Calgary lays out 'aspirational vision' for redevelopment of downtown core

Extending Stephen Avenue through the Municipal Building all the way to East Village is just one component of a broad new vision for downtown Calgary approved by council Monday.

Civic District Public Realm Strategy remains 'all theory' for the time being, mayor notes

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the new public realm strategy is 'all theory' at this point but lays the foundation for a vastly different downtown Calgary. (CBC)

Extending Stephen Avenue through the Municipal Building all the way to East Village is just one component of a broad new vision for downtown Calgary approved by council Monday.

The Civic District Public Realm Strategy lays out an "aspirational vision for what the heart of the city needs to look like," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

As part of that vision, "there is a dream to connect East Village and Fort Calgary with the areas to the west," said program manager Ben Barrington.

"Currently the Municipal Building provides a bit of a barrier," he said. "Interestingly enough, it was originally designed to allow Stephen Avenue to go right through city hall. So this strategy just reinforces some ideas that have happened in the past."

While it may be tough to imagine at first glance, extending the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall through the atrium of the Municipal Building "is feasible" and "not that outrageously expensive," Barrington added.

A diagram of how the Stephen Avenue extension (the red dotted arrow) could run through the Municipal Building and under the archway of the new central library to connect to East Village. (City of Calgary)

The final product would be something akin to the indoor pedestrian mall of the Core Shopping Centre, he said, but be open 24 hours a day so that it's a permanent route available to people wanting to travel.

The new central library being built just to the east also includes a walk-through archway as part of the building design so that pedestrians can travel unimpeded between east and west.

'Ceremonial Boulevard'

Another component of the long-term plan is a "Ceremonial Boulevard" along Macleod Trali North connecting the Elbow River, Stampede Grounds, CP Rail lines, Olympic Plaza and the Bow River. It could serve as a route for the Stampede parade and other major public events.

Barrington said the goal would be to create "a very interesting place for people to walk and get out of their cars."

The strategy document describes Macleod Trail North as "a critical route" into the city's core that "traverses several iconic elements of Calgary's geographic and cultural landscape" and currently sees 29,000 vehicles and 10,800 pedestrians per day.

Program manager Ben Barrington talks about the grand new vision for Calgary's centre-city area just prior to the plan being approved by city council on Monday. 6:26

Yet another part of the strategy is the "Third Street S.E. Zipper" — a vision for transforming the currently underused route that runs between the Municipal Building and the site of the new central library into a connection between East Village and the rest of downtown to the west.

"It's called a zipper because it notionally ties together East Village and then the west side of downtown," Barrington said.

Public feedback often described Third Street S.E. as "neglected" and the strategy calls for it to "become a more active and pedestrian-friendly street with improved connections to the Bow River and Bridgeland."

​'All theory' — for now

The mayor noted the document is "all theory" at this point and actual construction is years away for most projects, but there was a need to develop a cohesive plan.

"The idea here is that we're getting so much development in this area but there wasn't an overall framework as to how that should look," Nenshi said.

Barrington said there's no budget for overall strategy yet, as the various components would be carried out as standalone projects, and many of the looming developments in the area are private projects.

Nenshi said the largest public component would be redeveloping the Municipal Building and Olympic Plaza, including potential for the Stephen Avenue extension.

Coun. Druh Farrell said the city will be consulting with Calgarians on any changes.

Coun. Druh Farrell says the strategy will improve safety and encourage more people to walk. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

"Calgarians want to be involved in anything that happens with the plaza," she said. "It's Calgary's living room. So we need to engage with them on elements we want to keep, elements that aren't that important and move forward from there."

One possibility is the addition of parking underneath Olympic Plaza, something Farrell said might help pay for the plaza's redevelopment.


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