West Village redevelopment taking back seat to twin to the east
With its eastern counterpart the darling of Calgary’s development scene, the West Village couldn’t be blamed for feeling a bit like a forgotten sibling.
Bounded to the north by the Bow River, to the east by 11th Street SW, to the south by the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks and to the west by Crowchild Trail, the area was once envisioned to be a “transit-oriented, sustainable urban community,” yet sits idle as “an auto-oriented brownfield site.”
While City officials maintain redeveloping West Village is still the plan, it remains a distant goal, at least for now.
“[West Village] is seen as more of a long-term expansion,” said Matthias Tita, director of local area planning and implementation for the City of Calgary. “We don’t want to dilute the (segment of the) market looking for a downtown neighbourhood that the East Village is (already) creating.”
While there have been some changes since the City first laid out its first West Village area redevelopment plan in 2009, including the arrival of the $1.4-billion West LRT line, development on the 45-hectare piece of land remains limited, to say the least.
The former Calgary Science Centre, having since moved to a new location next to the Calgary Zoo, is slated to become a public art gallery. Other long-term residents such as the Pumphouse Theatre and Mewata Armoury remain local icons.
The area is also still home to an array of local business, including, Metro Ford, which has been located at the corner of 10th Street and Ninth Avenue S.W. since 1970.
WAM Development Group recently announced plans to construct more than 1,800 luxury residential suites in four towers located above 150,000 square feet of retail space on the existing Metro Ford site.
“I think that there’s a migration of dealerships that are leaving the downtown core, no question,” said Metro Ford owner Reg Pattemore, adding the cost of doing business at the current location no longer makes sense.
“Quite clearly, the present tax structure is not good for car dealers right now. They’re basing it on best use of land and not necessarily a car dealership.”
In addition to WAM’s project, Wexford Development Corp and Cidex Developments are also planning to break ground on the proposed West Village Towers in the coming months. The project is expected to consist of three towers of residential development, totaling 575 units, with 90,000 square feet of retail and office space.
“That’s what’s going to happen – you’re going to see Ninth (Avenue) and 11th (Street) build out,” said Matthew Boukall, Calgary-based director of residential advisory services for Altus Group, a Canadian real estate advisory firm.
“So you’re going to get a bunch of development going on those current empty parking lots. And then you’ll see that jump over 14th Street barrier and start getting West Village going as well.
“I think the barrier in the short term is there’s a lot of land still vacant in the west downtown, so I think we’ll see that build out before development build further west.”
With the goal of creating a diverse mixed-use development, building-out the West Village will also depend on the speed at which other neighbourhoods expand and factors within the community itself, said Boukall.
“I’m not sure what the City is suggesting now from a timing perspective on West Village, but I’d be surprised if we saw anything in the next 15 years because we still have the existing car dealerships to deal with, we still have a giant bus depot to deal with, as well as some of the contaminated lands,” he said.
The contaminated lands refer to the former Canada Creosote site along Bow Trail. Since 2010, the province has drilled 30 monitoring wells in the West Hillhurst community as part of an ongoing testing program. While recent monitoring results are in line with an initial Human Health Risk Assessment study from 2010, officials have detected a higher amount of creosote in one of the wells.
No specific plans have been made for further remediation of the site, with any action on the matter likely coming closer to the final build-out, said Tita.
To capitalize on the West Village’s riverfront location, the City may even move Bow Trail to take full advantage of the community’s riverfront location.
“The concept in the (area redevelopment plant) wants to really take advantage of the location along the Bow River,” said Tita. “To really do that, the plan contemplates the relocation of Bow Trail. So that’s one major infrastructure project that needs to be dealt with.”
Whenever the final vision is realized, Boukall said the West Village represents a great opportunity for the City to take what’s being done elsewhere and use that knowledge to provide Calgarians with another attractive community in which to live, work and play.
“From a visioning standpoint, I think when the market realities will come down it will probably look kind of like the East Village when it builds out,” he said. “I think they’re trying to copy a lot of mixed-use development trends they’ve been putting there.
“The thing that excites me about the West Village is the opportunity to create some valuable land on the west end where, historically, Calgarians have preferred less. You get better access to the river on that side. You get a west-end address and you have an LRT station right at your door. So from a liveability standpoint, it may be even more attractive than the East Village when it’s all said and done.”