Here's a closer look at the proposed developments for 17th Avenue S.W.
Arlington Street Investments plans to change the popular district in coming years
A developer set on remodelling Calgary's popular 17th Avenue S.W. says some of his plans are already underway but others won't begin for at least five years.
Arlington Street Investments has bought 42 properties on the street, known as the Red Mile to Calgarians.
The street is popular for brunch-goers to the late night crowd, and if the developer has its way, it'll be home to eight new mixed-use retail and residential buildings — eventually.
"You can't own this many properties and think you're going to build them in the next five years and you're going to have uptake in that short of a period of time," Arlington CEO Frank Lonardelli said. "It just doesn't logistically work that way."
Instead, he's focusing on two projects — both near Fifth Street S.W. — that will be worked on this year, while renovating the interiors of many of the other buildings bought.
Those will be rebuilt or dramatically remodelled, but when that happens won't be decided until the market can provide the appropriate tenants the projects will need.
Lonardelli has announced seven of the eight projects so far, and spoke with CBC News about his plans for each.
Sentinel will be a mixed used development at the northwest corner of 17th Avenue and 14th Street S.W. It'll have a main base, which will house retail and potentially a grocery store.
On top of that will be two towers filled with residential units.
Lonardelli is not yet sure if they'll be apartments or condos. He hasn't chosen the height for those towers yet, either.
Design plans will be developed, in consultation with city planners and community associations, over the next 12 months.
Scotia Block is at the southeast corner of the same intersection, 17th Avenue and 14th Street S.W. It used to house American Apparel, which closed.
The building's interior has been retrofitted and a new health-care clinic has moved in as a tenant.
Scotia Block was built in the 1940s in a classical commercial style. It's not a heritage-designated building but its facade is well-known, and the company would like to maintain it, Lonardelli said.
Further work on the building has yet to be determined, and would not begin for at least five years, he said.
This is a building at College Lane and 17th Avenue, the southwest corner.
Arlington has taken over the building and retrofitted the inside. It houses Starbucks and Blanco Cantina, a Mexican and tapas-style restaurant. A second restaurant will be announced in the next three weeks, Lonardelli said.
The company plans to tear it down to make way for a 45,000 square-foot mixed-use building.
"When the time's right," he said. "But the time won't be right for at least five years."
Construction is scheduled to begin by July this year on the exterior of a building that's home to the National, a popular bar and restaurant at the northeast corner of 17th Avenue and Fifth Street S.W.
The brick will remain, but the windows and entrances will be redone. The company intends to move its head office into the building's upper level.
Washrooms, elevators and common spaces will all be redone.
The Fifth is on the same side as 17th, on the other side of Fifth Street.
The old Jalland Block, which housed Waves Cafe, has been torn down. That, plus a small apartment building and parking lot, will make way for a mixed-use development.
The Jalland Block was a 1907 Dutch Colonial Revival-style house.
The replacement five-storey, almost 24,000 square-foot building will have main floor retail, condos above it and parking underground.
Construction will begin in the fall, the company said.
Arlington has bought a string of houses and a restaurant's building on the south side of 17th Avenue S.W. in the 800 block.
The businesses remain, including Buon Giorno Ristorante Italian, Esmé Beauty & Floral Bar and Ollie Quinn optical.
In two to three years, the developer hopes to tear these buildings down to make way for a mixed-use building.
Arlington has bought the Fishman's Dry Cleaners building, at the southeast corner of 5A Street and 17th Avenue, as well as four parcels of land behind it.
The company understands this land is going through a rezoning process. That will guide what the company plans to do with the properties, Lonardelli said.
Two local business owners who spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener said they agree the street could use some work, but warn against forcing change.
The company is trying to create "high street" in Calgary, similar to that of Robson Street in Vancouver or Bloor Street in Toronto: a destination for dining, socializing and shopping.
Jennifer Leblond, who owns Steeling Home on 17th Ave., used to live in Vancouver. She said she watched Robson Street go from being a dense, vibrant neighbourhood to losing its character and filling up with drugs store chains and banks.
"I think we have to show some love for our neighbourhood," Leblond said. "You can't create character.... It has to come from within. And when you have a sheer glass building with no setback, it doesn't say, 'Come on in.'"
She stressed keeping rents low, staying in the character of the community and having interesting buildings all would help attract independent business instead of chains.
Jayme McFayden, owner of four 17th Avenue restaurants, added that she seeks out buildings that are unique, both as a potential business tenant and a customer.
"Buildings that are being built with these huge, big glass facades right now, they're still sitting empty," Jamie said. "So hopefully [developers] take lessons from that and kind of create some more interesting buildings, rather than just boring cookie cutters."
For instance, she rented a space for Una Pizza + Wine in an older building that's long and narrow with exposed brick.
'What is the character?'
The question of maintaining 17th Avenue's character has certainly crossed Lonardelli's mind but he said he'll be looking to create what he thinks should be there, as well.
"What is the character of 17th Avenue? I think it depends on where you are on 17th," he said.
"If you're referring to the character of being a bunch of small buildings, some of which have been well maintained, some of which are completely in disrepair, I guess that's a part of the tapestry of an urban setting like that.
"I think we're going to take the best of 17th and do more of it."
Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at email@example.com.
More stories from the series:
- Calgary developer buys 42 buildings to revamp 17th Avenue
- NYC planner urges Calgarians not to 'take our streets for granted'
- Here's what a 27.7% vacancy rate looks like in downtown Calgary
With files from Donna McElligott and the Calgary Eyeopener.