More money needed to make over Calgary's main streets, says coalition opposed to city plan

More than 50 community and business advocates in Calgary have gotten together to oppose a plan to make over the city's main streets.

City planners say they only have money for 5 communities so far

Extensive work has been underway on 17th Avenue S.W., and more is still to come under the city's main street program. (CBC)

More than 50 community and business advocates in Calgary have gotten together to oppose a plan to make over the city's main streets.

City planners are currently asking for a one-time investment of $190,000, plus $30 million in capital spending over four years, to make over five community main streets into walkable, busy destinations.

But that's not a dedicated fund to pay for main street remodels, nor is it enough — according to the coalition called Advocates into Main Streets — to pay for them as soon as they'd like. The group says some communities grew much faster than infrastructure was upgraded. 

"I think the joke in Marda Loop is there isn't 20 feet of sidewalk that's the same or a light pole that matches," coalition member David White of CivicWorks told the Calgary Eyeopener Friday. 

He and the coalition believe it costs $10-20 million per main street renovation, and they'd like to see funding for all 24 main streets identified by the city as needing a revamp. At this rate, that won't be possible in the next decade, White said.

The group also thought 10 streets should be targeted in this budget cycle.

Urban strategy manager Thom Mahler said the five streets identified this budget include:

City planners say those five streets are the ones that can be ready for construction by 2020. Others need more time to either sort out broader regional plans or to fill up their main streets with business, encouraged by recent zoning changes, for example.

"We don't want to get money that we're not going to spend in this budget cycle," Calgary general manager of urban strategy Rollin Stanley said. "There's no point in having $10 million to do a street if we can't get it out the door by the time the budget cycle's over."

Stanley said tweaked his main street development strategy over his career across three different cities. Ahead of the remodels, he holds consultations and then applies to have zoning changes to encourage that type of development.

In some places, that zoning change inspires growth quickly but in other places, it takes longer. Once there's growth, the utilities and other infrastructure can be upgraded to match that density. Then the streetscape is improved to be appealing and encouraging for foot traffic, for example.

"This budget cycle is no different than any other. You know, when you have more money, you get to do more things. When you have less money, you got to make tough decisions," Stanley said.

However, if other communities become ready for a remodel, he said the city can request more money at mid-budget time, depending on how strong the economy will be.

'Playing catch-up'

Bob van Wegen, who's with the Marda Loop Business Improvement Area, said he worries this will mean communities will grow faster than their main streets can accommodate.

"We're playing catch up to the amount of development that's happened," van Wegen said. "And certainly it's getting more and more beat up because of extensive use and extensive redevelopment."

The main street remodels are supposed to help drive density and push the city toward meeting its goal of 50 per cent new growth in existing communities. AIMS says that goal requires more money behind it, which Calgary urban strategy manager Thom Mahler says there is.

"There's definitely investment. I think part of it is depending on which neighborhood you are in," Mahler said. "You might not get as much construction in the next four years, or any construction compared to other ones."

AIMS members will be attending a public hearing on Monday to request more funding.

  • Open House, Dec. 3, 5 to 8 p.m. (drop-in event) Glamorgan Community Association, 4207 41st Ave. S.W.
  • Online engagement, Dec. 4-18, 2018, engage.calgary.ca​

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

With files from Helen Pike