Home Month and Year April 2023 University of Calgary Properties Group

University of Calgary Properties Group

Creating Amazing Places for People to Thrive

Photo by Neil Zeller Photography

University of Calgary (UCalgary) is more than a collection of buildings on campus; it’s the unique experiences of the people inside them and the vibrant community that they create together. When UCalgary created West Campus Development Trust (now University of Calgary Properties Group) in 2011 to develop land west of the University, it was imbued with strong principles of community and connection to optimize the return on land for the benefit of the University’s academic mission.

“It was important for the University to make sure that the activities of the development were conducted in a manner that befitted the University of Calgary,” says James Robertson, outgoing President and CEO of University of Calgary Properties Group (UCPG). “We have a fantastic team here that is passionate about the vision for the community.”

UCalgary was modelled after University of British Columbia (UBC) and is the first university in Alberta to set up a real estate trust designed to oversee the development and management of university land projects. This bold and innovative approach to investment allows the University to realize the financial potential of its land holdings while at the same time ensuring that the developments complement the University’s mission and vision.

There is no one better to manage this endeavour than University of Calgary Properties Group, which has become an award-winning developer recognized locally and nationally for changing the face of real estate. As an active community member, UCPG is making a huge impact in the city. UCPG supports I Can for Kids (iCAN), a program alleviating food insecurity, and sponsorships like the Business in Calgary Leaders Awards event highlighting the achievements of changemakers and innovators across industries to celebrate pinnacle leadership fuelling Calgary’s economy.

Since the beginning, UCPG set out to build a community that offers diverse housing options, a great balance of residential and retail spaces and an amenity-rich place where people want to live, work and play. UCPG’s development projects currently include the nationally acclaimed community of University District and revitalization of University Innovation Quarter.
Launching University District
University District is located in northwest Calgary and the community started to emerge in 2011 when the Board of Directors were appointed. Construction began in 2015, and since then, the community has grown exponentially with nine completed residential projects, an estimated 2,000 residents, and over 30 retailers on Retail Main Street. University District is anticipated to be completed in 2034.

The Discovery Centre is an active hub housing the builder sales teams and is designed to promote the vision of University District. It launched in 2017 and quickly generated ongoing buzz and interest as new builders and retailers joined this unique mixed-use community. The first residents moved in 2018 and UCPG continued to deliver on a strong community experience.

In 2020, University District launched its first stage of retail which was anchored around the Save-On-Foods grocery store and extended to include Monogram, Curious, Denim & Smith, Market Wines, YYC Cycle, Five Guys, OEB Breakfast Co., Orangetheory Fitness and Pet Planet, all conveniently located along Retail Main Street.

“In the last 100 years, we might have picked one of the worst possible times to open retail, but in working with our retailers, we had many successful openings in 2020. We managed to keep all of our retailers up and operating within COVID-19 guidelines and those retailers are still here today,” Robertson says. “Residents and visitors to the community really supported retail and while it was tough over COVID-19, we came out of it quite strong.”

The real estate market has fluctuated dramatically over the past few years, virtually grinding to a halt when COVID-19 first hit to surging back once restrictions relented. A storm of significant supply chain issues on everything from appliances to building supplies alongside spiking inflation and interest rates didn’t spare the industry.

“Interestingly enough, it appears to have impacted places outside of Alberta and particularly outside of Calgary more than it did Calgary, so with our relatively affordable housing rates combined with the pressures of the interest rates, we’re starting to see a fairly significant immigration to our city,” he says. What has resulted is a housing market that maintains a balanced volume and a strong demand for U/D’s diverse residential styles for new and long-time Calgarians alike.
During COVID-19, UCPG boldly moved forward with the development framework and continued plans to construct two buildings, Block 23 and Central Block. These buildings incorporated retailers that provided not just what residents needed but what they wanted in order to have fun in the community. Anchored by Cineplex VIP Cinemas, Block 23 houses restaurants including The Canadian Brewhouse, The Banquet, Fuwa Fuwa, Staples and quick service options like McDonalds with a 24-hour walk-up window perfectly suited for the walkable community. Central Block includes locally celebrated Village Ice Cream, Cobs Bread, The Hearing Loss Clinic, Plantlife and Borough Bar + Grill.
UCPG continued to grow and evolve over time, which necessitated changes to the organizational structure so it could better reflect these developments. As the portfolio expanded and diversified, West Campus Development Trust became University of Calgary Properties Group Ltd (UCPG) in 2020 to represent the University’s expanded interests.

