called for the creation of about 800,000 sf office space (think two 30-storey office buildings), 800,000 sf of residential space (8,000 units at 1,000 square feet per unit), 600,000 square feet of retail (three times the existing Eau Claire Market) and 200,000 sf hotel (think Alt Hotel in East Village). 

Though probably the right plan in 2013 if it had been executed immediately, it is likely not the right plan for the 2020s given what is happening in East Village and proposed for Victoria Park.  Both of those projects benefit from the Community Revitalization Levy that has - and will -pump hundreds of millions of tax dollars into those communities to make them attractive places to live, work and play. 

As well, several residential developments under construction or approved for Beltline, Bridgeland and elsewhere in Eau Claire that probably make more economic sense than the massive Eau Claire Market site redevelopment. 

So, it is really no surprise Harvard has delayed its plans given there is a glut of office and residential space available in Calgary’s City Centre. Several new hotels have also opened – Alt Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn (both in East Village) and the Beltline’s new Marriott Residence Inn.  PBA Land and Development has plans for The Dorian, a 27-storey 300 room hotel and Calgary Municipal Land Development is actively courting a new hotel as part of the BMO Centre expansion.  

If that isn’t bad enough, retail is struggling throughout the entire City Center from 17th Avenue SW to Kensington. 

Now is simply just not the time for a mega new mixed use development in the downtown and it is likely to be 10+ years before anything major new development will be built downtown.

In a recent column about the success of the Avenida Food Hall, I suggested Eau Claire Market’s best bet might be to convert itself back to a “Food Hall” as times have changed - there are more neighbouring condos and office buildings today than there were in the ‘90s to support a food hall complex, and Calgarians have become more food savvy and love the farm to table concept.

On Saturday, April 13 the City of Calgary hosted a drop-in session at Eau Claire Market seeking public input on how to redesign Eau Claire to “create great public spaces that will make it a great place to live, work, play and shop and help attract long-term growth and development.” The City’s words, not mine. 

Joyce Tang, Program Manager at the City of Calgary told me the public wanted “a greater emphasis on event programming and patio spaces in Eau Claire Plaza. People wanted to see spaces for markets and events, along with areas for recreation along the Prince’s Island lagoon.” 

Indeed, they want what East Village has.  They don’t just want pretty public spaces, but someone to program them like Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) does for the East Village space.  CMLC has a team of three full-time staff managing events year-round - everything from free days at the National Music Centre to food truck festivals, from concerts to outdoor yoga. 

One of the unintended consequences creating first class public spaces in East Village and the aggressive programing of those spaces is that all City Centre communities – Beltline, Bridgeland/Riverside, Hillhurst and Inglewood now want the same quality spaces and programing.  Unfortunately, they don’t have the benefit of a CMLC and a Community Revitalization Levy to make that happen. 

Eau Claire has numerous public spaces to sit and enjoy Prince’s Island Park, especially downtown workers at lunch..

Eau Claire has numerous public spaces to sit and enjoy Prince’s Island Park, especially downtown workers at lunch..

The Prince’s Island lagoon has skating in the winter weather permitting.

The Prince’s Island lagoon has skating in the winter weather permitting.

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

Eau Claire is home to one of Calgary’s best restaurants - River Cafe.

Eau Claire is home to one of Calgary’s best restaurants - River Cafe.

Eau Claire has several cafes and restaurants scattered throughout the community, but it lacks a Main Street or a town square.

Eau Claire has several cafes and restaurants scattered throughout the community, but it lacks a Main Street or a town square.

Lesson Learned?

Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from Eau Claire’s revitalization is that it takes a long time to revitalize a community - several decades in fact. Mistakes will be made and false starts will happen due to economic, political and social shifts that can’t be anticipated.  

Urban revitalization is not a science. 

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

Eau Claire Market’s Mega Makeover Revisited

Avenida Village: Food Hall Madness

East Village Envy

East Village A Masterpiece In the Making

Brother Communities: Canmore’s Spring Creek & Calgary’s East Village

Canmore’s new Spring Creek community has many, many parallels with Calgary’s East Village. “No way,” you say! Hear me out.

Spring Creek’s pathway along the water.

Spring Creek’s pathway along the water.

East Village’s RiverWalk along the Bow River

East Village’s RiverWalk along the Bow River

Spring Creek pedestrian bridge

Spring Creek pedestrian bridge

East Village pedestrian bridge

East Village pedestrian bridge

Master Plans

Spring Creek is a new, condo-only residential community just east of downtown Canmore. Same as Calgary’s East Village.  Both communities also have strong architectural guidelines as part of an effort to create a unique sense of place. 

 Granted East Village’s design is very bright, modern and futuristic, while Spring Creek’s is more rustic, woodsy and traditional.  

