Tower development proposed for Stephen Avenue, city asks for feedback

Renderings of a proposed tower project in downtown Calgary. (City of Calgary)

A Canadian real estate developer has submitted plans to the City of Calgary to build a tower project with potential to transform the downtown skyline.

Toronto-based Triovest submitted a development permit application for Stephen Avenue Quarter on April 21, proposing to build offices, a hotel, residential units and retail space.

Architectural renderings available on the city's development map website show plans for a 66-storey condo/hotel tower, 54 storeys for rental/residential, and a 24-storey office structure.

The plans span almost an entire city block, covering Stephen Avenue and Seventh Avenue between Centre Street and First Street S.W.

If built, the project would become the tallest tower in Western Canada.

Brookfield Place is currently Calgary's tallest building at 56 storeys, while Edmonton's Stantec Tower, completed in 2019, is the tallest building outside of Toronto at 251 metres.

Triovest declined to do an interview saying it is early days in the project.

Instead the company sent a statement to CTV News.

"Our approach to real estate has always been to improve and enhance properties to achieve their full potential. This approach includes a robust exploration of potential community, social, and economic benefits," it said.

"As we look to develop mixed-use options for businesses, residents, and visitors in downtown Calgary, we have applied for a development permit and land use amendment with the City of Calgary for the 100 Block of Stephen Avenue."

The application for a land-use change to a direct control district is currently under review and comments from the public are being accepted until June 2.

The proposal also includes plans to retain the facades of heritage buildings facing Stephen Avenue, whereas the Central United Church and BMO building — currently the site of a GoodLife Fitness gym -- will be relatively untouched.

HERITAGE AND HISTORY

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong represents Calgary's downtown core and says he hopes the proposal wouldn't be too drastic.

"From the city's perspective, we need to keep some of the history and heritage because that's the character of who we are," said Wong.

"It's exciting to see that investors want to come in and build a new development here that exudes confidence that the city is still thriving place to do business. So we're definitely looking forward to that investment."

Wong says his team has asked Calgary Economic Development to weigh in on their assessment of the tower projects, and says its important for the development to bring the right mix of vitality, character and energy to the downtown core.

Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary, says 15 of the 17 Heritage designated sites on the parcel in the proposal will be affected.

"Some of these buildings on Stephen Avenue date from the 1890s, they are some of the orders buildings in Calgary and at the end of the day, I'm not sure keeping the facade is really going to do much."

Traptow says he's been contacted by the developers and he looks forward to future meetings to discuss why protecting just the facades is a current component of the project.

"We are interested to learn more about the project and all of the planning and analysis that has gone into it and to see if improvements can be made for what other heritage can potentially be saved," he said.

OFFICE VACANCY

The project application comes as Calgary continues to struggle with high office vacancy rates, albeit amid a recent, slight downward improvement.

According to CBRE, the first quarter of 2022 in Calgary saw a net positive of 63,000 square feet absorbed, which reduced the overall vacancy rate by 40bps to 32.8 per cent.

More than 14 million square feet of office space is still available for lease in Calgary’s downtown core.

In April, the City of Calgary unveiled the three approved projects to convert unused office buildings into residential space at:

  • Palliser One, located at 125 Ninth Avenue S.E. (Aspen Properties);
  • HAT @ Arts Common, located at 205 Ninth Avenue S.E. (Cidex Group of Companies), and;
  • 909 Fifth Avenue S.W. (Peoplefirst Developments).

Together, the projects are expected to remove approximately 414,000 square feet of office space from the market and create an estimated 401 homes.

"Any time we have a major application come to us regarding our downtown, it is a sign of the confidence the private sector has in our city," said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek in an emailed statement sent on Wednesday.

She continued, "When we invest in ourselves as our city has done - committing a quarter of a billion dollars to our downtown revitalization - private investment coming in and believing in our city is a very big deal."

"Creating a welcoming, mixed-use downtown remains a top priority and it is encouraging to see others recognize the great transformation Calgary is currently undergoing," said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek on Wednesday in a release about an international media outlet covering Calgary's recent projects converting vacant downtown office space into residential units.

The release adds the city invested $250 million for downtown revitalization.

The land-use application for Triovest's Stephen Avenue Quarter will be presented to the planning commission for discussion, followed by a public hearing in council chambers, before council makes a decision, all within a 180-day period.

While the development permit component of the project is also under review, that's the window for the public to provide comments and feedback.