Bryan Romanesky, a former city planner and CEO of City Trend, says Currie Barracks could serve as a blueprint for the current McMahon Stadium site moving forward. Photo by Wil Andruschak/For CREB®Now.

With the unveiling of CalgaryNEXT, the storied stadium’s days may be numbered, in turn creating a rare opportunity for high-density inner-city development

CalgaryNEXT, the proposed $890-million home of the Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders, may mark a new chapter for the city’s pro and amateur sports community.

Yet it could also spell the end of McMahon Stadium, one of Calgary’s most hallowed landmarks, and create a development opportunity that many experts say is rare in a city this size.

“It’s an interesting situation because it doesn’t happen often that you have a large piece of land in the inner city ready to be developed,” said Bryan Romanesky, a former city planner and CEO of City Trend, a planning and permit firm.

CalgaryNEXT, first proposed by Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation earlier this summer, is intended to be the next super-project in a city already very familiar with construction cranes.

Built on underused land west of downtown, it would include a 20,000-seat events centre that would host the Flames and Calgary Hitmen, as well as the Calgary Roughnecks.

It would also include a 30,000- to 50,000-seat stadium and fieldhouse that would be home to the Stampeders, and serve as a public training and activity space.

If the Stampeders move to CalgaryNEXT, it could signal the end of McMahon Stadium, which has hosted Olympics, Grey Cups and even hockey games since being constructed for slightly more than $1 million in the 1960s.

While questions continue to swirl around future development possibilities at the northwest Calgary site, Romanesky suggests Currie Barracks and other surrounding former Canadian Force Base (CFB) lands in the southwest could serve as a blueprint going forward.

“At the time, it was envisioned as being very much outside the box,” said Romanesky, who was involved in the early-stage planning and development of the former military base that closed in the mid-1990s, which now includes the mixed-use Currie Barracks community, as well as neighbourhoods such as Garrison Woods and Garrison Greens.

Like the McMahon site, the CFB lands presented a unique opportunity because of its size and location, said Romanesky. Simply put, large parcels in the middle of the city rarely become available for redevelopment.

“What has been done right with these communities is that they reflect a whole spectrum of use, particularly for residential — everything from estate homes to townhouses and condo-style living,” said Romanesky.

At the centre of the development is Currie Barracks, a master-planned community approved earlier this year that will be home to 5,200 residential units along with 245,000 square feet of retail and 750,000 square feet of office space. It will also have almost 10 hectares of municipal reserve and parkland.

“Currie Barracks will have a lot of multi-story apartments, townhouses, and office and retail space — all following the general trend in Calgary to develop in close proximity to major employers,” said Thom Mahler, a manager with Planning, Development and Assessment at the City of Calgary.

Among the major employers in close proximity will be ATCO, currently planning a multi-million-dollar campus and headquarters adjacent to the Currie Barracks.

Mount Royal University, to the south, is also planning expansion in anticipation of the area’s full development.

Although an example of successful redevelopment, Currie Barracks will likely share little in common with the McMahon Stadium site should the later be redeveloped, argues a veteran of the city’s commercial real estate community.

“For one, it’s likely to have much more high-density residential development,” said Greg Kwong, regional managing director for CBRE Limited, an international real estate consulting firm.

Because it’s also smaller land mass than the CFB site, it’s unlikely that single-family residential developments would be viable, he adds.

Still, the potential is there to build multi-family, high-rise residences that would likely fit in well with the needs of the area, providing housing for students, and university and Foothills Hospital staff, said Kwong.

“You could probably put about 15,000 units on the site alone,” he said.

While the stadium land is an ideal location for a high-density, mixed-use neighbourhood given its close proximity to an already existing LRT line — something Currie Barracks doesn’t have — and major arteries such Crowchild Trail, Kwong says redevelopment of McMahon is by no means a slam dunk.

For one, the University of Calgary, which owns most of stadium land, has yet to disclose its plans for the site.

In fact, the university declined comment on the site, though its president Elizabeth Cannon recently issued an official statement indicating it looks forward to working with the Stampeders to explore “opportunities and impacts.”

Another potential obstacle is the site is home to some of the university’s sports facilities. Those would have to be part of any new development plan for the stadium site, or relocated to CalgaryNEXT’s facilities.

Moreover, the university has already embarked on another major development plan for its West Campus lands that will feature a mix of residential, commercial and retails use, said Kwong.

The 80-hecatre undeveloped parcel of land located around the Alberta Children’s Hospital and west of the University of Calgary is being developed by the West Campus Development Trust, which is a not-for-profit subsidiary of the University of Calgary.

Named University District, the area will be home to more than 15,000 residents, and feature 8.7 million buildable square feet, including nine blocks of retail development and 16 hectares of open space.

“So you have to ask: would that development be in competition with development that may be proposed for the McMahon site,” asked Kwong.

While the fate of the stadium remains in doubt, Romanesky says Calgarians should be excited about the opportunities that might present themselves if there is a change to the local landscape.

“Any potentially massive urban development project brings a lot of excitement, and we’ve been very lucky because we have so many of them: the East Village, Currie Barracks, now CalgaryNEXT and who knows… maybe McMahon, too,” he said.