Major development proposal could transform Stephen Avenue block

A developer has submitted plans to the City of Calgary for a major redevelopment project on Stephen Avenue that could affect several heritage sites. 

Dubbed Stephen Avenue Quarter, the multi-phase proposal submitted by development firm Triovest includes plans for office and residential towers, retail space and a hotel. 

One proposed high-rise would be 66 stories, making it the tallest building in Calgary.

The project would transform the block between Centre Street and 1st Street S.W., and Stephen Avenue and 7th Avenue. 

The area’s councillor Terry Wong said the proposal is a positive step for the city, and would help assist with downtown revitalization efforts. 

“The opportunity that this particular project will bring to us will help to raise the confidence level, both of local Calgarians but also industry across Canada, that Calgary is a thriving place and a place that we want to invite them to do business with us,” said Wong. 

Historic buildings affected

While the proposal is still in its early stages, some are concerned about the impact it may have on the block’s heritage buildings. 

There are a total of 17 historically significant sites present in the redevelopment area, seven of which are legally protected under heritage designations from both municipal and provincial governments. 

The proposal outlines that just two of these sites would not be incorporated into the project — the Bank of Montreal building and the Central United Church. 

Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary, said more details of the project are needed to fully understand how the remaining heritage sites could be affected. 

“There’s still lots of unanswered questions, especially around the seven sites that are designated as to how they fit in with the overall development for this parcel,” said Traptow. 

Traptow is concerned that any major changes made to buildings with legal protection under heritage designations could set a precedent for future developments. 

“The whole point of designation is for buildings to not be demolished or significantly altered. So does that mean that they’re going to be requesting that the city rescind that designation, that they’ll be asking the province to rescind that designation?” 

Chris Edwards,  president and co-founder of Calgary Heritage Initiative Society, said that while the city has been moving in the right direction to ensure the preservation of historical buildings, he’s uncertain whether the proposed Stephen Avenue redevelopment is the right move for Calgary’s downtown. 

“You have a downtown core that is universally considered to have two huge problems, a lack of activity due to being essentially a giant office park … [and] an oversupply of office space,” said Edwards. 

“One of the exceptions to that is [Stephen Avenue], a small, vibrant, national historical district. For me personally, in that sphere, I wouldn’t be looking to tear down the heart of that district and replace it with more office buildings.” 

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that any private investment in Calgary’s downtown should be seriously considered, and that she was looking forward to exploring the project further.

“I think any time we have a major application come to us regarding our downtown, it is absolutely a sign of faith that we are in recovery mode when we invest in ourselves as our city has done.” 

The Calgary Planning Commission will examine the proposal from Triovest before passing it on to city council. 

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