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NDP pledges $200 million for downtown post-secondary campus conversion project

The Alberta NDP said they’d commit $200 million in capital cash for a downtown Calgary post-secondary campus, if elected.

NDP leader Rachel Notley, along with candidate David Eggen and a host of other NDP candidates gathered at an outdoor patio at the Telus Convention Centre to make the announcement Monday.

Notley talked about some of the challenges in the downtown with safety. The NDP said on Sunday they’d add more police officers to Calgary and Edmonton, along with funding for social support workers.

“But we also need to bring more people downtown and it’s become abundantly clear that an incredible opportunity exists to do that through the establishment of a downtown post-secondary campus,” Notley said.

“This campus would support the creation of an innovation district that brings post-secondary entrepreneurs, start-ups, business incubators and accelerators together to facilitate collaboration and innovation.”

The City of Calgary recently opened up its downtown office conversion funding program to post-secondary schools. Calgary’s downtown strategy calls for the inclusion of post-secondary as a part of the revitalization.

When Mayor Jyoti Gondek spoke with the media about the provincial budget on Feb. 28, she said she was hoping to see funding for post-secondary conversions.

“We had asked for money for post-secondary institutions as part of the conversion project. We had also asked if they could potentially consider matching our conversion funding. None of that seems to have taken place in this budget,” she said.

In a media conference in March, Premier Danielle Smith said she knew the city was keen to examine post-secondary in downtown.

“While that’s a great idea, we just haven’t received any requests for proposals for that,” she said. She added they would welcome any proposals.

Smith said it was the perfect use because there likely wouldn’t be as much change needed to buildings as a residential conversion would.

Helps the downtown vibrancy, and creates post-secondary spaces, Eggen said

Eggen said that there will be 60,000 students entering post-secondary by 2030, including more than 25,000 in Calgary.  

They’d been engaging with different Alberta post-secondaries since December, he said, to collaborate on potential downtown post-secondary sites.

“There is a desperate need to build more post-secondary spaces in order to accommodate for all of these future leaders,” Eggen said.

“We can use the empty space downtown to create these spaces quickly.”

Once those students are down there, it creates vibrancy and supports economic growth in the area, he said.  He said it makes sense.

“And yet, the UCP is nowhere to be seen on this issue,” Eggen said.

Notley said the $200 million figure comes from recent planned expansions of the Concordia and MacEwan University campuses in Edmonton.

She also said they would help fund Calgary’s downtown office-to-residential conversion program. That’s something the city’s asked for from the provincial government.

Notley said, if elected, they would convene a task force within three to six months to address the campus plan. Then work would go into planning she said.

“Depending on the degree to which we’re using pre-existing office space that you could potentially see work commencing in the following year,” she said.

In last year’s provincial budget, the UCP provided $5 million for a variety of vibrancy and programmatic-related items. There was no specific money for the downtown revitalization in this year’s budget.

The province has made several investments over the past number of months on public safety, housing, addictions and mental health treatment that have been geared towards cleaning up downtown.