Calgary's greater downtown plan
Downtown is central to Calgary’s economic recovery
This is an updated version of the Plan with changes recommended at the April 7, 2021 Standing Policy Committee on Planning and Urban Development meeting.
We’re facing a long road to recovery, but there is no looking back
We must focus on the future. Calgary’s downtown will not go back to the way it was before the pandemic, let alone five to ten years ago because of changes to our energy industry and how and where people work. We must take bold steps now, implement necessary changes and make decisive moves quickly in order to transform and reinvent downtown for decades to come.
Now is the time for bold action
Downtown must transform towards a more balanced mix of residential, office, retail, entertainment, tourism, and culture. The City and its downtown partners must make the bold moves required to shift from vacancy to vibrancy. We are making an initial investment in our downtown that will start this shift.
This initial investment of $200 million is focused on areas that will start to lower office vacancy, improve downtown vibrancy, and support the development of thriving neighbourhoods that attract residents, visitors, and talent for downtown’s businesses.
$45 million in financial incentives for office conversion, office replacement and new residential development
Downtown office vacancy is at approximately 12 million square feet which translates into approximately 30 percent. As downtown office vacancy rates continue to rise, the impacts are far-reaching. The status quo scenario is the biggest risk to downtown vibrancy, Calgary’s economic competitiveness, and fiscal sustainability. Downtown office property values have declined by $16 billion since 2015, or 60 percent, resulting in the tax shift situation that affects City finances and residential, commercial, and industrial property taxes throughout the city.
The City worked in collaboration with industry experts including Calgary Economic Development’s (CED) Real Estate Sector Advisory Committee (RESAC) and the Real Estate Working Group (REWG) to develop an incentives package for downtown office conversions, office replacement, and new residential development.
Converting office to residential uses is complex and expensive, with incentives being required to stimulate investment. The City and its private sector real estate partners have identified 28 potential downtown office buildings for conversion or adaptive reuse. This could include conversion to or reuse as residential units, student housing, senior housing, post-secondary institutions, and the amenities needed to establish complete, thriving neighbourhoods.
$5 million in financial incentives to offset +15 Fund contributions for residential development
Residential development in the downtown core often includes the requirement to contribute to the Plus 15 Fund, which supports construction, operation, and maintenance of downtown’s Plus 15 system. This can create a potential financial barrier to residential development in the downtown core.
The City will provide $5 million in incentives to developers who initiate residential projects in the downtown core to offset any required Plus 15 Fund contribution, up to $1 million per project. This removes a potential barrier for new residential development as well as any additions to existing buildings to accommodate new residential use. Projects must be completed within a designated time period to receive the incentive.
$55 million for impactful capital projects to improve public spaces, create vibrancy and support complete neighbourhoods
Implementing the Greater Downtown Plan means allocating $55 million immediately for impactful projects, big and small, which move the plan from from a planning document to real actions. We’ve identified downtown vibrancy projects that contribute to one or more of the following objectives:
- Activate public places and spaces
- Catalyze private investment in the Greater Downtown
- Increase attractiveness of public spaces to Calgarians
- Allow The City and our partners to pilot, experiment, & prototype longer term projects
- Promote tourism and increase visitor numbers to the Greater Downtown
- Enhance safety & security for residents, workers, and visitors
We are considering the following projects that would improve vibrancy in Calgary’s downtown:
- Future of Stephen Avenue
- Create short and long-term strategies that can be implemented over time to make Stephen Avenue better for Calgarians and visitors, while creating opportunities for private investment and redevelopment.
- Downtown West Promenade from the Peace Bridge to 14 Street S.W.
- Create a gateway to the Bow River and river pathway system in Downtown West
- Extend pathway and public space improvements already in place or being built in Eau Claire, Chinatown and the East Village
- 8th Street S.W.
