When Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) was created by the City in 2007, its mandate was clear: to kickstart Calgary’s urban densification and renewal by implementing and executing the Rivers District Community Revitalization Plan. To achieve this challenging goal, the CMLC team of forward-thinking dreamers and doers set out to approach things differently. They have spent the last 15 years tackling complex projects that were built around C-train tracks and layered among the greater active community, delivering incredible, award-winning developments that shine a light on local innovation and design while attracting substantial investment to the area.
“We were supposed to take this part of downtown, which by any standards should be a great place but just wasn’t getting there, and remove the barriers to allow development to occur,” says Kate Thompson, president and CEO of CMLC. “Fast forward 15-plus years and we’ve invested over $400 million in East Village and attracted over $3 billion worth of private investment. We’ve really seen major change to the perception of the area, to the development in the area and to the willingness to see this as a really cool, up-and-coming part of our city.”
The key to achieving “cool” and “up-and-coming” was thinking outside the box, taking risks and staying true to their innovative vision, and it gave rise to the coolest building in Calgary – the new Central Library. As the heart of the community, the library has become a destination for visitors who are drawn as much to the award-winning design as the unique programming. The team has replicated that success with a variety of projects that add value to this burgeoning area without sacrificing the character that makes it so special.
East Village is growing exponentially, and CMLC is working closely with developers to accommodate that interest. More than 4,000 people call the area home and to reach the goal of 11,500 East Village residents, CMLC has partnered with some of Canada’s leading developers including Minto Communities, Alston Properties, BOSA Development and ONE Properties on amazing condominium and apartment projects, with much more to come.
An investment in thoughtful and innovative infrastructure is critical to attracting development partners to a district. In 2018, CMLC partnered with Platform Calgary and Calgary Parking Authority to create the striking Platform Parkade and Innovation Centre – a much-needed parking structure that is anything but generic. This development provides far more than just the 500 stalls and charging stations; it incorporates huge gathering, meeting and working spaces that will support the efforts of Calgary’s startups, innovators and entrepreneurs.
“Sometimes it takes a leap to either invest or think of the solution differently, and then the result can also shatter expectations and go beyond what you think it could be,” she says.
CMLC’s willingness to leap also resulted in The Bounce. When considering what to do with an old gas station, the team could have done the expected and torn it down for parking. Instead, they installed a funky basketball and games court in its place, and this simple addition has drawn people from all corners of the city. The smallest details make big impacts, and it’s this approach to community that has made East Village one of the most sought-after areas in Calgary.
Large or small, projects ranging from East Village Place to awesome urban and dog parks to St. Patrick’s Island were all designed to create a unique livable, walkable community. In 2018, CMLC turned this approach to The Culture + Entertainment District of east Victoria Park in an effort to replicate that success. The masterplan aims to create a vibrant mixed-use community – future home to 8,000 more residents and more than four million square feet of residential, retail and commercial development – built around the entertainment hubs where millions of people flock each year for Flames games, concerts, graduation ceremonies and the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
CMLC and the Calgary Stampede are partners on the spectacular expansion of the BMO Centre, which will see it doubling in size to more than one million square feet of exhibition, ballroom and meeting space to make it the second-largest convention space in Canada. The team is also in charge of the infrastructure around the BMO Centre, which involves everything from replacing sidewalks to rebuilding the Stampede C-train station to allow 17 Avenue to extend across Macleod Trail. This incredible undertaking will be completed in spring of 2024 and, coupled with the major city-building projects currently under discussion or construction, the area will be virtually unrecognizable in the years to come.
“The Culture + Entertainment District is unique among comparable areas because we’re building more than $600 million in major projects and infrastructure while maintaining access for the tens of thousands of people who come to the area for large-scale events every week. It’s a district in development and a vibrant entertainment destination at the same time. Overseeing and coordinating this transformation is a complex but critical component of our success in The C+E,” she says.
To give an additional boost to downtown Calgary’s east end, CMLC, Arts Commons and The City are modernizing and expanding Arts Commons to include a 1,000-seat theatre and lobby on a portion of Olympic Plaza, and CMLC will also act as development manager in charge of transforming Olympic Plaza into a more adaptable and accessible space for Calgarians. These and other incredible projects in the pipeline at CMLC are redefining Calgary, boosting investment and engaging Calgarians and visitors in areas that had long been overlooked. The team can’t achieve this alone, and they have developed incredible partnerships to help these complicated projects run smoothly.
“We are overseeing $1.2 billion of construction projects so it’s an unprecedented time of coordination and collaboration between all these distinctive projects,” Thompson says.
The success in the Rivers Districts has led CMLC to look at other pockets in Calgary through its unique lens as well. After all, the team has received international recognition for the incredible development of the Rivers District and is looking forward to applying all they’ve learned to make a difference in this vibrant northeast community and beyond.
“What the ‘beyond’ could be is what keeps me excited,” Thompson says. “I think we are well on our way to proving out the thesis ‘can you bring back an urban area?’”
With the transformation of East Village, The Culture + Entertainment District and communities beyond, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation is proving that the answer to that question is unequivocally “yes”.