Both too are designed to create a unique pedestrian experience as well as spectacular views. All Spring Creek buildings are four storeys or less, meaning they don’t block the view of the mountains and maximize the amount of sun reaching the sidewalks. No high-rises here.  Also, the buildings have been placed so that main street frames the Three Sisters Mountain in the distance.  

As for East Village, it’s mostly high-rises which offer outstanding views of the downtown skyline, Bow River Valley and Rocky Mountains, particularly for those living in the upper floors. 

Spring Creek’s masterplan allows for low-rise buildings only with the architecture being traditional mountain chalet style.

Spring Creek’s masterplan allows for low-rise buildings only with the architecture being traditional mountain chalet style.

East Village is dominated by high-rise, contemporary architecture.

East Village is dominated by high-rise, contemporary architecture.

And that’s not all  

Many of Spring Creek’s condo buildings have either commercial at grade or live/work space along its main street meaning there are galleries, shops and a pub within easy walking distance.  There are also plans for a Village Square with café, bistro, convenience store and other amenities. Similar to East Village’s Simmons Building amenities.   

Spring Creek has a unique seniors’ residence, in that the community’s pub is accessible from the street or its lobby. How cool is that?  Perhaps Trinity Place Foundation that operates several seniors’ buildings in East Village should think about opening a ground floor pub in one of their buildings. Nothing like a good beer to get people of all ages to meet and connect.  

It also is located so residents can walk out their back door and onto the communities 2.5 km perimeter nature trail along Spring Creek, which are all accessible to those with mobility challenges. It is great to see seniors not be allocated an out of the way site, but rather a prime on Spring Creek. While East Village’s seniors residences don’t have direct access to the River Walk it is designed with accessibility in mind.   

Origin at Spring Creek is an all-inclusive seniors’ complex is perfectly integrated into the community’s Main Street.

Origin at Spring Creek is an all-inclusive seniors’ complex is perfectly integrated into the community’s Main Street.

I love that Origin has a pub at street level where locals and mingle with residents.

I love that Origin has a pub at street level where locals and mingle with residents.

Could Murdoch Manor (low income seniors’ housing) in East Village could have a nice pub or cafe at street level in the future?

Could Murdoch Manor (low income seniors’ housing) in East Village could have a nice pub or cafe at street level in the future?

Many of the Spring Creek condos have shops at street level.

Many of the Spring Creek condos have shops at street level.

East Village also has street retail and a fun pop-up container park in the summer.

East Village also has street retail and a fun pop-up container park in the summer.

Stay with me…still more similarities.

Both have new hotels. Spring Creek, has the new Malcolm Hotel, Canmore’s first four star hotel (pool, restaurants, café) that is the hub of the community, plus two more hotels planned. East Village has Alt Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn.  

Spring Creek has a replica of the Canmore Opera house as its event and meeting space for residents and the broader Canmore community, while East Village has the new Central Library.

Both Spring Creek and East Village have many community events and activities organized for residents to meet their neighbours. 

alt Hotel in Calgary’s East Village

alt Hotel in Calgary’s East Village

Malcolm Hotel, Spring Creek, Canmore

Malcolm Hotel, Spring Creek, Canmore

Replica of Canmore Opera House at Spring Creek

Replica of Canmore Opera House at Spring Creek

The original Canmore Opera House

The original Canmore Opera House

Calgary Central Library and the Municipal Building (its older brother) in East Village. (photo credit CMLC website)

Calgary Central Library and the Municipal Building (its older brother) in East Village. (photo credit CMLC website)

Yes, there is a major difference….

 Spring Creek is a private development with no tax subsidies; Calgary’s East Village development is a City of Calgary initiative that has received hundreds of the millions of tax dollar to create the community’s amenities i.e. park, plaza, RiverWalk, community garden, playground and library.

More similarities…

Spring Creek is a master-planned community (as is East Village) by Canmore developer Frank Kernick, whose family has owned the land since 1927 when it was their dairy farm. It is his family’s legacy project. Kernick engaged Bill Marshall and his team at MTA Architects in Calgary to create the master plan. Ironically, MTA was involved in East Village’s master-plan development.  

It is worth noting Kernick and Chris Ollenberger (who managed the development of East Villages’ master planning and early development) are colleagues and friends. Strange but true, Spring Creek and East Village were not only conceived around the same time, are being developed in similar phases and will be complete by the late ‘20s.  

Kernick likes to boast that his project was approved first.

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Last Word

Indeed, Canmore’s Spring Creek and Calgary’s East Village are like brother communities! Brothers from a different father?

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

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

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making

Grassi Lakes Trail Treasure Hunting

Canada Day In Canmore

 

Avenida Village - Calgary’s Next Urban Village?

