Construction began in earnest on the restoration and conversion of the Barron Building, one of Calgary’s first downtown skyscrapers.
The Strategic Group officially launched the $100 million, 118-unit office-to-residential conversion of the 1951 building at an event Wednesday inside the 6 Street – 8 Avenue SW location.
“The rebirth of this beautiful and historic art deco building has been a passion project of ours since we acquired the building 15 years ago,” said Strategic Group CEO Riaz Mamdani.
Mamdani said at one point they were going to build a skyscraper over top of the now-heritage designated building. He said it’s the same sort of vision that J.B. Barron had when it first opened as a multi-use location.
Mamdani said they shared “the vision of Mr. Barron when, in the late 1940s, he designed this building, delivered in 1951 as a theater, and a vacant office building, Calgary’s first skyscraper, the largest office building in Calgary.”
“That’s vision. That’s the long game.”
The City of Calgary will contribute $8.5 million through its downtown office conversion fund. When complete in 2024, the building will have 100,688 square feet of residential space and 8,580 square feet of retail.
“This is yet more evidence that our downtown revitalization strategy is working, and it remains critical to seeing assessed property values continue to rise,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said at the event.
“The fact that our incentive program has been oversubscribed, since its inception, is further proof that investment in downtown as a city has sent clear signals to private sector partners that Calgary will be strong into the future because we believe in ourselves.”
Heritage preservation and the environment
There are plans to preserve certain portions of the 11-storey building after it received municipal historic resource designation last December.
According to Strategic Group Senior Vice President, Development, Ken Toews, they will preserve the outer façade of the building, along with the wraparound sections on the east and west exteriors. They will also be protecting the terrazzo tile flooring in the lobby area that carries the initials B.B. (Barron Building).
“There’s going to be a lot of work, a lot of effort in putting the restoration together,” said Toews.
Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary said when built in 1951, the building anchored Calgary as the province’s oil and gas capitol. It housed early oil companies like Shell and British Petroleum, before they went on to build their own skyscrapers.
He also said Barron had a love of the arts.
“That’s why the Uptown Theater was also here. It was kind of that first example of mixed-use of arts and culture, commercial, and then retail bays on the main floor as well,” Traptow said.
Traptow said he’s been working on this project for nearly 10 years, both with Heritage Calgary and his time as a city employee. Elements he noted for preservation were the limestone façade, the fenestrations, the 11th-floor penthouse and the tile motifs.
“Seeing this conversion and the building largely staying intact from the exterior as part of this conversion is a great thing to see,” he said.
Traptow believes this will be a catalyst for the conversion of other historic properties in Calgary’s downtown. He said there are other, modern-style buildings that are ripe for conversion.
“It shows that heritage can be seen as an asset,” he said.
Toews also noted that the conversion project will prevent 4,175 tons of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere and reduce landfill material by 11,000 tones.
Further boost for the downtown
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said this building’s refurbishing is a great step for the downtown, particularly the west side. He said it’s not just about filling buildings, though.
“It’s also about leveraging our downtown west side as a destination,” he said.
He was also happy to see the heritage aspects preserved.
“I think most Calgarians will recognize heritage is not just the skin of a building. Heritage is actually the bones of the building,” Wong said.
The councillor said it’s important, especially as a young city, to know where you came from and understand the history, so you know where you want to go in the future.
On Tuesday, city council moved ahead with their plans to expand the downtown development incentive program to include conversion to hotels, schools and performing arts spaces. The internal threshold for approvals was also raised from $10 million to $15 million. They also set aside $3 million to help with demolition.
Mayor Gondek said the downtown conversion process was moving along well. She said the city is two years into a 10-year plan and already 1/3 of the six million square feet of space they need converted is underway, or complete.
“We have got some buildings that are ready to go for residents very soon,” she said.
“We’ve got one that is affordable housing, including shelter space and childcare space that is now open to residents. So, we’re moving along quite well.”
The Strategic Group said that they’ve done demolition and excavation work over the past two years to allow for a parkade and to prep the building for construction.