- Improve north-south connections from the Bow River to Downtown West and the Beltline
- Redesign and rebuild public spaces to support residential, retail, and commercial growth in the Downtown Core and Downtown West
- Establish a downtown public market
- Create a sustainable public space that reflects the surrounding communities and The City’s social, environmental, economic and cultural priorities
- Renovate Northwest Travelers Building and Historic Firehall #1
- Redevelop for food and beverage and arts and culture development
- Redesign and rebuild Olympic Plaza
- Re-imagining our Olympic legacy by renovating the living room for City Hall and Arts Commons
$5 million to activate downtown public spaces with festivals, events and community spaces to build vibrancy
Activating places and spaces is essential to increase downtown vibrancy and make downtown a place that people want to live, visit, and establish a business. The City is setting aside funds to support and enable our downtown partners plan and execute vibrancy-building programming and events.
This includes support for the implementation of Tomorrow’s Chinatown cultural plan, along with the 9 Block Program, which supports safety, security, and vibrancy around City Hall and Stephen Avenue.
Additional programming and events that will be supported will be determined in consultation with our downtown partners, business improvement areas, and community associations.
$10 million over four years for a dedicated City of Calgary Downtown team
To activate the Greater Downtown Plan move forward with the actions and projects that have been identified as priorities to shifting the downtown from vacancy to vibrancy, The City will allocate resources to a team dedicated to moving the actions required through this investment package forward.
$80 million for Arts Commons Transformation Phase 1
For the last 35 years, Arts Commons has been a key contributor to social, economic, cultural, and intellectual life in Calgary. As Canada’s third largest arts centre, it is home to six resident companies and used by over 200 community groups.
The Arts Commons Transformation (ACT) project of expanding and upgrading Arts Commons supports the goal of improving and diversifying Calgary’s economy. It supports the Downtown Strategy and is considered a catalyst project for the Culture + Entertainment District.
Executed in two Phases, Arts Commons Transformation will both expand capacity in an adjoining new building and renew the existing facility.
Phase one of the transformation will expand capacity at a new location called Arts Commons North, or The Roadhouse. The Roadhouse will include three versatile, purpose-built venues, a connection to the existing building and supporting amenities. This 173,000 square-foot space will include a new 1,200 seat theatre, two smaller theatres, rehearsal space and an elevated corridor to the existing building and related amenities.
The Government of Canada recently announced its intention to double the federal Gas Tax Fund for one year, as the newly renamed Canada Community-Building Fund. This $77 million of new federal funding will be directed for the Arts Commons Transformation (ACT) Project Phase 1.
The ACT project has been identified as a catalytic project for downtown vibrancy for over 15 years. Arts Commons, inclusive of the 6 resident companies, currently contributes $53 million to Calgary’s economy annually and supports 683 jobs.
Upon ACT completion, Arts Commons will annually support 55 jobs in Calgary, provide $239M in labour income, and contribute $0.1M in government revenues and $386M to GDP.
With two-thirds of the funding for Phase 1 already in place, through the province and the City, this $80M will provide the remaining funding required, fulfill the Federal government’s funding pledge, and result in all three levels of government support. With $77M coming from the Canada Community-Building Fund, the City is only required to top up $3M to achieve full funding for Phase 1 of ACT.
Learn more about the Arts Commons Transformation.
Support for Calgary's Greater Downtown Plan
Hanif Joshaghani - CEO, Symend
Bobbie Racette - CEO, Virtual Gurus
Derek Evans - CEO, MEG Energy
What is the Greater Downtown?
The Greater Downtown is made up of six communities that surround the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers.
- Downtown Core
- Downtown West
- Eau Claire
- East Village
- The Beltline
Calgary’s bustling centre of commerce and a 24/7 destination
Our future success relies on downtown being a place where people want to live, visit and set up businesses. We need to move beyond the traditional 9 to 5 business district towards a vibrant city centre people enjoy 24/7 with a balanced mix of residential, office, retail, entertainment, tourism and culture.
