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April 01, 2019

Condoscapes - BMO Centre expansion?

If we build it, will they come?

Richard White

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What if a new arena, expanded BMO Centre and expanded/renovated Arts Commons don’t attract billions of dollars in private sector projects (fancy new hotels, dozens of funky condos and a street full of bars and restaurants) like the Ernst Young (EY) Report says they might?

I don’t want to put a kibosh on everyone’s enthusiasm that CMLC can magically redevelop Stampede Park and Victoria Park (SVP) by adding 8,000 new residents and 4 million square feet of mixed use development. After all, that is what they did with East Village after several failed attempts by others for revitalization.

But, I want to add some caution to the debate.

The 66-page EY Report basically says if the City, Province and Feds spend money on these three mega projects it will create jobs and attract significant private investment. 

However, would we just be cannibalizing development that would have happened at other sites nearby — further west in the Beltline, Inglewood, and yes, maybe even East Village?

What new events will be attracted to the new arena — oops — I mean “events centre?”  I expected to see a long list of events that don’t come to Calgary because the Saddledome is inadequate.  Give me a list. Please!

The EY Report says since Edmonton, Columbus, Denver and Nashville all have created successful new sports & entertainment districts, so can Calgary. In each of these cities, the new facilities created a new cluster of attractions at a new site. Calgary’s plan is very different in that it involves expanding existing facilities and moving the arena one block. There is no new hub. How does moving the arena one block become a game changer for the redevelopment of area?  Are there examples of cities trying to create new sports & entertainment districts that have failed? Hamilton? Quebec City?

And, what impact will the SVP mega makeover have on future development in East Village? The vision is almost identical to East Village’s — create two major attractions and surround them with new public spaces, improved streetscapes, residential and hotel towers.

Shouldn’t we finish East Village before we start a new one?

In fact, there are signs that East Village’s redevelopment is slowing down, as Bosa Developments has taken down the cranes that were supposed to build Arris two condo towers above the 200,000 square foot retail development.  Is this a red flag that things are not as rosy in East Village as they once were? Will SVP compete with East Village for future private investments?

The fiscal success of East Village is in large part due to a last minute change in the boundaries of The Rivers district to include The Bow — a mega tax paying office tower. The taxes paid by The Bow ensured the Community Revitalization Levy would be fiscally viable. 

There is no Bow Tower project for SVP.  It takes a lot of condos to pay the taxes of one mega office tower. Is there a private developer on the sidelines interested in building a new mixed-use hotel, residential, retail complex if we get a new arena? If so, please let them come forward. I doubt the expansion and renovations of Art Commons will attract any new private investment. I am hopeful the expanded BMO center will attract a hotel or two.

Last Word

Calgary currently has a huge cash flow problem. It now receives $192 million less in annual taxes from downtown offices and has no idea how to replace it without increasing taxes to the small business or residential taxpayers. That’s a whopping $1.9 billion dollars shortfall over the next 10 years.

And the same time, Calgary is currently on the hook for $1.6 billion as its share of the $4.7 billion first phase of the Green Line and will probably need another billion as its share to complete the project in the late 2020s.

While excited by the plans for the redevelopment of Stampede Park and Victoria Park and Arts Commons — all long overdue — my enthusiasm it tempered by my belief the City is not in a position to take on any more mega million dollar projects at this time.

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