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Five new downtown Calgary conversion projects set to begin

Calgary will welcome five more downtown office-to-residential conversions, taking another 500,000 square feet of office space out of the commercial market.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, along with the Director of Calgary’s Downtown Strategy, Thom Mahler, made the announcement Wednesday at the Alberta Hotel Building, where a downtown strategy open house is being hosted this week.

 The five projects, listed below, are in the downtown west end are expected to add 430 units, providing housing for more than 1,000 Calgarians.

  • Taylor Building (805 8 Avenue SW) – Cressey Developments
  • Petro Fina Building (736 8 Avenue SW) – People First Development Company
  • Eau Claire Place I (525 3 Avenue SW) – Cidex Group of Companies
  • Eau Claire Place II (521 3 Avenue SW) – Pacific Reach Properties
  • The Loft (744 4 Avenue SW) – Institutional Mortgage Capital

“Downtown is the confluence of who we are and who we want to be,” said Mahler.  

“It’s Calgary’s spirit and optimism looking forward with pride and a plan to the future.”

Mayor Gondek said that the city is well on its way to reaching the goal of removing six million square feet of office space from the downtown. The 10 projects now approved will remove 1.35 million square feet. Those 10 projects will create 1,420 homes, the city said.

“Every time I speak about downtown revitalization, I come back to the same point,” she said.

“Investment in our downtown core is absolutely paramount to the success of our city.”

The forefront of transformation: Olshevsky

Max Olshevsky, director of PeopleFirst Developments, who are on now taking on their second conversion, said Calgary’s overall outlook has changed. More conservative values are changing, and along with that more creative thinking. The City of Calgary is at the forefront of that transformation.

“A really good example of creative thinking is the incentive program that was established by the City of Calgary,” he said.  

“This incentive program makes projects like these viable, possible and this is just an example of one.”

Sarah Itani, with Cidex Group of Companies, also taking on their second conversion, said that the collaboration involved with these projects is key. She recalled a story she worked on as an intern at a local news outlet on public-private partnerships.  At the time, she was surprised that the success stories of these were found in Calgary.

Itani isn’t so surprised today.

“It is no surprise that we are yet again here today talking about public-private collaborations and they are really at the forefront of success and innovation,” she said.

“That kind of spirit has been in everything that the city has done to get us to this point today.

We succeed and we are stronger together when we partner.”

Mahler said these latest building choices are a reflection of a 50s to 70s-era in Calgary and are considered easier for conversions.

Continued funding for the conversion program

Mahler said there’s still $18 million left in the downtown office conversion program. There are still four more conversions in the works, awaiting approval.

“We are definitely getting close to running out of money,” he said.

“That’s why we do have requests to the provincial government and we’re working with the federal government and other avenues for funding.”

The mayor had pointed out earlier in the program that thus far there’s been in investment of $86 million on the city’s part. That’s resulted in $189 million in private investment.

The Alberta NDP has committed to matching City of Calgary conversion funding. The UCP has remained steadfast in improving business conditions to help stimulate a return of vibrancy to the downtown.

Last November, the Calgary city council approved an amendment that saw an additional $40 million from the city’s real estate services reserve to continue funding the downtown work.

Since a comment from Premier Danielle Smith earlier this year about the conversion cash going to Toronto-based Real Estate Investment Trusts, there have been further conversations about the work going on locally.

“I think it’s a different understanding of the situation,” said Mayor Gondek.

“Now we can see that there’s a lot of local good that comes from this project.”

Mayor Gondek said that it’s possible that Calgary city council could be asked for another top up.

“It’s possible. We rely on our experts within administration, especially the downtown strategy team, to come back to us with ideas and that may well be one of them,” she said.