A Growing Portfolio
In 2020, UCPG announced that University Innovation Quarter (UIQ), located north of the UCalgary, would become part of the UCPG portfolio.

While UCPG operates independently of UCalgary, they are inextricably linked. The institution remains the owner of the land and financially benefits from the unique public-private development model. In the case of UIQ, the development will attract many businesses, researchers and entrepreneurs including businesses that have a relationship with the University. UCalgary is driving the academic and research programming that happens within it.

UIQ spans across 76 acres and features 12 existing buildings predominantly housing laboratory and research tenants. UCPG’s mixed-use redevelopment will support Calgary startup companies as well as science, technology and research organizations. It will be UIQ’s responsibility to produce an active innovation district featuring quantum research, laboratory and advanced manufacturing facilities supported by a range of retail amenities. This innovation hub will allow creativity and research to flourish.

“The intent of UIQ will facilitate the University’s innovation agenda of commercializing creativity, research and ingenuity activity within the University and transition that into economic benefit, particularly creating jobs,” says Jeff Harris, VP Commercial Real Estate.

UIQ is uniquely positioned to support the University of Calgary’s innovation agenda with up to 3.5 million square feet of potential redevelopment which will include uses focused on research and innovation companies.

UCPG will also continue looking for opportunities to expand the current offerings. As there are limited lab facilities remaining, one of the first orders of business will be to create a new building to host labs that is expected to attract a combination of corporate research-oriented tenants as well as startups and next-stage companies to create a thriving ecosystem.

By the end of this year, UCPG will be managing more than 200,000 square feet of retail and office space in U/D and overseeing about 400,000 square feet in UIQ. With such a rapid growth and opportunity, it was time to bring in some exceptional hires to fortify the team.
A Growing Team
Jeff Harris joined UCPG last fall and took on the role of VP of Commercial Real Estate, focusing on the construction and operation of retail, office and other commercial spaces including UIQ’s labs and advanced manufacturing facilities. Coming from WestJet Real Estate Group, Harris’ unique experience complements UCPG’s unique approach to development and he was thrilled to apply that experience to such exciting projects.

“To be part of something from the ground up, UIQ as a new development, was something that attracted me to the organization, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” says Harris. “It’s going to drive economic growth and attract a lot more companies to Calgary.”

Not only will it drive the economy, Harris predicts that this incredible hub will attract established professionals as well as new UCalgary graduates which will help combat the skilled labour shortage. The team is talking a lot about flexibility and future proofing, as what might be happening in these worldclass labs and offices could be innovations that don’t even exist today.

The design of this unique environment replicates the sense of community and place that’s present throughout U/D, and prospective tenants are eagerly awaiting the chance to move in. UCPG has started design services on the three project – a quantum research facility, an office/lab building and an advanced manufacturing building – and the team hopes to have shovels in the ground in the beginning of 2024.

As these projects grow, they will have continued impact on the city and the province and UCalgary will benefit greatly from the success of these developments.

“The unique opportunity that we have is our relationship with the University of Calgary,” says Amanda Wright, VP of Finance and Administration for UCPG. “Our goal is to create a financial legacy built on the returns of the developments. Just as importantly, we’re building the future for Alberta both in terms of U/D and expanding the draw of the University’s innovation agenda with UIQ.”

UCPG’s mandate to deliver great results to UCalgary is matched only by its commitment to deliver on the vision for communities that was presented at the outset.
“We’ve set out on a bold vision for a sustainable and progressive community design. How you develop out the community has a huge impact on peoples’ trust,” says Maureen Henderson, VP of Community Experience for UCPG. “Living in a community that delivers on the vision makes people feel confident that they have made an investment in the right location. We are dedicated to fostering the highest community experience to continue delivering this vision with a people-first approach.”

UCPG has made the amenities they promised easily accessible, from a wide range of retail to allow residents to live, work and play in the community to various events that bring people together like the U/D Night Market and annual community events. UCPG strives to ensure that residents, tenants and guests enjoy their experiences in the development and feel like they are part of the larger vision of what the community sets out to achieve. The result is a palpable sense of pride that enhances the city by creating a true sense of community.

James Robertson refers to Henderson as the “energetic force driving the team;” her expertise in both marketing and communications as well as frontline real estate and development have contributed to how she tells the story of U/D and UIQ and elicits those feelings of pride and connection to the projects. Henderson has done a great job in promoting everything that the developments have to offer and creating a true sense of community even before the crews broke ground.

