Car-free living in the downtown core is that much closer to becoming a reality with the groundbreaking of a major redevelopment in the East Village, says Calgary's mayor. 

Construction officially began Wednesday on a project that is slated to bring two residential towers and 188,000 square feet of retail space to the block located at Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Street S.E. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the mixed-use model — which will build a Loblaws grocery store directly into a 500 unit condo residential hub — will finally make pedestrian living feasible in the downtown core.

"The fact that we are getting a grocery store and other big retailers to be announced here means that people can really start living without a car," he said.

"This is a really big deal."

Groundbreaking East Village

Occupying a full city block, the redevelopment project comprises two residential towers with more than 500 condominium homes and an urban format ‘retail podium’ that will bring 188,000 square feet of leasable retail space to the neighbourhood’s street level. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

'The perfect time' to invest

The neighbourhood redevelopment is expected to inject $500 million into the local economy. 

It is a joint effort between commercial real estate giant RioCan and residential developer Embassy BOSA.

Edward Sonshine CEO RioCan

Edward Sonshine, CEO and founder of RioCan, says we should expect to see more of this mixed-use model of construction, not just in Calgary but throughout the world. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

RioCan founder and CEO Edward Sonshine said many have questioned whether building a $200-million project in Calgary in the middle of a downturn is a wise business move. 

But Sonshine expressed confidence that the city would rebound from its economic slump, and said the higher-than-normal availability of skilled tradespeople coupled with low interest rates makes this "the perfect time" to invest. 

"The cure for low oil prices is low oil prices. They've been low for longer than anybody expected. They'll go up again," he said.

"In any event, Calgary will figure it out. They always do."

With files from Scott Dippel