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.

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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.  

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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.  

Link: A World Of Food Awaits At Avenida Food Hall

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

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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. 

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Last Word

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.  

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Beltline Embraces Density 

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. 

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

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.  

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

Beltline is a walkable community….

Beltline is a walkable community….

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.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

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. 

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street Underpass before

8th Street Underpass before


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. 

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Last Word 

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.

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

Beltline: Calgary’s Hipster/Nester Community

BUMP: Beltline Urban Murals Project

Beautifying the Beltline




Condo Living: The Missing Middle

Being a sucker for a good alliteration I love the new urban planning term the “missing middle.” What is “missing middle” you ask?  

The term coined by Dan Parolek (President, Opticos Design, in San Francisco) includes duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, backyard suites, courtyard apartments, town/row houses, small multiplexes with five to ten homes and work live spaces. In Calgary’s established communities duplexes, triplexes etc have been common place for years. Backyard suites and small town/row and multiplexes are beginning to be seen more and more often these days.

photo credit Optics Design

photo credit Optics Design

What is missing in Calgary are mid-rise residential buildings, those between 6 storeys (low-rise) and 12+ storeys.  There are lots of wood-frame four storey condos (mostly in the suburbs) and lots of concrete high-rises in the City Centre, but not a lot of mid-rises which offer benefits both aesthetically and financially. One of the reasons they don’t get built is that those living in the single family houses nearby don’t want the extra height and traffic.

Let’s have a look at some the benefits….

The six storey recently approved Courtyard 33 in Marda Loop is a good example of how Calgary has evolved from cookie cutter 4 storey infill condos, to innovative mid-rise developments that offer a unique urban living experience with its interior courtyard where residence and neighbours will mix and mingle. Link:  Courtyard 33

The six storey recently approved Courtyard 33 in Marda Loop is a good example of how Calgary has evolved from cookie cutter 4 storey infill condos, to innovative mid-rise developments that offer a unique urban living experience with its interior courtyard where residence and neighbours will mix and mingle. Link: Courtyard 33

Affordability

Why is the “missing middle” important? Because these buildings provide inner city housing at a more affordable prices than row housing or low-rise buildings. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, that if you add two or three more floors to a 4-storey building to allow for say 25 more homes you can spread the land and development cost to more buyers and thereby charge less per home.  

Mid-rise buildings also don’t create the same problems high-rise buildings. For example, they don’t stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of single family homes.  They are what urbanists like to call “human scale” buildings as they also don’t over-power the pedestrians walking by.  

As well, they are large enough to allow for retail at the street level which in turn enhances the pedestrian experience.  

European City Centers are full of them. It is what makes those cities so pleasant to explore on foot. 

Berlin mid-rise residential street.

Berlin mid-rise residential street.

In Berlin the river is lined with mid-rise residential development and the river becomes their front yard.

In Berlin the river is lined with mid-rise residential development and the river becomes their front yard.

Calgary Examples

In Calgary, we are beginning to see more “missing middle” projects like the AVLI condos in Inglewood and Pixel, LIDO and Ezra on Riley Park in Kensington. 

Perhaps one of the best and first examples of a new “missing middle” project on a high profile inner city site was St. John’s Tenth St. completed in 2014.  The 9-story Annex will be the next mid-rise in Kensington, with other mid-rise projects in the works for Bridgeland/Riverside, Winston Heights and West Hillhurst. 

Outside the inner city, Truman’s West District is almost entirely a “missing middle” community. While there will be a few townhouses on the edge of the community, the rest will be mid-rise residential, office and institutional buildings.  Truman is currently completing construction of Gateway the first two buildings of their ambitious project in the community of Wellington, on Calgary’s west side. Their Kensington Legion site condo is good example of a “missing middle” development in the inner city.

Bottom line - the “missing middle” is all about trying to create more diverse housing options in our inner city communities, at a lower price point.

The eight storey Gateway condo currently under construction in the new community of West District include one, two and three bedroom homes starting at $299,000.

The eight storey Gateway condo currently under construction in the new community of West District include one, two and three bedroom homes starting at $299,000.

Pixel in Kensington is a good examples of mid-rise residential development next to lots of urban amenities including an LRT station.

Pixel in Kensington is a good examples of mid-rise residential development next to lots of urban amenities including an LRT station.

Good News / Bad News

The good news is there are currently about 25 construction cranes scattered throughout the city building new multi-family residential buildings, ranging from 4 to 40 storeys.  This is a healthy sign.

The bad news is that BOSA Development has taken down the cranes that were supposed to build the two-tower ARRIS project above the retail podium that will include the long awaited City Market by Loblaws.  