Exciting opportunities are in store for businesses and shoppers.
We’re encouraging more people to live near where they work downtown.
We’ll shift from vacancy to vibrancy through office space innovations.
More festivals, events, sports and reasons to visit downtown are coming.
We’re building a world-class tourist and tier-one conference destination.
Calgary’s growing arts community shares our unique perspective with the world.
The 10 principles for Greater Downtown
Greater Downtown is a resilient and vibrant place for everyone, with welcoming neighbourhoods, active streets, and well-used public spaces.
Economic vitality and innovation
Create exciting places that attract businesses and talent.
Identity and place
Design neighbourhoods that Calgarians are proud to call home.
Opportunity and choice
Give everyone access to housing options and neighbourhood amenities.
Health and wellness
Ensure everyone has access to health care, medical services and more.
Build gathering places for events and neighbourhood get-togethers.
The green network and natural environment
Protect and restore the green network and natural areas.
Mobility for all
Provide options that address mobility needs for all ages and abilities.
Climate mitigation and adaptation
Support the transition to a low-carbon economy and adapt to extreme weather.
Quality urban design
Connect buildings, streets and places to meet the needs of people and businesses.
Resilient and prepared
Adapt, survive and thrive in the face of chronic stresses and acute shocks to our city.
The Greater Downtown Plan is our way forward
We have a vision, roadmap and commitment to build a thriving, future-focused downtown. The Downtown Strategy team, comprised of The City of Calgary, civic partners, community partners and business improvement areas, is focused on near-term actions. Ongoing monitoring of progress and results allows us to course correct and remain nimble.
We’re running short-term pilot projects with the potential to have a major impact five to ten years into the future, such as: welcoming temporary patios on Stephen Avenue that boost restaurant capacity; closing streets in the East Village for events; incentivizing office conversions and residential development; and supporting Calgary’s tech sector through our Living Labs program.
The City and our partners have developed a plan to help businesses, developers, investors and citizens understand the direction Calgary’s downtown is headed over the next decade. We’re creating incredible opportunities for everyone along the way.
1. Neighbourhoods for vibrant urban life
Create mixed-use neighbourhoods with gathering places, housing choices and all of the amenities residents need close by.
How we get there:
- Create and support mixed-use neighbourhoods
- Reinforce neighbourhood gateways, landmarks and view corridors
- Celebrate diversity, culture, art and history
- Develop an array of key gathering places
- Make downtown living more attractive
- Shift the image of the Downtown Core
2. A green network for a healthy environment
Build a green network by connecting parks, natural spaces and river frontage with downtown’s main streets.
How we get there:
- Plan, expand and connect to the green network
- Protect, maintain and grow the tree canopy
- Connect to and celebrate the rivers
- Be flexible and accommodating in design and use
- Leverage green infrastructure assets to create year-round vibrancy
3. Streets for people
Design streets for walkers and wheelers first, with regional pathways stretching along the riverbanks and underpasses, and bridges and on-street mobility tracks connecting to neighbouring communities.
How we get there:
- Invest in a multi-modal transportation network
- Re-envision street space and public rights-of-way
- Improve connectivity throughout Greater Downtown
- Invest in the public realm
- Support the Plus 15 network
4. Transit for all
Make transit the quickest, safest and most cost-effective way to travel to and through downtown.
How we get there:
- Expand and enhance transit service
- Improve transit stations and stops to create welcoming experiences
5. Future-proof and innovate for the next generation
Attract the global technology sector, utilize our highly educated workforce and leverage our head office concentration to prosper in the new economy.
How we get there:
- Encourage innovation and testing
- Innovate the regulatory environment
- Reduce vulnerabilities
- Improve energy use and reduce GHG emissions
Our best days are still ahead
There is no easy fix to downtown Calgary’s challenges, but we’re committed to coming back stronger using our grit and determination. The solution will require collaboration between all levels of government and our business and community partners.