‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky’

* Part three of three in Calgary’s Growing Up series

Calgary’s commercial sector riding high with innovative designs, added amenities

It’s tough to keep tabs on Calgary’s skyline these days.

With new buildings breaking ground every week in an area already adorned with construction cranes, it’s no surprise the city’s commercial sector ranks as one of Canada’s most active.

With 791,344 square feet of office space leased through the first nine months of 2014, and another 3.8 million of square feet under construction, it’s not simply the amount of leasing activity taking place in downtown Calgary, but the stature of those building yet to be constructed.

“We’re finding in Calgary over the last 30 years that the average-sized tenant has grown,” said Greg Kwong, executive vice-president commercial real estate from CBRE Limited Calgary. “There might have been four of five companies that occupied 800,000 square feet 20 or 30 years ago. Now, there’s probably double that.”

Breaking ground in the shadow of Calgary’s most significant commercial project – the $850-million 1.7-million-square-foot Bow tower – several new office projects are set to further transform the core and fill the need for office space.

Sitting just a few blocks west of The Bow, Telus Sky is one of the more significant projects under construction. Representing a distinct change from the architecture of years past, the 59-storey tower will feature 750,000 square feet of residential, retail and office space encompassed in “one of the most technologically innovative and environmentally-friendly sites in North America.”

Constructed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Dialog, the LEED Platinum building will feature a storm-water management system to recycle rainwater for washroom toilets and outdoor irrigation, reducing water use by millions of litres per year. In fact, when complete in 2017, Telus Sky will use 35 per cent less energy than similar size developments.

The desire to create buildings that not only differ on the outside but also operate differently inside is a growing factor for builders in the city, said Kwong. Telus Sky’s sloped walls made out of natural stone, stainless steel and glass, for example, are meant to reference the peaks of the nearby Rocky Mountains that give Calgary its backdrop.

“There is definitely a drive to make the buildings that are being built right now more energy-efficient and [allow a lot more] light and create a more inviting environment for the people who will be working,” he said.
“So functionally, there are more open spaces, plants internally in the lobbies, lots of lobby light and things like that. LEED certification is important as well. Anything in that regard is driving a change in development over 20 years ago.”

One of the largest projects ever to come to Calgary’s downtown core is the $1.3-billion Brookfield Place office tower being constructed on the site of the old Calgary Herald building, flanked by First and Second Streets S.W. and Sixth and Seventh Avenues S.W. The 2.4-million-square-foot structure, which broke ground late last year, is expected to be the tallest building in Western Canada at 56 storeys and 247 meters in height.

The “jewel-box-like structure,” which will include Cenovus as its anchor tenant, will take on the appearance of a glass box softened by rounded corners and edges. It will feature an innovative bicycle parking facility accessible by dedicated bike ramps separate from vehicular traffic and electric car plug-in recharge stations.

Plans also call for an additional one-million-square-foot office tower, a 60-foot-high transparent glass pavilion, restaurants, retail shops and underground parking.

Amenities such as shops and eateries are becoming the norm, not exception, in Calgary’s office towers, said Rick Urbanczyk, senior vice-president for commercial real estate firm JLL.

“There’s an identity that some of these companies want to have, and your typical rectangular box building doesn’t do it anymore,” he said.

“There’s always a flight to quality it seems like in Calgary, no matter what kind of market we’re in, because our labour market is so competitive that companies really want to differentiate themselves from another use that is very similar. You can only ‘buy up’ people so much in a labour market, so you’ve got to use other things that will be benefits to employees. Design and function of buildings and amenities within buildings is another chip that a company has to play when it comes to the labour market.”

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