Calgary developer buys 42 buildings to revamp 17th Avenue

Frank Lonardelli, CEO of Arlington Street Investments, is trying to change the face of the street and bring in thousands of new people to live, work and play there.

Frank Lonardelli wants to liven up city's most popular street

A Calgary developer has bought 42 buildings along a 10-block stretch of 17th Avenue S.W., including the building that houses the National. (Google Maps)

If Calgary has a playground, this is it.

The Red Mile — 17th Avenue — is a strip of road running from the Stampede grounds to 14th Street that's packed with bars, restaurants, eclectic shops and coffee joints.

A Calgary developer has bought 42 buildings along the strip and has ambitious plans to revamp the whole district.

Frank Lonardelli, CEO of Arlington Street Investments, is trying to change the face of the street and bring in thousands of new people to live, work and play there.

"We don't have the depth of a Robson Street in Vancouver, a Bloor in Toronto, a St. Denis or Saint Catherine in Montreal — and I think there's a real opportunity to do that," he told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

​"Right now, we don't have any vertical density. In other words, we have a number of single storey buildings up and down 17th Avenue, mostly inhabited by restaurant or food and beverage [establishments]."

CEO of Arlington Street Investments Frank Lonardelli tells us why he's been buying properties on 17th Avenue. 8:15

Increasing density is key to Lonardelli's plans. He wants a mass of people available to frequent restaurants and businesses that serve a busy community from breakfast through to late night cocktails. That means building back and up.

"What we have on 17th is a real opportunity to recreate 17th Avenue to have far better pedestrian interface, far better pedestrian friendly opportunities, a lot different retail than we currently have right now," he said.

Arlington Street Investments has identified these seven sites out of eight for planned developments. The eighth will be announced at a later time. (Rachel Ward/Google Maps)

The street has a personality all its own. Perhaps a bit shabby at times and a little rough-and-tumble on a Friday night, it still sports some pretty high-end destinations.

In a city with thousands of streets and dozens of communities, it's one of the few "places" everyone seems to know. From students to the brunch crowd, it's where Calgarians of all types mingle, however briefly.

'17th Avenue needs an overhaul'

Jayme McFayden owns four restaurants on the strip — Una Pizza + Wine, Una Takeaway, Bread and Circus, and Frenchie Wine Bar — and says they all should be doing better.

"Maybe I don't know the full scope of what he is planning, but I think 17th Avenue needs an overhaul," McFayden said. "From when we opened Una eight years ago, we're seeing less and less people come there all the time."

Right now, the street feels like "a thoroughfare," she said, and less of a destination, compared with in the past.

Arlington Street plans to either demolish or dramatically renovate all of the 42 buildings it has bought, and create eight sites between Fourth and 14th streets.

Construction has already begun on some of these but most won't see major work for five years or more, the developer said.

Frank Lonardelli is the CEO of Arlington Street Investments. (Frank Lonardelli/Twitter)

Those purchased buildings make up nearly one-third of the estimated 150 buildings on that stretch, several of which may be unique, heritage buildings, according to the Calgary Heritage Initiative.

One of the buildings, a 1907 Dutch Colonial Revival house called Jalland Block, was demolished last fall, spokesperson Karen Paul said.

Her group posted about the Arlington Street plans on its Facebook page, and followers reacted, worrying about a "cold sterile environment" with "square glass buildings."

"It is alarming that several projects like this could be unfolding without full public transparency," Paul said. "In the absence of disclosure, conjecture abounds. Some hard questions need to be asked."

Lonardelli says he wants the developments — scattered across the 10-block stretch — to be filled with happy business owners and long-term tenants.

At Fifth Street and 17th Avenue S.W., he plans to renovate the building that currently holds the National. The bar will remain but the front will be redone and the upstairs will house the developer's new main office.

The National before renovations:

Arlington Street Investments has bought the building that houses the National. (Arlington Street Investments)

The National after renovations:

This is what Arlington Street Investments wants the National building to look like after renovations. (Arlington Street Investments)

One block over at Fifth Street where the Jalland Block was — which most recently housed a Waves Coffee shop — Arlington has also acquired the small apartment block next to it.

Once that brick building is torn down as well, the plan is to build a 45,000 square foot mixed-use building called The Fifth. It'll have 13,000 square feet of street-level retail space and upper floors of boutique condos.

It all comes as the City of Calgary upgrades the road and its utilities: crosswalks, curbs, water and sewer, pole burying and new trees and sitting areas.

"We've had a bit of doldrums here," Lonardelli said. "The economy's been slowing right down, so we took that opportunity to buy.

"I think we're going to be really well set up for the next five, 10 and 15 years."

The other developments detailed so far range from six to 30 storeys, and include space for high-end retailers and a major grocery store chain.


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 calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca.

More stories from the series:

With files from Donna McElligott and the Calgary Eyeopener.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article contained a map, provided by Arlington Street Investments, that showed the wrong architectural renderings. This has been replaced.
    Apr 12, 2018 3:38 PM MT