Calgary event centre 'critical' to downtown revitalization, Chamber of Commerce head says

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin held a virtual meeting Tuesday with CBC Calgary's editorial board to talk about some of the issues the city is facing.

Provincial budget, arena and downtown revitalization discussed at CBC editorial board

Calgary's downtown is pictured on Sept. 2, 2021. Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin says there is a lot of real estate in the city's centre that needs to be looked at differently. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin held a virtual meeting Tuesday with CBC Calgary's editorial board to talk about some of the issues the city is facing.

The following question and answer includes excerpts from that discussion, which has been edited for length and clarity. 

Question: I know [on Tuesday] city council was talking about the event centre and finding a third party to start the process over again.… What's your position on the event centre downtown? 

Answer: I think it's actually the critical piece to the revitalization of downtown. But I think it needs to be an entertainment district that draws people. When you think about where the Saddledome is right now, what goes on in that? It's a huge amount of land, and people come for a hockey game, they come for Aggie Days, they come for Stampede, and then maybe some events that happen from time to time.

That's a lot of real estate that needs to be looked at in a different way that draws people all year round and consistently, regardless of whether there's an event taking place or not. I think this is a revitalization and a redevelopment opportunity.

Q: The provincial budget was lacking in funding for the downtown strategy. From the perspective of the chamber, what did you make of that? 

A: We were very, very disappointed because the city has put in $250 million. We looked at what the government offered, which was $5 million to us and $5 million to Edmonton, which is also challenged.

The reality is this is where corporate decisions are made, and Calgary is the business centre for investment in the rest of the province. And right now, I would argue the face of the city does not reflect the economic importance, and we do need some support to revitalize and reshape the downtown core. The city only has so much money, it only has so many levers. And so the government needs to think about how it supports that revitalization. 

The city has skin in the game, and to not have that matched in any way or even halfway was quite surprising and disappointing. 

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin held a virtual meeting with CBC Calgary's editorial board Tuesday. (University of Calgary)

Q: The budget is likely to run a large surplus next year due to volatility in oil. What would be your priorities for what could be an $8 billion or larger surplus in the budget? 

A: I certainly would like to see more reinvestment in the downtown facilities and just to support what needs to happen, whether it is more conversions of office space to condominiums or to rental properties, whether it is the creation of more green spaces just to really revive, or to provide incentives for real estate developers to to build multi-family houses and units that are interesting and not silos downtown. 

You want people walking downtown. You want a vibrancy. We want post-secondary downtown. Post-secondary would love to be downtown, but they don't have the money to rent and retrofit those buildings that could meet their needs. [I'd like] to see a re-establishment of funding in the post-secondary world. 

I think it would be nice to see further reinvestment plan in the Heritage Savings Trust Fund because that's not happened for a very long time.

Q: How would you convince a taxpayer, say in Stettler, Alta., that the provincial government spending more money on downtown Calgary serves them? 

A: Because Stettler probably will benefit from some corporate decisions made in downtown Calgary, and that's going to create jobs in the rest of the other parts of the province. You want head offices here that could create jobs where you are. This is where you have to reinvest. If we don't, those jobs could go somewhere else. 

Q: From the chamber's point of view, do you think [a lack of arts infrastructure] is an issue? If so, what do you think can be done to breathe some more life into the arts and entertainment businesses, especially coming out of the pandemic? 

A: If we want to attract talent to Calgary, the arts is a very important part of that vibrancy that we want to recreate. I'm hopeful that we are seeing the most incredible reinvestment in our arts infrastructure that we've ever seen — the Glenbow being renovated now, the Shaw family saying you can enter for free. That's huge. We also have a renewal of leadership, whether it's the opera, whether it's who's running Arts Commons, the Glenbow, and we've got a lot of fresh ideas. 


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