The good news is the retail is still going ahead and is scheduled to open in early 2020.  The fact Truman hasn’t moved forward with the development of the Kensington Legion site is also bad news.  Is this a sign Calgary’s City Centre condo market is saturated at the moment? 

The good news is four new condo projects are being marketed south of the tracks. In the Beltline, Battistella Developments is marketing Nude and TAK Developments is selling Fifth. In Mission, Matrix is being actively marketed by Mission 19 Ltd. and a new developer Bowman Development needs to sell a few more condos and he will be able to proceed with The Nest on the Elbow River.

University District continues to share good news as they have signed up new tenants like Analog Café, J. Webb Market Wines, Cineplex VIP Cinemas, OEB Breakfast, Orangetheory and YYC Cycle for their main street.

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the March 2019 issue of Condo Living Magazine.

The Nest in Mission is offering new homes on the Elbow river starting in the low $200,000.

The Nest in Mission is offering new homes on the Elbow river starting in the low $200,000.

The Hat on 7th is mid-rise rental development in downtown’s West End is currently under construction right on the LRT.

The Hat on 7th is mid-rise rental development in downtown’s West End is currently under construction right on the LRT.

Calgary City Centre: Residential Development is blooming!

If you are like me, you may well have been asking yourself, “Why are developers still building more City Center residential towers when downtown employment is in decline. Doesn’t that mean the demand for living near downtown is also in decline?” 

Cidex’s West Village Towers project will set a new benchmark for urban living in Calgary’s Downtown West community.

Cidex’s West Village Towers project will set a new benchmark for urban living in Calgary’s Downtown West community.

Currently the first tower is under construction.

Currently the first tower is under construction.

The project will include space for commercial developments like an urban grocery store.

The project will include space for commercial developments like an urban grocery store.

Also next to the railway tracks is One by Strategic Group at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St SE. It too will provide hotel-like accommodation for renters.

Also next to the railway tracks is One by Strategic Group at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St SE. It too will provide hotel-like accommodation for renters.

Expert Advice

I thought it best to consult with someone who understands the dynamics of residential development in Calgary better than I. This led me to Urban Analytics (UA), a company specializing in maintaining data on current multi-family development projects in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver (available to industry stakeholders on a subscription basis).

Kimberly Poffenroth, VP Business Development and Andie Daggett, Market & Rental Data Analyst (Alberta) both shared some of their data on the 186 actively selling multi-family projects they track across the city. 

I was surprised to learn, “Calgary’s rental market has remained strong throughout 2018 with 95% occupancy in the third quarter of the year.”  Poffenroth added, “the new mortgage rules that came into play at the beginning of 2018 helped drive some success in the rental market, as many potential purchasers failed to qualify for a mortgage. This, in combination with the increasing number of amenities offered at new rental products, plus rental incentives offered at a majority of rental projects, helped maintain a strong new rental market across the city throughout 2018.” 

Daggett add, “as a result, new rental product in Calgary has been able to increase the average net rent per square foot while maintaining low vacancy rates.”  

Poffenroth, chimed in with “I don’t believe the end goal for most Calgarians is to rent forever. They want to buy a condo or a home. However, the new mortgage rules may push potential purchasers to rent for longer than they originally anticipated. Condo developers have responded appropriately to the changes in the current market conditions through launching price-sensitive product that allows purchasers to obtain home ownership at a more affordable price. There have also been a number of successful higher-end projects, appealing largely to a downsizer crowd, which have continued to show signs of success.” 

Indeed, the 2018 Calgary survey “Calgary Growth Perspectives Tracking Study” by ThinkHQ Public Affairs found 79% of Calgary renters say that if it were feasible, they would like to own their own home.  

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Rental vs Condo

It is important understand the condo and rental markets are closely linked when it comes to multi-family residential development.  The “waters are muddied” when you add in the fact that over the past few years, some condo developers have converted their unsold units into rental units for the time being.  

In addition, many condo buyers are investors who rent their units. It is not uncommon for a new condo building to have as many as 25% of their units for rent. 

Another factor linking rental and condo developments is that today’s renter could well become tomorrow’s buyer.  I often say “empty nesters and young professionals should rent before they buy to determine how much space they really need and if they like the urban lifestyle.” 

Renting also allows you to test drive the community to determine if it has what you want i.e. Inglewood is not the Beltline; Bridgeland is not Kensington.  

The first of two rental residential towers by Hines at 12th Ave near Memorial Park is currently under construction.

The first of two rental residential towers by Hines at 12th Ave near Memorial Park is currently under construction.

Hat on 7th is Cidex’s other project in Downtown West. It will be Calgary’s second residential development without any resident parking.

Hat on 7th is Cidex’s other project in Downtown West. It will be Calgary’s second residential development without any resident parking.

