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Province has ‘different policy levers’ to help ailing downtown Calgary

While it’s a bit surprising a City of Calgary member isn’t on the province’s newly-formed downtown task force, one city councillor says this group could be very helpful.

On Tuesday, the province announced the Calgary Office Revitalization and Expansion (CORE) working group. The panel, chaired by Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, was put together to help determine the best path forward to fill office towers and improve vibrancy in the area, according to a statement released Tuesday.

“A thriving downtown core sends a strong signal to Calgarians, industry and outside investors that Alberta is where you want to do business,” said Minister Schweitzer.

“I look forward to seeing this working group’s recommendations on how we can take advantage of the many opportunities that exist for Calgary’s downtown core.”

The panel of 12 represents a broad range of sectors with a stake in the downtown’s success.

Just none from the City of Calgary itself.

But that’s OK, said Coun. Druh Farrell, who spearheaded the effort to create the city’s Greater Downtown Plan. That plan was approved at council in April, along with $200 million in seed money.

“The membership is excellent. Really smart people there who were involved with the development of the city’s plan,” Farrell said.

Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan envisions the transformation to a residential and tourist destination. It would add more amenities for residents and evolve away from it being geared an 8-to-5 crowd.

Province can provide more help to an ailing downtown

Justin Brattinga, press secretary to Minister Schweitzer said they’re mindful of the fact city council may look very different in a few months.  The city’s municipal election is October 18, and more than half of the council seats, and the mayors chair are up for grabs.

“We’re going to work with the City of Calgary to obtain their perspective and consult with them as we move through the process,” Brattinga wrote in an email response.

“The province has a different perspective from the City and different policy levers at our disposal.”

Coun. Farrell said the province could be a very helpful ally in breathing life into downtown Calgary. She said they could provide additional incentives for office conversions, fund a new downtown elementary school, or subsidize energy retrofits for downtown buildings. They could also help fund the creation of affordable housing in the area.

“There are many areas where the province could play,” she said.

“And we want that we want to make sure that we’re all moving forward with the same goal. This can’t be a competition. It has to be a partnership.”

Brattinga said the city will be an important stakeholder in the conversation. They haven’t given the city’s downtown plan two-thumbs up yet, but they’re going to look at it.

“We are not endorsing the City’s plan until the working group has had a chance to assess its viability, however we will be consulting with the City heavily in order to see where there is alignment,” Brattinga wrote.

Draw on city experience

The province could be a key player in the downtown, Farrell said. The problems of Calgary’s downtown are too big to go alone. 

She hopes the province sees it that way, too. For too long different groups have been working in silos and the city’s downtown has languished.

“We have a huge amount of experience, because we will be working on this plan for some time and we have an intimate understanding of the problem and the solution,” she said.

“I hope they are able to work with us in achieving a common goal.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Nenshi said they’re going to do what they can to make sure this “doesn’t go to cross purpose.”

He said that in response to a question on Calgary’s oil and gas contribution to the rejuvenation of the downtown core. There were no energy company members appointed to the working group.

“I believe that the energy sector has a solid future, and that it’s going to be an important part of downtown Calgary for a long long time to come,” he said.

He said he understands why the province didn’t think of more traditional tenants in terms of membership.

Town halls will be held over the spring and summer months, according to a provincial release.

A report on their findings is expected Sept. 30.

Working group members

  • Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation (co-chair)
  • Nicholas Milliken, MLA for Calgary-Currie (co-chair)
  • Desiree Bombenon, vice-chair, Calgary Chamber Board of Directors
  • John Brown, dean, University of Calgary School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape
  • Greg Guatto, president & CEO, Aspen Properties
  • Abed Itani, CEO, Cidex Developments
  • Martina Jileckova, CEO, Horizon Housing
  • Patricia Jones, president & CEO, Calgary Homeless Foundation
  • Adam Legge, president, Business Council of Alberta
  • Andrew Mosker, president & CEO, National Music Centre
  • Bobbie Racette, founder & CEO, Virtual Gurus
  • Terry Rock, president & CEO, Platform Calgary