Calgary’s planning commission approved the development permit for the Event Centre Thursday, after going through scrutiny on public integration, commercial opportunities and sustainability.
The development permit is the planning step required before construction can begin. It outlines specific requirements that must be met for the building to proceed.
It’s one of the last steps before ground-breaking on the $600 million project. It was approved 8-0.
Questions about the perceived lack of inspiration in the design were also a subject of debate. The renderings of the proposed Event Centre have been derided as being lacklustre. The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association also raised concerns this week.
Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal, who sits on the Calgary Planning Commission, said when he first came to Calgary, the first building he saw was the iconic Saddledome. He said he asked about the meaning of the building and citizens told him it was a nod to Western heritage.
He asked what’s been done to have Calgary reflected in this design.
Calgary’s Chief Urban Designer, David Down, said this building was less about creating an iconic building and more about creating an important contextual area.
“I think that this is reflective of the new attitude towards how we are building these neighbourhoods within the city,” he said.
“The integrated neighbourhoods, neighborhoods that are diverse and hopefully attractive to everyone. Inclusive.”
The design team from Dialog, also reiterated this. They talked about the ribbon representing the rivers, the arches representing Chinooks, and how it was meant to work within the surroundings.
“We very deliberately, at the outset, chose not to design an object building and to create a context building,” said Dialog architect Doug Cinnamon.
Both the architect and city admin said it was a complex project, on a restricted site, with a defined budget.
Critics have taken aim at the building’s sustainability. Earlier in the week, the City of Calgary declared a climate emergency.
Joshua Ross, senior planner with the City of Calgary, said the building exceeds current City of Calgary sustainability requirements.
“Furthermore, with the climate emergency, what was noted there (was) talk about carbon neutrality by 2050,” Ross said.
“Here, we’re looking at a target date of 2035, which is more aggressive. And I think that’s important to note as well.”
They’re aiming for at least silver LEED level for sustainability.
Commissioner Chris Pollen asked if the recent climate declaration should change the way the building design is done.
Hugo Haley, the City of Calgary’s climate specialist on the project, reiterated the 2035 goal for being net zero.
“That’s why we have a follow-up set of conditions here that we’re going to dig into those clear pathways to take this already very well-performing building to kind of the next level,” he said.
During the debate, Coun. Dhaliwal said he was concerned about the lack of an evaluation process around meeting the climate targets.
“I haven’t seen any parameters that are going to give Calgarians a sense of yes, definitely, this structure is going to be helping with us moving forward with our announcement on a climate emergency,” he said.
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong asked what assurances were there that the building integrates with its surroundings.
He was told that one of the driving factors behind the building was a vibrant community.
Ross said that the building is not intended to be a standalone object building. They intended for it to be a building that fits into the context. The key is in the activation of the plaza spaces.
“The location of the plazas, what it will contribute to the public realm, those all have been thought about very carefully,” he said.
Citizen commissioner Joel Tiedemann said he wasn’t as concerned about the building’s architecture being iconic.
“I think if you change the look of the building, it’ll be iconic to one person and not to another. That’s really going to be in the eye of the beholder,” he said.
“It’s more about the interaction and less about the actual look for me at this point.”
Commissioner Pollen asked about consultation with Indigenous leaders and how the area reflects our past.
Ross said that the city’s Indigenous relations strategist Harold Horsefall was actively involved in determining what was appropriate for the area. They talked about the elements and where they would be located.
“That’s where the idea for the East Rise Plaza really came about… on the east side of the building and has cultural significance due to the rising of the sun at that location,” Ross said.
One of the prior-to-release conditions was to engage in a long-term strategy to ensure proper representation was done. The architect has also engaged an outside consulting firm to look at Indigenous aspects of the Event Centre project.
Coun. Dhaliwal put forward a set of recommendations that sent it back to administration for more work. He wanted to address the Indigenous commitment of the site, climate targets and making sure that it was accessible to all.
He was backed by Commissioner Pollen.
Pollen said he still has concerns that haven’t been fully addressed yet. He was particularly concerned with it not being the building that was promised to Calgarians, nor is it a building for all Calgarians.
“I’m not convinced right now, that families, small businesses, non-event goers, how they benefit,” he said.
“I see how event-goers, how those who have season tickets or can afford concert tickets will benefit. I see how the Flames will benefit, I see how the Stampede will benefit but I can’t see how small business benefits right now or how it will achieve the overall economic goals of the River District master plan,” he said.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that many of the items brought forward in Dhaliwal’s recommendations were already addressed in the “prior to release (PTR) conditions.” This was a 15-page document with 76 conditions before the release.
Rob Adamson of Dialog, agreed.
“In fact, all of those elements are in the PTRs and we fully intend to address all of those in the timeframes that we’ve talked about today,” he said.
The referral was defeated.