Thousands of Calgarians Weigh In on the Vision for Calgary’s Future Cultural and Entertainment District

    · 7 min read

    Public engagement program input helps CMLC refine vision for downtown’s revitalized east end.

    Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC)—the placemaking and development team leading the revitalization and redevelopment of the Rivers District (including the dramatic resurrection and transformation of East Village) has spent nine months engaging with Calgarians about Calgary’s future Culture and Entertainment District in and around east Victoria Park.

    In 2016, with momentum carrying East Village unstoppably forward, CMLC shifted much of its placemaking focus to the remainder of the Rivers District, which also includes east Victoria Park and Stampede Park. Aided by master-planning firms Civitas and Gibbs Gage and supported by a working committee of key stakeholders, CMLC produced a preliminary draft of the Rivers District Master Plan earlier in 2018. Soon thereafter, the organization launched a city-wide public engagement program to ask Calgarians their aspirations and expectations for a Cultural and Entertainment District in downtown’s east end.

    “We embarked on this engagement program to ensure the ambitions of our vision for the community align with the values, needs and expectations of Calgarians. Given the district’s history, its city-wide draw and its incredible potential, we’ve made sure the opportunities for public input are plentiful, meaningful and far-reaching. We want to understand how citizens imagine the district taking shape,” says Michael Brown, CMLC’s president and CEO. “This engagement program is an opportunity to measure the prime development potential we’ve identified against the types of experiences and amenities its future visitors and residents expect to see.”

    For both efficiency and economy, CMLC coordinated its engagement initiatives with the City of Calgary, which is concurrently amending the Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP). Over 100 days of engagement and 36 engagement events, the team interacted with almost 7,000 Calgarians and collected nearly 4,000 online survey. After reviewing and synthesizing the data—some 120,000 data points—CMLC and the City proceeded with amendments to the Rivers District Master Plan and the Beltline ARP.

    Among the vast volume of input from Calgarians, some common themes emerged—all of which receive due emphasis in the latest versions of the guiding documents:

    • Improving connections into and out of the district and (re)establishing connections to surrounding areas
    • Improving accessibility to the Elbow River, which defines the district’s eastern boundary
    • Creating lively and welcoming streets with a host of programming opportunities to create a year-round destination
    • Attracting diverse dining and retail options and creating places to gather
    • Designing, with best safety practices, diverse housing options and densities for residents at all ages and stages of life.

    “As with the master-plan vision that CMLC used to bring East Village back to life, the Rivers District Master Plan begins with the premise of connectivity,” adds Brown. “To unlock and maximize the district’s development potential, the first crucial steps are the strategic infrastructure improvements that connect neighbourhoods and nurture stronger communities. Increasing connectivity makes it far easier for private and public investment to say yes to being part of the vision.”

    In 2016, following a three-month strategic planning exercise to prioritize spending over the next 10 years, CMLC committed $150 million from its Community Revitalization Levy to kickstart critical infrastructure improvements in east Victoria Park. These include extending 17th Avenue SE across Macleod Trail S to create a vital connection between the Rivers District and communities to the west; establishing the Stampede Trail Festival Street to create a dynamic retail promenade; and strengthening north/south connections with a new underpass under the CPR tracks, along 5th Street SE.

    CMLC’s 2017–2019 Business Plan identifies 23 strategic infrastructure improvement initiatives for the Rivers District—among them, the relocation of Calgary Transit’s Victoria Park Transit Facility (a.k.a. the “bus barns”) currently residing along the eastern edge of the Elbow River on 7th Street SE. CMLC’s master plan reimagines the 11-acre site as a mixed-use, predominantly residential area rich in riverfront character area that elevates the development potential of the whole community and creates a connection to the future Green Line LRT station a block east.

    “Relocation of the Victoria Park transit facility has been on CMLC’s radar since we first started studying east Victoria Park in 2016,” adds Brown, “and seeing it through would go a long way to addressing feedback we received from many Calgarians who desire easier access to the river and to the types of natural gathering places so sought after in inner-city environments. In its potential for the type of placemaking that will stimulate ongoing investment and sustainable redevelopment, that site holds huge potential to transform east Victoria Park.”

    “We’re well aware, of course, that the Calgary 2026 Hosting Plan points to the transit facility site as candidate for the athlete’s village, which is indicative of the appeal and development potential of that area. With or without an Olympic bid, making more effective use of this key development parcel is vital to realizing the vision for a Cultural and Entertainment District in east downtown,” says Brown.

    Looking ahead some 20 years, the master-plan vision for east Victoria Park and the Rivers District imagines a high-density, mixed-use community that draws on the beauty of its natural surroundings, the strength of its cultural heritage and the spirit of entertainment that resides in its DNA. With plans for more than four million square feet of new development, this community will one day be home to some 8,000 residents. CMLC also envisions modernized amenities (including a new event centre/arena facility and expanded convention centre space) along with thoughtfully planned public spaces.

    CMLC and the City of Calgary are hosting a public Open House on October 3, 2018 from 5-8pm at the St. Louis Hotel (430, 8th Avenue SE) —an opportunity for Calgarians to learn the outcomes of CMLC’s engagement program and review updates to the Rivers District Master Plan and Beltline ARP draft policy amendments.

    Any further takeaways from this Open House will inform the final Rivers District Master Plan (currently scheduled for release in December 2018) and the Beltline ARP amendments scheduled for a Public Hearing of Council in early 2019.

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