New Condos, Good News

For the first time in three years, new condo projects have been announced in the City Centre. 

Nude by Battisella is a 177-unit development in the end of the Beltline. They began selling units in September and have sold 35 units in the first three months.  Their funky condo INK in East Village is now complete and purchasers have moved in.  It has only 10 units left to sell.  

TAK Developments started to market “The Fifth,” their 48-unit boutique condo at the corner of 17th Ave and 5th St. SW in the Fall of 2018. This is the beginning of CEO Frank Lonardelli’s vision of converting 17th Avenue into a vibrant high street with a mix of new retail, restaurant and residential developments.  And just a few blocks away in Mission, Mission 19 Ltd. has launched sales of their 67-unit Matrix condo. Also, in Mission, Bowman Developments has sold 20% of the units in their recently announced 82-unit condo, The Nest.

Intergulf’s 45-story 11th & 11th project is under construction and will add a new dimension to urban living in the west end of the Beltline.

Intergulf’s 45-story 11th & 11th project is under construction and will add a new dimension to urban living in the west end of the Beltline.

Nude by Batisella is the first new condo start in Calgary’s City Centre in a few years.

Nude by Batisella is the first new condo start in Calgary’s City Centre in a few years.

The Nest in Mission will offer waterfront living (Elbow River) at very attractive prices, partly because there are no parking stalls for tenants. This is truly urban living.

The Nest in Mission will offer waterfront living (Elbow River) at very attractive prices, partly because there are no parking stalls for tenants. This is truly urban living.

The first of the three tower Curtis Block project is under construction on the east side of the Beltline.

The first of the three tower Curtis Block project is under construction on the east side of the Beltline.

Curtis Block rendering

Curtis Block rendering

Other City-wide hot spots

The new northwest inner city community, University District (by The University of Calgary’s West Campus Development Trust) has been a huge success to date. As of the end of November 2018, 128 residents have moved into Brookfield Residential’s Ivy and Truman’s Noble projects.  It was also a busy year for new starts – Maple by Truman (independent living for seniors), Rhapsody by Gracorp (rentals with Sav-On Foods + 10 retail units), August by Avi Urban (just broke ground) and The Brenda Strafford Foundation’s assisted and long-term care building.  As well, University District has a call for proposals for two mixed-use blocks across from the Cineplex complex.   

In all, a whopping 800 multi-family homes are currently at various stages of construction in University District.

Westman Village in Mahogany has also been very well received. This unique, resort-style community that opened its first phase this year already has 230+ residents. This number will grow to 1,200+ people when all 860+ residences are completed.  

Construction at University District is going like gang busters. (photo University District).

Construction at University District is going like gang busters. (photo University District).

Construction view of Westman Village. (photo Jayman website)

Construction view of Westman Village. (photo Jayman website)

Last Word

It would appear there is a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to living near downtown.  The 2018 census showed the Beltline was Calgary’s fastest growing community with 1,668 new residents over the past year.  Downtown West and Eau Claire also showed healthy growth, with all communities surrounding downtown experiencing some growth.  

So, while downtown is struggling as a place to work, its surrounding communities are continuing to bloom (not boom) as places to live!  

Many of the communities surrounding the downtown core are experiencing population growth.

Many of the communities surrounding the downtown core are experiencing population growth.

Edmonton is NOT kicking Calgary’s butt when it comes to urban revival? 

“It’s hard to say how Calgary fell so far behind Edmonton in downtown revival and major amenities. The trend just sort of crept up on us over the past half-dozen years, as Edmonton got a provincial art gallery, the Royal Alberta Museum, Rogers Place, massive additions to downtown MacEwan University, and much else. Not nearly as much was happening here,” wrote Don Braid in his December 19, 2018, Calgary Herald column.

Link: Braid: Calgary’s downtown is set to relaunch and maybe catch Edmonton

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Bigger Picture

I was surprised by Braid’s observation. Where is this negativity coming from? Was I that out of touch with what is happening in Edmonton? I recently spent four days exploring downtown Edmonton to see for myself.

A new arena and a few other developments should not be the measure downtown renewal.   If we look at the bigger picture when it comes to urban living amenities, Calgary has projects that match or exceed those of Edmonton’s.

Let’s have a look at Edmonton and Calgary’s urban revival projects since 2010, when Edmonton adopted a new Downtown Plan – the catalyst for its revival. 

