Province pens report for downtown Calgary revitalization

Another strategy document designed to revitalize Calgary’s flagging downtown core was published on Tuesday by the provincial government.

The report from the province’s Calgary Office Revitalization and Expansion working group identified four “key priorities” for the city’s downtown: incentivizing development, improving vibrancy, developing economic and demographic diversity and improving safety.

Co-chaired by Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer and Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken, the group included representation from the real estate sector, post-secondary institutions, cultural groups and organizations that help with the city’s homeless.

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The report advised actions ranging from striking task forces, improving funding and incentives for affordable housing, working with post-secondary institutions to bring more campuses downtown and exploring changes to regulations around things like fundraising and revenues.

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Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she spoke with Schweitzer Tuesday morning about the working group’s report.

“It was very encouraging to see that the group that they engaged echoed a lot of the things that the city had already said in our downtown strategy,” she told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

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She was especially pleased to receive the working group’s endorsement on incentives for redevelopment of office spaces.

Two weeks ago, the city and a trio of companies announced redevelopment plans for three different downtown properties involving municipal grants.

Gondek called it “evidence of increased public sector investment as a result of that (municipal) incentive program.”

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The alignment of priorities for Calgary’s downtown was a good sign for the mayor, who intends to keep working with the minister of jobs, economy and innovation.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin was bullish about the city’s core following the release of the report.

“With support from all three levels of government, Calgary is well-positioned to capitalize on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine our city and our downtown as a magnet for talent and investment, and a great place to live, work, and play,” she said in a statement.

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“As the province moves forward with these recommendations, we encourage thoughtful investments in childcare spaces downtown to increase liveability for families, transit access to ensure all Calgarians can enjoy downtown, and recreation facilities as a place to build community, alongside pathway revitalization.”

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When asked about the province only putting up $4 million, a fraction of the hundreds of millions the city asked for, Gondek called it a start.

“I think it’s a good faith gesture,” the mayor said.

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“By generating this kind of a report that is completely aligned with what the city’s been doing, we’re building trust. And I count on asking for further financial support from the provincial government.”

During question period, Opposition leader Rachel Notley tried to push the government on why there was no promise of funding to revitalize the downtown of the province’s largest city.

“Why is this report more about identifying an already unknown problem than funding the solution? Or put it another way, where’s the money?” she asked.

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Schweitzer pointed to “economic momentum” and forecasts the province would lead the country in growth.

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“We have a plan for the downtown of Calgary, endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce. We had eminent people from across Alberta on that panel,” he said, promising to review the report.

MLA Joe Ceci, whose Calgary-Buffalo riding covers most of the city’s downtown, said the report was delayed by over seven months and would “likely be pushed aside and forgotten about by the UCP.”

Last month, the Alberta NDP published their own strategy for downtown revitalization.

“Calgary’s downtown has long served as a fundamental part of Alberta’s economy and activity within it has generated tremendous wealth for the people living here,” Ceci said in a statement. “With persistently high unemployment downtown office vacancy rates, there is an urgent need to revitalize our downtown core.”

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