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Not just about design: Stephen Avenue Walk transformation

Stephen Avenue Walk’s transformation is more than just design changes, said Marco De Iaco, Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association.

The rethink of the long-time downtown Calgary pedestrian strip is about shaping a future core that’s vibrant, economically diverse and delivers the amenities people need in order to choose it as a destination, or even as a place to live.

“In order to do that we have to create amenities and shape a downtown that’s attractive to Calgarians not only to live, but to visit from the suburbs. It has to be attractive to tourists and also has to be attractive to further private sector investment that will create those amenities and those experiences that are attractive to those audiences.

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“It’s a far more comprehensive exercise than just investing in the physical infrastructure trying to beautify a street landscape.”

The City of Calgary is hosting pop-up public engagement locations until Friday to find out what each population segment – citizens, businesses, tourists, residents – are looking for in the area.

They have a storefront location open from 12 – 2 p.m. at 120 – 8 Avenue SW Dec. 5, and it will be open again Friday (Dec. 6) from 12 to 4 p.m.

Stephen Avenue street front vacancy a problem: De Iaco

De Iaco said Stephen Avenue has the second highest vacancy rate among street front areas in Calgary at 10 per cent. He said it’s an increase of 50 per cent from 2015.

The plan moving forward, said De Iaco, must be around defining the experience they want people to have along Stephen Avenue and then putting together a strategic plan to execute it. He said it needs to include everything from design to programming to managing social disorder in the area.

“As our economy is reinventing itself, and, companies are doing more with less and still trying to attract and retain talent, how do we create a downtown environment that’s attracted to the modern worker and to the creative class,” De Iaco said.

“At the very least, we can all agree that helping downtown to become more vibrant, more interesting, a better experience is beneficial – certainly for the businesses that remain downtown but also for Calgarians and visitors alike.”

Building an area that puts people in it

People play a large role in creating that vibrancy, and De Iaco also recognized that providing more residential opportunities in the immediate area are a big part of the conversation.

“I think that also needs to be contemplated here as much as anything. You can’t have people living downtown if there’s if there’s no supply,” he said.

“If you have demand for downtown residential, you need development of those residential units.”

A Stephen Avenue for the long term

Stephen Avenue has gone through different transformations over the years.

When asked about making this next iteration something for tomorrow and not today, he said it was essential.

“This is not a short-term exercise,” De Iaco said, adding that there needs to be a rigorous amount of analysis and research done to develop the right approach.

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“We need to think long term and we need to not be quick to make decisions on the future of Stephen Avenue. It would be irresponsible if we weren’t thinking of the next 20 or 30 years.”

Here’s where you can find more information on the Stephen Avenue Walk transformation project.