Link: Capital City Downtown Plan 

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

Stantec Tower vs Telus Sky 

 Edmonton’s Stantec Tower and Calgary’s Telus Sky are both mixed-use buildings. Stantec’s first 29 floors are office space with its 30th to 66th floors being residential (454 homes) giving it a height of 251 meters. Coincidentally, Telus Sky also has 29 floors of offices, but only 29 floors of residential (326 homes) for a height of 221 meters.  Architecturally, they are polar opposites.  And while the rectangular, translucent glass Stantec Tower may be taller, Telus Sky, with its bold cubist twisting shape that narrows as it reaches skyward will be an architectural gem.  But wait, Calgary’s new sleek modernist Brookfield Place glass tower, is perhaps a better match for Stantec Tower both architecturally and is just 4 meters shorter.  

Bigger is not always better!

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

ICE District vs East Village

Edmonton’s ICE District, with its glittery new arena, two office towers, hotel/condo and public plaza (under construction), along with a new LRT station hopes to have 1,300 new homes completed by 2021.  

East Village’s The Bow, (twice the size of the Stantec Tower in square footage), two hotels, award-winning Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island Park, a beautiful community garden and playground, six new condo buildings (1,264 new homes and more to come) blows away the ICE district.  And that doesn’t even include the stunning Calgary’s stunning new central library and music museum! 

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Edmonton Centre vs The Core

There is simply no comparison between Edmonton’s tired indoor shopping centre and Calgary’s sunny, four-storey, The Core (redeveloped in 2011) which boast a dazzling, two-block long skylight and renovated Devonian Gardens.  The Core is home to a new Simons department store, while Edmonton’s two Simons stores are in the burbs. 

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

Quarters vs Bridgeland/Riverside 

Edmonton’s plans for the revival of The Quarters was more or less “put on ice” while the City focused on the ICE District.  One project was abandoned for 4 years, before Calgary-based Cidex Group recently came to the rescue and will build a 24-storey residential tower.

Calgary’s equivalent might be the master-planned redevelopment of Bridgeland, the result of the closing of the Calgary General Hospital.  Twelve new condos buildings will have been complete for a total of about 1,500 new homes that will accommodate 2,500 new residents, by the end of 2019.  Bridgeland/Riverside, with its revived main street, has evolved into one of Calgary’s most popular family communities over the past 10 years. Yes, families!

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

Churchill Square vs Olympic Plaza 

Both Edmonton’s Churchill Square and Calgary’s Olympic Plaza are the hearts of their respective city’s cultural district, as they are surrounded by a concert hall, theatres, museum, and City Halls.  

And while Edmonton has its funky new Art Gallery of Alberta building, I was not impressed by their exhibitions as I have been by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum’s recent exhibition programming.  The new $375 million Royal Alberta Museum was nice but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. Touring the lobby, I didn’t get the feeling this was a “must see” place.  For my money, the Glenbow offers the same art and history experience Edmonton has to offer. Programming trumps architecture. 

Similarly, Edmonton’s Win spear Concert Hall and Citadel Theatre and Calgary’s Art Commons offer pretty much the same experiences for those interested in the performing arts. When it comes to the literary arts, Edmonton is renovating its old library for $85 million into a shiny new building while Calgary spent $245 million on a new library building that has received international acclaim. 

Churchill Square is currently undergoing a mega makeover. Calgary is a few years behind with its cultural makeover, but a $400+ million makeover of Art Commons complex and Olympic Plaza is in the works.  There are also plans for a new public art gallery in Calgary’s old Science Centre/Planetarium at the west end of downtown. 

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Northlands Park vs Stampede Park 

While, the future of Edmonton’s Northlands Park is uncertain, Calgary’s Stampede Park flourishes - not only as home to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” but to numerous major events like Calgary Expo, one of Canada’s largest cosplay showcases.  

Quietly, Stampede Park has been evolving with new buildings like the Agrium Western Events Centre and its new Youth Campus that includes the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, Calgary Arts Academy, BMO Amphitheatre and ENMAX Park.  

The construction of three major condo towers is also evidence of the district’s quiet revival. Next step a major expansion of the BMO Centre. 

Plans for the revival of Stampede Park and Victoria Park Calgary over the next 20 years are WAY ahead of those for Northlands Park district. 

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

Urban Parks

While Edmonton undoubtedly has the most dramatic river valley, it is not easily accessible from its City Centre communities.  

In contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are both intimately linked to the everyday lives of those living in our City Centre thanks to constant improvement to the river pathways.  Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s Riverwalk, West Eau Claire Park and two spectacular pedestrian bridges.

Kudos to Edmonton’s City Council who boldly approved the expropriation of 18 lots in the middle of downtown to create a much-needed, 3-acre park, the equivalent of Calgary’s Harley Hotchkiss Gardens that opened a few years ago.  

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Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

Urban Living 

In addition to the above comparisons, Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s funky Inglewood community with its historic main street, Esker Gallery and new condo developments.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s Mission district or how Calgary’s Zoo and Telus Spark easily connect to our City Centre by LRT and pathways.  