University District Lifestyle
Since breaking ground on their first stage of development, University District has become Calgary’s best-selling urban community and Canada’s best growing community. It doesn’t take long to see why its bold design and commitment to sustainability are attracting so much attention. U/D is offering much more than a place to live; it’s connection, it’s social, it’s convenience, it’s sustainability, and U/D’s walkable urban lifestyle is something more and more Calgarians are coveting.

That lifestyle is baked into the design. The 200-acre community includes 12 kilometres of interconnected pathways perfect for running, walking the dog or cycling, along with 40 acres of green space where residents can enjoy the nature that exists right outside their doors.

“With three parks completed, there are a variety of options to explore on foot. Northwest Commons Park is a 1.5-acre park with large open spaces but most importantly it is a Playcore National Demonstration Site recognizing its inclusive and accessible design for diverse mobility needs,” says Henderson. “We also have the North Pond on the corner of 32 Avenue and Shaganappi Trail which is more of a contemplative area but centred around an urban dog park. Most recently, we opened Central Commons Park, which is a three-acre all-seasons oasis with everything from fire features and BBQs to picnic tables and shade structures, and of course the seasonal ice rink and splash pad.”

With everything at residents’ doorsteps, they don’t have to leave the area to get groceries, grab a coffee, run the dog, drop their child at the 24-hour daycare, meet friends for dinner or get a haircut. This makes it easy to keep cars parked and put the ‘feet-first’ design of the community into practice.

A Place to Call Home
After all, the neighbourhood was designed to promote connection through its amenities and residential developments that allow people to live and work in the same area. Many people buying or renting in U/D are doing so because of its location amid one of the highest density employment hubs in the city. With its proximity to UCalgary, Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Foothills Medical Centre, not to mention retail and offices in the adjacent communities, it’s an easy commute that is also easy on the environment.
Whether residents are looking to own or rent, there is a style and size that fits every taste and lifestyle. U/D’s renters have found a home in Aria by Harrison Group and Esquire by Truman, which offer a range of rental apartments in buildings that feature a myriad of amenities including a yoga studio, games room and lounge. More rental opportunities are coming to the community with The Forge from The Vivenda Group and Block 15 by Gracorp Properties. This will be U/D’s largest purpose-built residential building to date with 303 rental units and an anticipated occupancy slated for August 2025.
Some of Calgary’s top builders including Homes by Avi, Brookfield Residential, Truman, and Rohit Communities have all left their mark on this community with a wide variety of beautifully designed townhomes and modern condominiums. The latest project in the community is Dean’s Landing by Rohit, which offers buyers a variety of stunning stacked townhouses and condominiums. Argyle by Homes by Avi and Capella by Brookfield Residential are two condo developments currently under construction with final units remaining for sale in Capella.

The sales momentum in U/D has been brisk, which means two new developments will be coming in 2023. Homes by Avi is preparing to introduce a 150-unit condominium project in May 2023 and a new builder with luxury single-level living condominiums will be launching in September. More details will be announced as these exciting projects progress.

The Brenda Strafford Foundation’s Cambridge Manor and Truman’s Maple have brought amazing options for seniors in U/D and are linked by a plus-30 to make it easier for residents to access shared programming. Whether residents are independent active seniors or those needing more assistance, U/D allows residents to age in place in a vibrant community.

U/D will continue to see steady growth over the next decade. The community currently consists of 1,500 completed units and approximately 2,000 residents ranging from young professionals, first-time renters, “right-sizers” transitioning into retirement and seniors. At completion, U/D will expand to more than 7,000 residential units supporting a population of more than 15,000 people. In the next stage of new retail, approximately 45,000 square feet will be carefully curated on Retail Main Street.

Preparing for the Future
One thing today’s consumers are looking for is sustainable neighbourhoods where they can reduce their carbon footprint, and this has been a priority for UCPG from the start. UCPG’s mandate focuses on environmental sustainability, social responsibility and fiscal prudence, leading to University District earning an LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbourhood Development) Platinum certification. U/D is the first in Alberta and the largest development of its kind in Canada to achieve this rating. This certification is a real feather in UCPG’s cap.

As UCPG continues to design, manage and develop University District and University Innovation Quarter, the excitement continues to build along with it. Whether it’s creating a vibrant walkable community with choice retailers and a plethora of residential options or revitalizing the innovation quarter that allow researchers, entrepreneurs, and startups to bring their ideas to life, UCPG’s team is making these thriving communities the heartbeat of the northwest.