Ensuring a vibrant and energetic downtown is vital to Calgary's economic future.
The report from a summit to address historically high office vacancy rates was unanimously approved by City Council as it pursues ideas to ensure Calgary’s downtown core remains a vibrant contributor to the city’s social and economic life.
The report reflects ideas generated at the Downtown Economic Summit in early March that brought together more than 160 leaders from local businesses, governments, education, and arts and culture organizations to address office vacancy rate.
The Summit was organized by Calgary Economic Development, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, and The City of Calgary in response to the notice of motion before Council Downtown Calgary and Economic Uncertainty: A Coordinated Response.
The range of Ideas generated from Summit participants include from increasing residential densification, creating more innovation hubs, incorporating more post-secondary institutions, arts and cultural district, and events and festivals.
The report to Council included research from the Conference Board of Canada that concluded once construction of TELUS Sky is completed in late 2018 or early 2019, another major office tower is unlikely to be built in downtown Calgary until 2029.
Some actions to address challenges that emerged during the recession in the last two years are already under way.
Council approved an initiative that will provide $10 million to create the Calgary Economic Development Investment Fund that will be used to support efforts to attract new companies, leverage municipal funds for additional private and public sector investments into the community, and create employment lands and stimulate job creation– anywhere in the city, not just downtown.
The Fund – which is similar to tools other municipalities have to support economic growth – could be used for infrastructure improvements or land swaps but not for direct financial support or activities like marketing or research. The specifics of the governance model and criteria for a project to receive support will be developed over the summer and presented to Council in November.
Last week, Council has also approved a three-year pilot project that amended the land-use bylaws to waive permit requirements, shorten timelines and reduces costs for both building owners and businesses planning to redevelop buildings in the Downtown Core, Downtown West and Beltline.
The new rules under the Centre City Enterprise Area will take effect June 26.
“This initiative shows how The City and industry can work together to cut red-tape and continue to build on Calgary’s reputation as a business-friendly city,” says Chris Ollenberger of NAIOP Calgary, an organization of commercial developers and owners.
Calgary’s city centre drives about 25 per cent of employment city-wide and generates more than 30 per cent of non-residential tax revenues but those revenues have been under pressure during the two-year recession forecast to end in 2017.
“This initiative had its roots in our Real Estate Advisory Committee and it will help us position Calgary on a national and international basis as a favourable business environment,” says Mary Moran, President and CEO of Calgary Economic Development.