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Calgary pauses intake for downtown office conversion program

Calgary has paused new applications for its downtown incentive program as existing applications already exceed the available funding.

The City of Calgary said Thursday there are currently 13 approved projects in the pipeline and four additional projects in the review process. There has been $153 million in city cash committed to the program over the past couple of years.

The Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program offered a grant of $75 per square foot for office to residential, hotel, school and performing arts centre conversions, based on the original building area and existing office space that will be converted. Projects were eligible for up to $15 million approved by administration. Projects with a grant value more than that required council approval.  

“We plan on using this time to better align the program with the City’s commitment to accelerate the development of more student, market and non-market housing, while also encouraging further private investment in Calgary’s downtown,” said Sheryl McMullen, Manager of Investment & Marketing for Downtown Strategy.

“We have 17 projects in the program pipeline and are pursuing additional funding to support many more strong projects in the near future.”

Councillors and the mayor have advocated since the start for the province to kick in matching funding to help continue the downtown conversion program. While the Alberta government has provided millions in other downtown support, they haven’t yet funded downtown office conversions.

If all of the current projects are approved and completed, it will create more than 2,300 more homes in downtown Calgary and remove 2.3 million square feet of downtown office space from the market. The city has a goal of removing 6 million square feet of office space by 2031.

Align with the new housing strategy

On Sept. 16, the City of Calgary approved its new housing strategy. The City said that they will update the terms of reference for this program to better reflect the contents of that strategy.

It will focus on market, non-market, affordable, inclusive and student housing in the downtown, they said. They expect the program will re-open for applications once the new terms of reference are complete and when additional funding is available.

Calgary Downtown Association executive director Mark Garner said it’s been a “wildly successful” program. Still, there’s a great need for more housing in the downtown.

“There is a desperate need for new housing in our city, there are buildings available, and there are developers that want to do the work,” he said.

“Calgary has been recognized across North America for our investment in downtown office conversions. We are leaders in the space.”

Like a chorus of others, Garner also said this program needs continued support from other orders of government.

“It is important for the province and the feds to help keep this program going in order to support the need for housing and to keep our downtowns diverse and vibrant,” he said.

The pause in applications for this program does not impact the Post Secondary Institution and Demolition incentive programs the city has in place. Further, the city encourages developers to continue conversations with them to ensure that when new funding is available, there are projects ready to put into the pipeline.