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Advocates endorse latest plan for Calgary’s Downtown West

There’s a renewed vision for Calgary’s Downtown West End, a staged plan that has instilled hope an area ripe for redevelopment realizes that potential.

The plan, released Monday, was a partnership between the Calgary Downtown Association, Stantec and the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. A session was held over three days in October 2022, bringing together the community, local officials, industry experts and other neighbourhood advocates.

It resulted in a 78-page plan that identified numerous short, medium and long-term projects that could rejuvenate the area. They scored different projects that had been included in a handful of reports, including three city documents: The Calgary Greater Downtown Plan, the Downtown West Revitalization Strategy and the City Centre Urban Design Guidelines.

“The City and the community has studied Downtown West for many years but now is the time to take direct action,” the report reads.

“While there is no one perfect solution to transforming Downtown West into a resilient, adaptable, welcoming community, this report helps advance specific implementation options informed by the deep knowledge of local residents and groups and urban experts with a wide range of experience in urban revitalization.

Mark Garner, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, said that residential intensity is a key priority.

“I think it’s just another piece of the puzzle of everything that needs to happen to bring economics to the downtown again,” Garner said.

“The time is now to start focusing on what are the needs of a great neighbourhood and the opportunity that downtown Calgary has.”

Downtown West ARP work is 10 years old

The Downtown West Area Redevelopment Plan began back in 2013. According to the City of Calgary’s website, the plan was apparently never finished or approved. There’s also a West Village redevelopment plan on the books.

There have been a number of roadblocks, including a potential CalgaryNext project that never came to fruition, contaminated land, plus references to a downtown parking strategy and a road network alignment. Now, there’s a Green Line to contend with.

That’s in stark contrast to a relatively successful execution of an East Village redevelopment just across the downtown. Albeit different circumstances.

Garner said timing likely has factored into the Downtown West area not taking root as quickly as the East Village. Now’s the time to move forward on a plan, he said.

Sarah Itani, vice president of development at Cidex Group of Companies, said that what the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) and City of Calgary have done with the East Village is a great blueprint for what could happen on the west side.

“We were lucky to be in there early and see the true potential rise from a part of the city that didn’t have much vibrancy, to the amazing hub that it is today,” she said.

“I think this end of the city has even more potential than the East End.”

Itani said that the work done in the report shows that there’s immense potential in the area.

“We’ve been very supportive of the recommendations that have come out in this report that point to both the opportunity we have, as well as learnings and collaborations needed to make it successful and impactful,” she said.

Quick wins build momentum for the long-term

The report calls for quick wins, from simple food truck days to a more complex mural program and street closures for events. They envision added green space, improved public transit and connectivity, and an area rebranding.

Itani said these quick wins are essential to generate and then maintain momentum around the area.

“Quick wins are always good because they let people celebrate important milestones, they create moments of importance and significance,” she said.

Still, having a long-term vision is key for the area.

“There is a long-term plan here that’s needed. Development doesn’t happen overnight; communities don’t get built overnight. They collaborate long-term,” Itani said.

“So, the short-term, easy, low-hanging fruit, so to speak, is super important to gain momentum and establish importance, but we also need to look at the medium- and long-term vision to really see the true success.”

Garner said that for the west side of Calgary’s downtown to see real reinvention, investments must be made.

“There’s not enough amenities to support the intensification. So, we need a retail attraction strategy. We need the ongoing investments on the River Walk, we need the 11th Street underpass, we need all these economic focuses to bring this West End to fruition and it’s got to be done in parallel,” he said.  

“It can’t just be we’re going to work on this one project and then we’re going to work on the next project. It’s an accumulation of all those things going on at the same time.”

2023 Calgary Downtown West Report by Darren Krause on Scribd