17th Avenue bars hope Calgary Flames playoff run can light a fire under their businesses

City of Calgary's tax shift from downtown has made things even harder Beltline businesses

Fans are gearing up for Calgary Flames action at Trolley 5 pub on 17 Avenue. Owners are optimistic a deep run could help offset the tax shift in the city, even if it is for a short time. AZIN GHAFFARI / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

As the Calgary Flames embark on their most promising playoff run in years, some 17th Avenue bars are hoping that the team can breathe new life into their struggling industry.

Jeff Beddoes is managing partner of St. James Corner, situated a few blocks from the Scotiabank Saddledome. He says the Flames’ first-place team could not have come at a better time.

“It’s kind of the perfect storm for businesses such as mine, and restaurants in particular, we can’t catch a break on anything,” said Beddoes.

“It’s been a massive, massive struggle. We need a bit of goodness.”

Calgary’s rough economic times, and particularly the tax burden shifting from downtown properties to restaurants like St. James, mean the Flames could be a boon.

The City of Calgary estimates that more than half of non-residential properties will be taxed more than 10 per cent more from last year, with more than $250 million redistributed from vacant downtown properties.

Sarmad Risvi, partner with sports bar Home & Away, said that the bar’s property taxes had increased “100 per cent over the last few years.”

“17th Avenue has been hit especially hard with the downturn of the economy. 17th Avenue currently has a 36 per cent vacancy rate,” said Risvi.

“[A] Flames run would be monumental for the health of all businesses along 17th Avenue, that can’t be understated.”

As a sports bar, Home & Away draws most of its business from game days of various sports, but a playoff run is “like nothing else,” according to Risvi.

“The energy in the city is electric, and we want to provide a fun place for Calgarians to make their playoff memories. We expect to be full for the whole day on gamedays.”

Although St. James is an Irish pub not reaping the same benefits as a sports bar, Beddoes said the team continuing to win could mean their crowd becomes like one.

“We don’t typically fill up for away games. When the Flames are winning in the playoffs? That changes,” Beddoes said.

If they’re winning, the momentum’s there – home or away, we have a great crowd.

“Typically, we get a really strong pre-and-post-game, for any of the games, and then playoff games, it only gets better – provided we win.”

Ernie Tsu, owner of brewpub Trolley 5, was more cautiously optimistic.

“It’s obviously going to be a good business boost for everyone on 17th Avenue, especially because of the Red Mile,” Tsu said.

But Tsu said that it would be more of a “temporary boost” that would not offset the tax burden.

The team’s last playoff appearance was a disappointing four-game sweep in 2017 at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. Beddoes said that St. James’ crowd was only “OK” for that brief appearance.

“[Trolley 5] won’t be able to feel that until the first playoff game; they haven’t been in for two years,” said Tsu.

“It’ll be an increase; we just don’t know how much.”

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