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November 01, 2018

Falling into place

University District is quickly maturing to the master-planned community it is destined to be

Pepper Rodriguez

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No one can plan for everything, but for a master-planned community it is essential, and for Calgary’s University District everything in the plan is certainly falling into place.
One of Calgary’s most progressive and forward-thinking master-planned communities, University District is ramping up excitement in the fall as it welcomes its latest residential and commercial developments and gets ready to unveil even more amenities for residents to enjoy.

The latest feather in University District’s cap is Brookfield Residential’s new Capella, the award-winning builder’s second project here. Capella is part of the second wave of residential developments that began in University District last year with Avi Urban’s August, and follows the early success of

Truman Homes’ Noble and Brookfield Residential’s The IVY. Two senior living facilities — Cambridge Manor and Maple — as well as Alt Hotel, and Save-On-Foods grocery have also come on board.

People are also already calling University District home, as residents have started moving in this summer and are starting to enjoy the amenities that University District’s developer, West Campus Development Trust, has already put in place.

“It’s an exciting time! We’re getting ready to roll out several retail announcements for the nine blocks of retail along Main Street,” says James Robertson, West Campus Development Trust president and CEO. “The response to University District by retailers has been overwhelming and we will have a
sophisticated and diverse set of retailers with opportunities to sip and get social, get some retail therapy, be active and creative, run every day errands, and more. On top of that, we will have another residential offering to announce early in the New Year. And we’re gearing up to announce more
details about our three-acre urban park in the centre of the community.”

The community is far from its total build out plan, but growth has been swift, Robertson says. “The community will be complete in an estimated 15 to 20 years and at the end there will be 7,000 homes. We have just over 1,000 already under construction.”

He explains that part of the reason for the seeming rapid growth and the almost-overnight transformation of the site just off Shaganappi Trail N.W. is their commitment to retail early on.

“We see retail as an essential part of community building that will contribute to a high-quality life for residents and the surrounding communities, and we have committed a great deal of effort to ensure that the retail experience is readily available, and dynamic and diverse.” Save-on-Foods and a
variety of other retailers will open in 2020.

He adds that University District has always been meant as a prime hub that brings together a variety of lifestyle and entertainment options at the University of Calgary, Market Mall, regional athletic centres, easy access to the river and more. The residents already have access to the north pond,
urban dog park and pathway system that opened this summer.

“We’re almost ready to open the park next door to Phase 1, which includes an inclusively designed playground and special design features like a built-in ping-pong table. Our Discovery Centre also offers chances to connect through events like our second Northwestival event at the end of the year
and other seasonal programming. Our central park along Main Street — our biggest and most ambitious open space milestone — is expected to open in 2021.”

With all these in place, University District snagged this year’s BILD Alberta New Community Development Award; a prestigious honour from industry peers province-wide.

“This win is a reaffirmation of the dedication of the WCDT team that has been working on this project,” he says. “We are thrilled to be recognized by the industry and really proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the leaders in our field across Alberta.”

But, of course, the ultimate winner here is the buyer. A diverse range of buyers have fallen in love with what University District offers, including the stylish and affordable condos from the $200,000s and townhomes from the $420,000s.

“Many of our buyers come from the surrounding communities, which we think is a testament to the stakeholder-centric engagement process we applied to our land use application. Our neighbours are excited by the lifestyle available in University District a complete urban environment that allows
them to put down roots, connect with community, while enjoying a variety of natural outdoor escapes and vibrant lifestyle amenities.”

He says buyers are predominantly from the more mature adult who sees University District as a place “that will respond to their needs,” Robertson says.

“Cambridge Manor and Maple offer a unique hybrid assisted living and independent living opportunity across the street from a grocery store and the retail core of the community. The facility will allow people to stay in their homes for longer with easy access to different levels of care and the
community as time goes on,” he points out.

“We’re also finding a synergy with mid-career professionals who are employed with nearby employers like the hospitals and the university. Lots of people are really drawn to the chance to walk to work – to add extra time to the day — as the largest employment centre outside of downtown in the

University District sits on endowment land from the University of Calgary and follows the successful models at UBC and Simon Fraser University. The endowment lands are set up as a trust with the University of Calgary retaining ownership of the land. Buyers lease the land through a 99-year
pre-paid lease. At the end of the term, West Campus Development Trust will either negotiate an extension to the lease or buy the building back.   

Robertson says buyers have not had a problem with the arrangement. “The lease was an uncharted territory for Calgary and, despite that lots of the world’s largest urban environments like London and Hong Kong are heavily based on a leasehold model, we still weren’t 100 per cent sure how the
local market would respond.

“With our partners, we built education into our marketing and sales process. This started with educating the real estate law and lending communities on the details of how the lease worked, in order to be able to support buyers. All the details were provided in transparent and accessible marketing
materials, and we found that people were very open and responsive. Once you understand how the pre-paid land lease works, you find that it really isn’t that much different than buying a condominium anywhere else,” he says.

Robertson ends by saying that the idea of University District resonates with Calgarians and that people see them as a trusted neighbour.

“We’d like to think the response has been because our plan is innovative and progressive, but also people are excited to engage with the community experience that we’re creating. We genuinely hope that our community will help Calgarians live less complicated, more meaningful lives, and return that dividend to others.”

Fast Facts:
Community: University District
Developer: West Campus Development Trust
• THE IVY by Brookfield Residential
 Row townhomes starting from under $500,000
• Noble by Truman
Apartment condos from the $320,000s
Townhomes from the $420,000s
• August at University District by Avi Urban
Apartment style condos from the $260,000s
• Maple by Truman
Independent living suites from the $290,000s
• Capella by Brookfield Residential
Apartment-style condos from the high $200,000s and Estate Single Level Residences from the $600,000s
Discovery Centre: 4410 University Ave N.W. (just North of the Children’s Hospital)

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