CMLC president and CEO Michael Brown is helping to shape the massive mixed-use, inner city community of East Village, one of the largest urban re-developments in North America. Photo by Adrian Shellard/For CREB®Now

We’ve all heard that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Calgary, which continues to undergo an urban renaissance. Over the next five days, CREB®Now will present a series where it has sat down with five influencers who have helped develop the city as we know it today.

CMLC boss follows his heart

Through several significant career changes, Michael Brown has always taken to heart his mother’s advice growing up: “I don’t care what you do; just make a difference.”

As president and CEO of Calgary Municipal Land Corp. (CMLC) since 2011, Brown is doing just that as he leads the rejuvenation of the massive 20-hectare, mixed-use, inner city community of East Village, one of the largest urban re-developments in North America.

So how did this political science university graduate, who jumped into economic development and then helped build one of Calgary’s iconic corporate headquarters, get involved in urban renewal?

“I was tracking well career-wise, but knew in my heart of hearts, I needed to be able to see results,” he said. “I pushed toward development — I like riddles; I love it when there are no clear answers.”

Real estate development, he says, “has a lot of different answers and a lot that aren’t clear. And there are always obstacles to be overcome. That gets me excited.”

There certainly have been obstacles. In 2002, an attempt to revitalize East Village, which lies along the banks of the Bow River between Fort Calgary and downtown, ended in failure as a controversial partnership with a consortium of developers was abandoned.

CMLC was established as a subsidiary of the City of Calgary to revisit the east river district of the downtown core in 2007. Now, condo buildings are soaring, retail is opening (including restaurants in the historic Simmons Building), the riverfront walk has been rejuvenated, both the National Music Centre and the New Central Library are under construction and other major developments, such as a hotel and grocery store have been announced.

Brown says the delay in reinventing East Village has ultimately been a positive thing because, “we are so much smarter today about what makes a great community.”

Instead of developing a “Made in Calgary” solution, “we think ‘what is best in class? Who is the best person to design this, no matter where they come from?’ There is comfort with being bold.”

Brown’s journey to his current role started as a third-generation Calgarian – whose mom grew up in the inner city, whose great-grandfather developed the Ukrainian church in Bridgeland and whose family is threaded with public service – including two police officer grandparents.

Brown enjoyed a stint as a vice-president at Calgary Economic Development, but remembers calling his mom from New York’s JFK airport to tell her he was leaving the association to go sell real estate.

“Everyone who knew me said I was throwing away my career. I knew I wanted a different path,” he said.

Nine months later, as an associate vice-president with Matthews Southwest real estate agency, he was helping make The Bow reality.

He describes Encana’s corporate headquarters as “a bold building with art that makes a bold statement.” In fact, the 12-metre tall art piece head at the building’s front would have been half the size if built any earlier in the city’s evolution due to evolving rules around public art.

East Village, he says, has shown “how you can do spectacular projects. The (New Central) library will be delivered on time, on budget; you can do signature projects and do them responsibly. You can have it all.”

Will East Village, to eventually house more than 11,000 residents, help make Calgary a great city?

“East Village is the canvas. People will make it great,” said Brown, noting the mix of demographics in the community — from young first-time buyers to seniors — of people wanting an urban lifestyle, with access to all the amenities of downtown.

With most of the land in East Village sold, and as the community continues to grow over the next decade, CMLC is expected to take on another development project on municipal lands – rumoured to be the West Village.

“We’ve built an interesting tool for the city,” said Brown. “So what’s next?”

CREB®Now Urban Influencers Series

Today: Michael Brown, Calgary Municipal Land Corp.

Saturday: Jay Westman, Jayman Built

Sunday: Jeff Fielding, City of Calgary

Monday: Myrna Dube, Parks Foundation Calgary

Tuesday: Alan Norris, Brookfield Residential