From offices to homes: constructing The Cornerstone conversion


Downtown is the economic and cultural heart of Calgary, yet its office vacancy rate still sits above 30 per cent.

In 2021, The City introduced new initiatives and investments as part of Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan to revitalize our downtown and start to lower office vacancy, improve vibrancy, and create more homes in the core. Financial incentives for downtown office-to-residential conversions were launched as part of the strategy.

The Cornerstone is an office-to-residential conversion offering 112 suites at the corner of Fifth Aveune and Eighth Street downtown. The project is the first to be completed through the incentive program.

Frey, who works as a marketing and graphic design specialist, and Pavlo, who manages a local restaurant, will be two of The Cornerstone’s first tenants.

Frey plans to move into his new home with a roommate, a cost-sharing strategy he says lots of his family and friends are doing in this current economy. Pavlo, who is living with two roommates in Beltline, is excited to live alone in his new apartment.

When asked what navigating Calgary’s rental market was like, Pavlo answered “It’s crazy!”

Frey expressed that the experience has been “brutal” and joked, “I wouldn’t wish that on any of my enemies looking to find a place right now.”

Downtown living may not be for everyone, but Frey and Pavlo wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve worked and lived downtown my entire adult life. It really is the place for me,” says Frey. “What do they say in real estate? Location, location, location! The Cornerstone is two blocks away from Prince’s Island Park, two blocks away from the C-train, two blocks from my favourite restaurant, and a few minutes away from Kensington. I love being in the center of it all.”

Pavlo echoes that sentiment.

“The position here is amazing. I’m biking so I have to stay close to everything. I also love walking. My favourite place to walk is along the Bow, two minutes away. The C-train goes in all directions from here. I like the style of life here with a lot of movement, a lot of energy.”

The renovated building features finishings inspired by luxury hotels. The first floor includes retail space for tenants and for the neighbourhood, and the second floor will be dedicated to a salon coworking space. Floors three through 10 are dedicated to two-and three-bedroom apartments. Each unit also has a balcony, a feature added during reconstruction.

The Cornerstone building.
Before (right) and after (left) view of the Cornerstone building conversion.

Office-to-residential conversions are no easy task. Astra Group / PeopleFirst Developments led by Managing Director Maxim Olshevsky decided to take on the challenge after the introduction of The City’s incentive program.

Maxim was also personally inspired to do this work downtown. His family moved to Calgary from Ukraine when he was 13, and they lived in Downtown West.

“I remember passing by this building, and I remember how this neighborhood changed from being vibrant to what it was not long ago,” says Maxim. “For us, it was aligning all of our values and all of our resources and capabilities to executing these projects. The incentive that was established actually made us pull all of our resources from BC, Saskatchewan, and northern Alberta here to the West end of downtown.”

Maxim’s group of companies are also working on a number of other conversion projects downtown including Petro Fina, a heritage building conversion that will yield over 100 new homes for Calgarians planned to be completed by 2025.

“I think the impact of these projects is quite significant and multi-faceted,” says Maxim. “When we take an empty office tower and we turn it into something that’s more valuable, not only are we improving vibrancy, we will also help small businesses in the neighborhood. The more people we have here, the more businesses will open up. It really creates a lot of benefits that everybody enjoys, and then downtown can become a destination and not a ghost town after 5 p.m.”

In addition to market units, The Cornerstone includes some affordable homes. Approximately 40 per cent of the units were offered at 20 per cent below market rents. A program called The Pathway also gives nonprofit partner organizations the ability to secure units at The Cornerstone at an affordable rate for individuals who they support and who have lower incomes.

“I put tears and blood into this building. I hope the tenants really enjoy it,” says Maxim. “It took a whole army to pull this off and I’m very grateful for everybody who was involved and very grateful for The City. I’m really happy to contribute back to the community that I grew up in and to play our small part in solving an issue that so many cities face.”

Frey and Pavlo are scheduled to move into their new suites at The Cornerstone in April 2024.

Once the move is over, Pavlo’s goal is to open his own restaurant downtown.

Interviews for this article took place in March 2024 prior to building occupancy beginning April 2024.

Did you know?

  • An office-to-residential conversion is a process of converting an existing office building into a residential property, such as condos or apartments.
  • There are 17 approved and in review office conversion projects in The City’s pipeline that will create over 2,300 homes for Calgarians and remove more than 2.3 million sq. ft. of vacant downtown office space from the market.

Categories: Development, Downtown, Real estate