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Calgary’s East Village goes from poverty to prosperity with Pointe of View development

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by By Suzanne Zwarun

You want to know how hot the Calgary housing market is? After decades of discussion, they are finally going to build a highrise residential complex in the city’s East Village.
Calgary’s East Village goes from poverty to prosperity with Pointe of View development

You want to know how hot the Calgary housing market is? After decades of discussion, they are finally going to build a highrise residential complex in the city’s East Village.

Pointe of View Developments has gotten development permit approval from the City of Calgary’s planning commission for construction of the first two of four planned highrise towers in the East Village.

The two towers to be built in the first phase will provide 275 suites and retail development on the first two floors. The total project consists of 720 units in three 20 to 28-storey towers along 4th Avenue, east of Macleod Trail, a nine-storey tower on adjoining 3rd Street and six townhouse units along Macleod Trail south. The first 73 units in the nine storey tower sold out in one day last summer in an area that hasn’t seen anything larger than a birdhouse built in more than two years.

Pointe of View is currently on a roll. With 7,800 units under construction or in the planning stages, the Calgary-based company is one of the top 10 most active condo developers in North America. It has expanded so much in the United States, where it has or is considering projects in Hawaii, Arizona, Colorado and California, it recently appointed Dave MacKenzie as vice president of development for the American operations. “I predict that we will be one of the top five multi family developers in North American within the next two to three years,” says Pointe of View CEO Randy Klapstein.

“I’m really excited we’ve got someone from the private sector willing to build here,” says Ald. Druh Farrell, a member of the city’s planning commission.

After decades of failed attempts to rejuvenate the east end of downtown Calgary she attributes success to a new area plan that includes the East Village in a wider area now to be called The Rivers and tax increment financing (TIF) that will pay for infrastructure.

Providing new infrastructure in the East Village costs more than anywhere else downtown because roads have to be raised above the 100-year flood plain and many building sites are contaminated. Up to now, developers have balked about taking on the extra cost. The U.S.-style TIF plan will see the city pay an estimated $70 million up front for infrastructure that will attract new development to the area. The city will get its money back via improved tax revenues.

“With tax increment financing we finally found a way to put the East Village on a level playing field with other downtown areas,” says Farrell. “Now that we’ve shown public confidence in the area, private developers will step up to the plate.”

City officials say property values in the East Village have soared 50 per cent in the past 18 months and Point of View’s development could be the real dam breaker.

With Pointe of View’s construction scheduled to start as early as this spring, Tonko Realty Advisors, which has owned half a block in the East Village for 25 years, says it will build two highrise condos on the land within the next five years. And one of the bigger land owners in the area, the Billingsgate Fish Company, is reported to have sold its two thirds of a block to “a well known local investment and development company”. A plan for how the city will deal with the four hectares of mostly vacant land it owns in the East Village will go to council this spring.

Another major development planned for the East Village is the proposed new downtown campus for the University of Calgary that could be as big as 1.5 million square feet of space. To be located just east of City Hall, the campus would include student housing and could mirror campus development on Chicago’s waterfront, says Farrell. “There must be 20 different colleges in that area,” she says. “It went from being one of the seediest parts of Chicago to something that just takes your breath away.”

Add in the expansion of Stampede Park to the south and the huge new development planned for the Calgary Zoo to the north and the East Village is going to be “one of the most lively, vibrant areas in the city”, says Farrell. But Calgarians have made this prediction before and Farrell wasn’t born yesterday. She adds, almost under her breath: “unless we have another downturn”.

A series of plans to rebuild the East Village, an area that has dealt mainly in drugs, prostitution and the homeless, have failed. The most recent attempt ground to a halt in 2002 amid accusations of mismanagement by civic officials. After that fiasco, which cost the city $3 million in payouts and backout fees, city council set aside $3 million to create an independent board to oversee redevelopment in the East Village. The board consists of Mayor Dave Bronconnier and six independent directors and is the first of its kind for Calgary.

Construction at the Stampede grounds could begin as early as this spring, according to Stampede board chair Steve Allan after city council’s finance and corporate services committee agreed to a strategy to help the Stampede pay for its $195 million first phase and city council gave approval to necessary land-use changes.

Allan says construction will start at the north end of the park. “We hope to be in the ground with the new casino in April, opening the doors of the casino in early 2008.”

The Stampede will be able to borrow as much as $160 million with the city acting as guarantor on $140 million. Another $38 million is being financed by cash flow, third party contributions and government grants. The Stampede previously had a borrowing ceiling of $60 million by agreement with the city.

The Stampede’s $550 million redevelopment plan includes new retail and commercial development. It will provide new agricultural facilities for the park, expand the Roundup Centre, build a new casino, a hotel, reclaim riverbank and add a themed Main Street. There is also talk of extending 17th Avenue S.E. to create a retail street on the grounds. City council approved the necessary land-use category changes for 97 hectares of property in January.

A link between the East Village and Stampede Park is also on the horizon. It could mean a new vehicle/pedestrian underpass east of the current one on 1st Street S.W.. A pedestrian bridge over the Elbow River is also contemplated although Ald. Farrell says that’s “a long ways down the road”.

The Calgary Zoo has applied for a development permit for its proposed $120 million Project Discovery expansion. The new Arctic shores exhibit, which is almost 300,000 square feet, includes a water feature the size of a football field and 10 metres deep. Visitors will be able to view the bottom of the pool from inside the lower level of a three-storey complex that will have educational centres and displays, a gift shop, a visitor relations area and a banquet room. The zoo also is going to completely redo its elephant space and Conservatory and relocate the main ticket office to the north side of Memorial Drive which will be connected to the zoo grounds by a tunnel under Memorial.

Suzanne Zwarun welcomes news and views about Alberta’s construction industry. Call 403-279-5815, email zwaruns@telus.net or write R.R. 5, Calgary, AB T2P 2G6

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