Locals look to play key role in revitalizing Calgary’s struggling downtown

The City of Calgary and economic experts continue to grapple with strategies to bring investment back into the city’s downtown core, but several people who live in the area feel community and identity will be factors in the recovery.

There are more than 8,500 people living in more than 40 apartment buildings in the downtown commercial core, an area spanning from 9 Street S.W. to 3 Street S.E. and from the CPR train tracks to Third Avenue S.W.

To the surprise of University of Calgary researcher and downtown resident Paul Fairie, the area does not have a community association.

Fairie tweeted to gauge interest in the creation of a community association in the core.

“If you look at other community associations, they do lots of great things,” Fairie said. “They organize events and bring neighbours together to build some sort of sense of community. City Hall also uses community associations to seek feedback when there’s development projects in their area.”

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Fairie said business feedback is often given greater focus than that of residents in the downtown core.

Ward 3 city councillor Jyoti Gondek agreed those living in the downtown core can be overlooked as the city works to address a vacancy rate hovering around 30 per cent.

Read more: New report suggests solutions for Calgary’s ‘office vacancy crisis’

“There’s a very diverse population that lives downtown, and I think we sometimes forget that,” Gondek said. “We get so fixated on the office towers, but forget about the people.”

Gondek, who serves as chair of the city’s standing policy committee on planning and urban development, said the downtown recovery will be a “multi-pronged” approach.  She added the feedback from residents will be essential in determining what strategies are successful.

“What can we do to make it easier to provide a mixed use environment where people actually want to be and stay,” Gondek said. “There’s also going to need to be a significant financial investment, and I know that as city council we will be absolutely committed to finding the dollars that are needed.”

Meanwhile, just south of the CPR tracks, The Blox YYC has its focus on creating an identity and culture around the downtown core.

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It’s an initiative developed by the Beltline Business Improvement Area to promote businesses, experiences and opportunities in the area.

“I think people want to be part of something,” Blox creator Adrian Urlacher told Global News. “Everybody wants to be part of something that everyone is a part of so if we can create something that people are excited about, it’s going to translate to our businesses.”

As the effort continues to fill the office towers in the area, Urlacher said the recovery begins with vibrancy, and engaging residents in the community to interact with local destinations and businesses.

“If we can create an identity for this area, businesses are going to be more likely to come here,” Urlacher said. “If we can show some vibrancy, they’re going to be more likely to come here; so what we’re going to try and do is create that image for everybody to be attracted to our zone.”

Read more: Calgary to spend $43M to help local businesses

According to CEO of Calgary Economic Development Mary Moran, vibrancy will be a key factor in the recovery of the downtown core, adding that there isn’t a one size fits all solution.

“We have to have help grow companies here, the tech ecosystem and other fast growing companies in other industries,” Moran said. “Can we get more people living and and working in downtown? Because…vibrancy has been an issue for many, many, many years in Calgary.”

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Moran said efforts to revitalize a downtown core can take between 10 and 20 years, and Calgary is currently in the seventh year of its plan.

Calgary Economic Development has been focused on attracting tech companies, financial services, and agriculture organizations, as well as companies that focus on environmental sustainable goals.

“We’re focusing on the sectors we’re good at and the sub sectors that are affected by technology,” Moran said. “We’re going to be known for much more than what we’ve been known for in the past.”

While there have been promising rebounds in the oil and gas sector, Moran said the city must continue to look at enterprise zones for knowledge-based industries, office tower to residential conversion, and affordable housing.

According to officials, the City of Calgary’s downtown strategy will focus on planning and development for residential, recreation, tourism and business in the downtown core moving forward.

The strategy is set to be discussed at a city committee in April.

(There’s) lots of stuff going on in downtown between eight and five, Monday to Friday for the most part,” Fairie said. “Wouldn’t it be great if there was more stuff geared towards the 8,500 people who live in the community after five.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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