Yes, I was impressed with how Edmonton has implemented its 2010 Downtown Plan which includes adding 12,200 new residential units by 2045.  To date an impressive 1500 new units have been completed and 858 are under construction with more proposed.

In Calgary one developer, Qualex Landmark alone has built 1300 units in the Beltline. Today, Calgary has a whopping 9,000+ residential units (75% of Edmonton’s goal) at various stages of development in its City Centre. 

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

Calgary & Edmonton both on the rise!

I am surprise at how a new arena can blind people into thinking Edmonton is booming and Calgary is declining because it doesn’t have one. For too long Calgary has measured the success of its downtown by the number of new office buildings and the number of people working downtown.  

A better measure of downtown revival is the number of new residential developments and the number of people choosing to live near the downtown core.  The fact the Beltline was the fastest growing community in Calgary last year and that there are several major residential developments under construction in our City Centre is testament to the fact Calgary’s downtown revival is on the rise, not decline. 

And, I am happy to report Edmonton’s downtown is also on the rise. In some cases Edmonton is ahead of Calgary when it comes to urban revival and in other cases Calgary is ahead of Edmonton.

Every city evolves in its own way.

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

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best river?

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

Condo Living: No Parking, No Problem

Could you live in Calgary without a car? I am not sure I could, but more and more Calgarians are doing so. With the introduction of Car2Go (Calgary has one of the highest number of Car2Go members in North America), Uber and Lime (bikes), the need for a car in Calgary is becoming less and less mandatory, if you live in the City Centre.  

Astute condo developers are noticing there is a niche market for condos with little or no parking.  

The Hat@7th has no parking, but the LRT is right outside your door, literally.

The Hat@7th has no parking, but the LRT is right outside your door, literally.

N3 Success

First it was the N3 condo in East Village, a 15-story tower with 167 units and no parking, by Knightsbridge Homes and Metropia that was completed in 2017. One of the big advantages of no parking is these units sell for about $50,000 less than competitors’ condos (i.e. the cost to build an underground park space - give or take $10,000.)  The idea of building a new condo with no parking was bold - it hadn’t happened in Vancouver or Toronto.

N3 captured the attention of urban planners across North America.  Would automobile-obsessed Calgarians really buy a condo with no parking?  The answer is Yes.

As Joe Starkman, President of Knightsbridge Homes said to me “I did my research and I was willing to gamble there were at least 167 Calgarians who wanted to live downtown and didn’t need a car. I was willing to take that risk.” 

But was N3 a unique situation, given it is so close to downtown, so close to LRT and plans were in place for a major retail centre (with grocery store and other everyday amenities) nearby?  

N3 condo in Calgary’s East Village is within easy walking distance to new Central library, LRT station, Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stampede Park, Stephen Avenue shopping and restaurants and the Bow River pathway. A new retail complex is currently under construction nearby that will have a major grocery store.

N3 condo in Calgary’s East Village is within easy walking distance to new Central library, LRT station, Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stampede Park, Stephen Avenue shopping and restaurants and the Bow River pathway. A new retail complex is currently under construction nearby that will have a major grocery store.

We are about to find out!

Bowman Development has announced The Nest in Mission, with 82 condos starting in the low $200’s.  Located at the corner of 18thAve and Macleod Trail SE, its residents will be within easy walking distance to the Erlton and Stampede LRT Stations, Stampede Park and Mission Safeway and other shops.  No need for an in-house workout room with the iconic Repsol Sport Centre literally a hop, skip and jump away.  You are also right on the Elbow River pathway system.  The units are small (415 to 556 square feet), but for true urbanites the community is their living room, dining room and kitchen.  At 15-storeys, many residents will have great views of downtown, the mountains and the Stampede fireworks.   

Over in Downtown West, Cidex is building the Hat @7th a 66-unit apartment building at 1116 7th Ave SW that’s expected to be completed in 2019. It too has no parking, however given its so close to the 11th Street LRT station and not far from the 8th Street station, who needs a car?  Living here gives you easy access to Bow River Promenade and walking to Kensington or West Beltline with their grocery stores and shops.  You can also play basketball or volleyball, or practise your skateboarding and BMX skills at Shaw Millennium Park. 

Bonus. Cidex’s West Village towers is also under construction just a few blocks away, with its 90,000 square feet of retail at the base - plenty of room for an urban grocery store and other shops to meet your everyday needs.  

Battistella designed it new Nude condo in the west Beltline with parking spots for only 60% of the units, thinking not everyone will want a parking spot.  So far, 85% of buyers have chosen to purchase a parking spot with their condo.  

Obviously, the early bird get the parking spot!

The Nest located on the Elbow River near Lindsay Park, Stampede Park and the Repsol Sports Centre will have less than 10 parking spots.

