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February 16, 2006

Mixing it up

Retail and residential a winning condo combination

Shelley Knapp

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Calgary's en vogue downtown condo scene is evolving as owners can now shop, and soon work, where they sleep. Mixed-usage, the blend of living and commercial space, first trumpeted in the ‘60s by Jane Jacobs, the world-renowned champion of liveable cities, is now being incorporated in many of the designs emerging in the core.

 “Mixed use is pretty standard,” says Harry Hiller, an urban trends expert at the University of Calgary. “It's part of the new urbanism, the goal is to try to create more basis for interaction.”

The notion behind mixed use is simply to create a space where there is something happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From there, the experts say, a stronger sense of community develops. People are living in a denser environment so they have greater respect for their neighbours. Mixed-use also lends itself to a cross-generational community, leading to more interaction.

“If you keep your services close to where people live, they can work, play and stay in the same area. It makes the area more vibrant and attractive,” adds the sociology professor. “And I think that is why you are seeing people turn to higher density dwelling more than they ever have.”

Al Schmidt, vice president at La Caille Groups couldn't agree more, all three of his latest developments - Chateau La Caille, Five West and La Caille Parke Place - have a retail component to them.

“It's about creating lifestyle amenities. We want more boutique type things, like a wine store, a chocolate shop or a florist. We won't put a convenience store in, people can go across the street for that” says Schmidt. “We want to add to the overall ambience of our projects.”

Parke Place at 110 7th St. SW already has a coffee shop and spa on its main floor. “We are all about interesting storefronts, where you can see inside, it catches your eye. So it really is about creating a sense of activity,” says Schmidt, adding he's not interested in creating plain looking blocks of concrete.

Richard White, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, adds that while it's a nice amenity for occupants, it's also a necessity and more lucrative for the developer. The main floor is not a sought after residence because of the ambient noise of the street.

“That being said, the retail base also serves as a gathering place which makes for a good urban residential community.”

And while the emerging trend of retail/living mix is a step in the right direction, for White, true mixed usage would include some office space as well. In his opinion, the preferred blend of space in the condo complex, 25 per cent retail, an equal part office and the rest residential.

In spring 2008, Calgary will have that as well, thanks to Rockwell Development Group.

“Sky Tower is really going to be breaking new ground,” says White of the 30 floor, retail/office/condo scheduled to rise on the corner of 201 10th Ave. SW. The main floor of the building designed by Abugov Kaspar Architect, offers 7,346 square feet of retail space, set back of five metres from 1st Street to allow for lots of patio space for a restaurant. Podium parking fills the next two floors and on top of those are 52,000 square feet of office condominiums spread over five floors.

White's predicted reformation of Calgary's urban landscape is slated to begin next month when ground breaks to begin construction of the largely blue glass structure, reminiscent of West Coast architecture.

“I believe that the city is mature enough to transform to a lifestyle that would emulate other urban centres like New York,” says Lee, Rockwell's president, of the mixed-use design. “The lifestyle here didn't lend itself to this type of development a few years ago. Now more and more people want to live and work downtown.”

And he seems to be right, all 220 condos in the tower sold in a day. Lee adds while the commercial space is being held back, interested parties are already lining up to fill it.

Of the 12 condo projects on the books for downtown Calgary, several others are also adding some retail to their repertoire.

Battistella Developments with its Chocolate and Colours Condos in the Victoria Crossing area has left some room for retail.

“We are really into redeveloping and revitalizing the area so this is a part of that belief,” says Traci John, the group's sales and customer care manager. “The convenience of having a café is not a huge draw for our buyers, but it is definitely a nice addition for them.”
She says no decision has been made on what will go into either project's retail space.

“We know that 1st Street is vibrant so we want to make sure we fit in and enhance the area.”  CL

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