Calgary's Civic District near City Hall reimagined in new strategy

A city council committee will consider a report for what's being called the Civic District. It lays out a plan for revitalizing and creating a unified vision for a long-neglected area of Calgary's downtown.

Plan looks at redevelopment plans for everything from Stephen Avenue to the new East Village

The city's new strategy has Stephen Avenue continuing right up through Calgary's City Hall, through the atrium on the municipal building and out the other side to the East Village. Here is what the area looks like today. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

There's plenty of publicly-owned land within a few blocks of City Hall in downtown Calgary, but what's the vision for the future?

City council's planning committee will discuss exactly that on Wednesday when they look at a new strategy for what's being called the Civic District. The 87-page document called "Building Our Heart" spells out what the city would like to see in the area, although there's little detail on a timeframe or costs. 

What's more important, says area councillor Druh Farrell, is that there is a vision — a target which brings together all the area's players. 

Obviously the city owns the crumbling Old City Hall building, the municipal building and Olympic Plaza. But Calgarians also have the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, Arts Commons and the new Calgary Public Library in this 'hood. As well, the private sector owns several important pieces of land in this area that will be redeveloped in the years ahead.

The Civic District strategy has 10 parts to it. Here are three of the more interesting points.

1. Extending Stephen Avenue through City Hall

Many people love the lunch-hour vibe of Stephen Avenue, but that stroll ends at the big blue municipal building and east of that is a different kind of Eighth Avenue.

This strategy envisions a way through the building where council holds its meetings, and then through the new central library that will soon start rising across Third Street southeast. The idea is to link up with Eighth Avenue southeast so you can walk all the way to Fort Calgary. 

Some tricky geography here though. Walking through the municipal building means climbing stairs or a ramp to get to the atrium, which could one day be lined with shops.

But then as you exit to the east, it's down a flight of stairs to the street level. Council has already decided no Plus-15 crossings to the library. Then a pedestrian will have to go up in the library to again descend to the street level on the library's east side. Looking forward to seeing how this gets resolved.

This rendering has Stephen Avenue running right through Calgary's City Hall in downtown and connecting to the East Village on the other side. (City of Calgary)

2. The 3rd Street "Zipper"

It's called a zipper because the idea is to use the street behind City Hall to zip together the existing Civic District with the East Village. Right now, it appears like the municipal building has turned its back on the East Village. 

But the East Village is changing and Third Street is seen as a crucial link. When you think about it, lots of change is coming to that street. Farrell says it will totally change the complexion.

A new grocery store is coming to the north just across from Bow Valley College. The Cecil Hotel is another development site, as is the YWCA block.The strategy calls for retail frontage on the east side of the municipal building and possibly extending Third Street south across the CPR tracks at the level crossing to link with the Beltline.

The city is hoping to develop a plan to how downtown Calgary will transition to the East Village. (City of Calgary)

3. Ceremonial boulevard

Yes, the city is rethinking the look of Macleod Trail and turning it into a grand link between the Bow and Elbow rivers.

Could you imagine a ceremonial boulevard, like the Mall in London, in downtown Calgary? (City of Calgary)

In the report, this section is accompanied by pictures of the Champs Elysee in Paris and the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace in London. Talk about aiming high! The idea is a main street, which is active around the clock, is many things to many users and makes a statement.

The report find there's potential, particularly for better linking Olympic Plaza with the under-used municipal building. These two areas right now aren't exactly complementary.

The report points out that even just improving the lighting and street furniture, and tackling that grimy CPR underpass, could change the vibe on this street. There's redevelopment potential with the soon-to-be vacant library site, the former Calgary Board of Education head office and the YWCA site. 

The city is looking to have a "Ceremonial Boulevard" on Macleod Trail north. (City of Calgary)


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