City of Calgary planner Julie McGuire said residents' top priorities for future development in West Downtown include restaurants and retail, residential retail and walkable, pedestrian-friendly areas with parks and other green spaces. Photo by Adrian Shellard/For CREB®Now.

West Downtown redevelopment pushes forward, aims to get out of West Village’s shadow

While debate continues on West Village and its controversial CalgaryNEXT sports facility proposal, just next door the Downtown West neighbourhood is continuing its path toward future redevelopment.

After public input into community needs — through online surveys, an open house and ballot boxes and displays in 10 neighbourhood buildings — conducted at the end of 2015, a new draft area redevelopment plan (ARP) is now going through technical and other internal review processes, said City of Calgary planner Julie McGuire, who is managing the Downtown West project.

The document will outline a proposed vision for the area, including refined rules for development types and incentives such as allowing developers increased density if they provide arts spaces, use green building features, fund improved streetscapes and parks, or contribute to an affordable housing fund.

The ARP is also intended to simplify land use, strengthen mobility around, and connections to, the neighbourhood and rest of downtown and protect open spaces along the riverfront – all while improving local amenities.

McGuire said the proposed ARP should be available for additional public review by May. It will then go to the Calgary Planning Commission in July, with possible city council consideration by mid-September.

Downtown West sits across 35.46 hectares in the area between Ninth Street S.W. and 14th Street S.W., extending north to the Bow River and south to the CP Rail tracks. It is an area that, in the 2014 census, showed 2,287 residents — 39 per cent of whom owned their home.

“They are excited about something happening. The community wants it to get done.”

A large component of the survey response came through social media. About 31 per cent of the community’s population is aged 25-34.

The only downtown neighbourhood without an ARP, Downtown West is part of Calgary’s overall Centre City (which also includes Eau Claire, Chinatown, East Village, Connaught, Victoria Crossing). City Centre stretches north and east to the Bow and Elbow rivers between 17th Avenue and 14th Street.

McGuire said residents of the Downtown West neighbourhood are excited about moving forward on the ARP — as demonstrated when an initial consultative process was put on hold in 2013.

“They are excited about something happening. The community wants it to get done,” she said.

Initial community feedback in 2013 included suggestions for a central farmer’s market or an art space in the old science centre, a revitalized shopping district and pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly locales.

The only thing that could slow down the timeline for the anticipated area redevelopment plan is potential transportation overlap with the proposed West Village redevelopment, said McGuire.

She noted some people have confused the Downtown West study with that of its next-door neighbour, West Village — because of the high-profile nature of the proposed $800-million CalgaryNEXT sports complex being proposed as the new event centre for the Calgary Flames and other sports teams, as well as large concerts.

While the CalgaryNEXT project along the Bow River falls in West Village, the area between 14th and 11th streets has a significant road interchange to 14th Street and was kept in the Downtown West study boundary. Any potential transportation reconfiguration in West Village could affect the Downtown West proposal.

The 2015 Downtown West survey showed that, for residents, the top priorities for future development are restaurants and retail, residential retail and walkable, pedestrian-friendly areas with parks and other green spaces.

“They really hope to gain more of a sense of community,” said McGuire.

And while vehicle traffic, particularly at rush hour, was a concern for survey participants, they also cited the need for good pedestrian, cyclist and transit connections. Sixty-nine per cent also wanted an underpass at 11th Street S.W. to help cross the train tracks.

Respondents were evenly split on the subject of increased density. Those opposed complained of existing crowding for the few neighbourhood amenities while others wanted increased density, but with a balance of uses.