The Nest located on the Elbow River near Lindsay Park, Stampede Park and the Repsol Sports Centre will have less than 10 parking spots.

Nude (tallest building) will also have limited parking, but who cares when most of your everyday needs are within walking distance.

Nude (tallest building) will also have limited parking, but who cares when most of your everyday needs are within walking distance.

Last Word

More and more cities across North America are looking at allowing residential developers to build new condos without any parking or much less parking than would have been demanded in the past.  Calgary is leading the way, partly because it has one of the most walkable city centres in North America, perhaps the world.

Link: Caglary: The world’s most walkable city centre?

In the past, cities demanded developers include a minimum of one (and sometimes more) parking stalls per unit, as well as visitor parking, as neighbors didn’t want the newbies to take their street parking.  

But this is quickly changing, with Calgary ahead of the curve.

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the January 2019 edition of Condo Living magazine.

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

N3: No parking, No cars, No worries!

Hey Calgarians! You don’t own the parking in front of your house!

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in PARKades

Condo Living: The rise of single women

Recently a press release with the title “Single women powerful new consumers of Mission condos,” caught my attention.  Perhaps it was because my October Condo Living column was about four single women who loved condo living in the Beltline. 

Proposed new Matrix condo in Mission is courting single female buyers.

Proposed new Matrix condo in Mission is courting single female buyers.

Rise of women condo buyers

While most of my observations about urban living are anecdotal, the press release by dHz Media provided data about the rising importance of women in the home buying market across North America.

For example, in the USA, the National Association of Realtors, found single women bought 18 per cent of the homes sold in 2017, while single men only seven per cent.” 

Link: How single women are shaping the new housing market?

The release also pointed out that “In Canada, a survey with 800 respondents by Bond Brand Loyalty revealed women accounted for 49 per cent of all home purchases. And, Point2Homes a real estate market intelligence firm, analyzed six million online searches by potential homebuyers in Canada during a three-month period in 2016 and found the majority of searches were by women.”

I did some of my own internet surfing and sure enough there is lots of information (mostly from the USA) on how single females (not just millennials) are become the largest cohort of condo buyers. 

Several articles noted women often show a preference for condominiums rather than single-family homes for various reasons.  Condos are not only lower maintenance (no cutting grass, no snow shoveling etc.), but they are often found near shopping, restaurants and cafes. As well, condos often have more safety features than townhomes or a single family home.  

Other fun facts include that 65% of millennial women in the USA, had a steady job versus 53% for men. In Canada from 2006 to 2016, the number of women with a bachelor’s degree increased from 33% to 41%.  Banks like to give mortgages to people with degrees and steady jobs.  

Link: More Single Women Are Becoming First-Time Buyers

Another article based on a 2017 US survey on “adulting” found millennial women are more likely to become independent than men based on the fact 79% of millennial women have moved out of their parents’ house, but only 56% of men.  

The urban dictionary defines "adulting" as "when a young person takes on the responsibilities typically associated with being an adult - a permanent job, a mortgage, rent or a car payment.”

Kensington’s new condos are also very appealing to women buyers with its mix of boutiques, cafes, restaurants, access to LRT station, as well as to downtown and the Bow River pathway.

Kensington’s new condos are also very appealing to women buyers with its mix of boutiques, cafes, restaurants, access to LRT station, as well as to downtown and the Bow River pathway.

Back to Calgary

For Calgary developer Harold Sicherman, who has over 20 years of experience building condos in Mission, the rise of women home buyers is not a surprise. 

He experienced it first hand when 65% of the condos in his District condo (completed in 2015) were sold to single women 20 to 35 years of age. Sicherman has noticed increasingly “women are more confident buyers and they’re seeking condo-style homes in locations where they can walk to lots of amenities.”  This is exactly what I was told by my four female, key informants.

As a result, his marketing emphases things like walk score, access to restaurants, shops and cafes, as well as a amenities for pets.  I was surprised to find in my search single women spend three times as much on pets as men. 

He adds, “His latest project Matrix in Mission has all of the above amenities, as well as luxury bathroom and kitchen finishings and lots of storage, all meant to attract the woman buyer.”  I heard that some of the units might even come with a dog house!

Last Word

Indeed, home buying has changed significantly over the years.  My mom often tells the story of how my Dad bought their house in 1954, without even consulting her. She lived in the house for over 50 years and it was only after he passed away and she sold the house that she confessed “she never liked the house.”  

More than ever women are influencing the design of cities, which reminded of a David Feehan’s guest blog back in 2014. Link: Design Downtown for women and men will follow.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the January 2019 edition of Condo Living Magazine.

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

Women, In Condos, Drinking Wine

21st Century: Century of the condo?

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think