Advocates for the revamp of Calgary’s downtown core are disappointed Tuesday’s provincial budget didn’t include additional funding for revitalization efforts.
The City of Calgary has invested $425 million into its downtown strategy and revitalization plan since its inception in 2021 in an effort to address sky high office vacancy rate and plummeting property values.
The revitalization plan includes incentives for office-to-residential conversion projects, capital projects to improve vibrancy, and large-scale projects like the Arts Commons transformation.
“There’s more that could’ve been done,” Calgary Downtown Association executive director Mark Garner told Global News. “What we saw in the budget, we could’ve had a little more confidence in the downtown recovery.”
In last year’s budget, the provincial government earmarked $5 million each for revitalization efforts in both Edmonton and Calgary’s downtown core.
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According to Garner, the expectation was the province would continue some level of funding again in this next budget cycle.
“Downtowns are the key economic drivers for most cities, and we would’ve expected to see ongoing contributions towards the economics of downtown, and grow the contributions they made the previous year,” Garner said.
Garner said the Calgary Downtown Association is working to gather “localized data” to help inform and advocate with progress and key areas that need to be addressed like mental health and addictions and transit.
Alberta’s NDP took aim at the government’s budget, and called the financial plan a “failure for Calgary.”
Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley touted an NDP downtown plan, which promises to invest $155 million into downtown revitalization efforts in Calgary.
“We came up with (the plan) after talking with business leaders, municipal leaders, community leaders, arts groups… and we know we were on the right track,” Notley told reporters in Calgary on Wednesday.
“I’m surprised this UCP government chose to ignore all of them.”
The provincial budget includes around $2 billion dollars in funding commitments in and around Calgary.
Although a large portion of that funding is continued investments in projects like the Green Line LRT, Deerfoot Trail upgrades, and the Springbank Reservoir project, some new funding is getting the attention of city officials.
This includes $5 million in capital grant funding for an engineering study on a connection between the Blue Line LRT to the airport, and other modes of transportation between the downtown core and the airport such as heavy rail.
“The City of Calgary welcomes the province’s funding to help advance engineering and design work on the Blue Line LRT extension,” city administration said in a statement.
“We look forward to working with the Government of Alberta and other parties on this and a Calgary Airport Rail Connection Study to explore rail and transit connections to and from the airport and other destinations.”
Another investment that’s spurred some interest is $3 million for the The North Calgary/Airdrie Regional Health Centre for further planning.
Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said she is still waiting for further details, but it signals a step forward in improved access to urgent care for north-central Calgarians.
“When you have a medical issue, or urgent situation, you just want to find help as quickly as you can. For north-central residents, that has meant going to Airdrie Urgent Care for a really long time,” Mian told Global News. “It’s exciting progress because this is such a need in the area.”
No Event Centre Funding
Calgary’s event centre project was absent from the provincial budget, however, city officials working on the project said there wasn’t an expectation or indication there would be money for a new arena.
It comes after a Tuesday visit to Calgary from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who noted a positive change in tone in regards to progress on a new home rink for the Calgary Flames after a meeting with city officials.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who chairs the city’s Event Centre Committee, told reporters there might be “confusion” after provincial officials spoke out in support for the project.
“There’s been no public discussion of money for this project,” Sharp said. “We have been working very closely with the province, but I was not expecting some sort of announcement for the Event Centre.”
Sharp noted the provincial government isn’t involved in negotiations, which have been ongoing between Calgary Sports and Entertainment and city officials through third party group CAA Icon.
But Sharp said the provincial government would be kept in the loop on progress.
“Our third party will be meeting with (Ric McIver) and the premier’s office and having continued conversations,” Sharp said. “Lots of work to be done but things are progressing well.”
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