Calgary’s downtown has long been a symbol of a healthy and vibrant Alberta, but it’s no secret that it’s been a tough few years with the global collapse of energy prices, the economic downturn, and the pandemic.
Those factors have led to a 32 per cent office vacancy rate downtown with concerns about safety and vibrancy reverberating through the core.
Alberta Minister of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation Doug Schweitzer unveiled the Calgary Office Revitalization and Expansion (CORE) Working Group’s final report Tuesday, which is highlighted by some recommendations to help overcome some of the challenges Calgary faces.
The report identifies key priorities and actions to address the obstacles, and also highlighted Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan of converting vacant or older office buildings into housing and other uses.
‘The heart and soul of the city’
The report highlights several priorities that will help bring back downtown’s vibrancy, including providing incentives to reduce the high vacancy rate and exploring ways to diversify and attract new industries.
“Calgary’s downtown has been the heart and soul of the city for decades. It’s where the Stampede parade happens, where business deals are made, and it’s the home of festivals and a lively cultural scene,” Schweitzer said.
“We know that we must pursue real and substantive measures to ensure that it remains vibrant in the years to come.”
That’s why the province is assembling a group of people from across sectors to examine both the challenges and opportunities the city’s embattled downtown faces.
“The number one thing the provincial government can do to support the downtown core is to create the best business environment to grow and attract investment to our province,” he said, adding that the final report will be reviewed and used to promote diversity, safety, vibrancy, and business growth.
“I have not been as optimistic as I am now about Calgary’s future in more than a decade,” Schweitzer added.
The Chamber applauds the plan
Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, says the CORE report provides clear direction for advancing downtown revitalization, with a key lever to accelerate economic recovery and increase the vibrancy.
“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 says.
The Chamber says the group’s recommendation to increase the presence of post-secondary institutions downtown will bring residents, infrastructure, and energy to the core beyond traditional working hours.
If you build it, they will come
Yedlin believes that alone will create a demand for services in the core, which will increase the vibrancy of downtown.
Add to that the key recommendations on affordable housing and mental health, safety, arts and entertainment, economic diversification, parking, and red tape reduction, Yedlin says the CORE plan offers the “all-of-the-above approach” required to reinvigorate the downtown.
“Investments in our downtown benefit the whole city, not only by attracting talent and promoting the brand of our city but also by offsetting property tax for businesses and residents across Calgary,” Yedlin says.
“By increasing the value of our downtown infrastructure, the property tax burden shouldered by those outside of downtown is lessened — without sacrificing the services we rely on to make our city safe and liveable.”