$100K plan to help boost Calgary downtown scrapped

·2 min read
A file photo of buildings on Eighth Avenue and Centre Street. 'I think there will be an opportunity to look at other activations. We still need to convince people that downtown is the place to be,' said Mark Garner, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association.  (Rachel Maclean/CBC - image credit)
A file photo of buildings on Eighth Avenue and Centre Street. 'I think there will be an opportunity to look at other activations. We still need to convince people that downtown is the place to be,' said Mark Garner, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association. (Rachel Maclean/CBC - image credit)

Two years after the City of Calgary gave $100,000 to the Calgary Downtown Association for a project aimed at activating vacant office spaces in the city's core, the money has been returned and the plan scrapped.

The funding was in support of an initiative called the 1 Million Square Feet Program.

The program's main objectives included filling empty storefronts downtown, attracting private investment in vacant buildings and creating attractions that would draw people to the area.

In May 2020, council agreed to give the downtown association $250,000 in a phased approach, with the first $100,000 given immediately.

However, the plan didn't take off due to the pandemic, says Mark Garner, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association.

"I just think it was the unintended consequences of COVID. It was the timing of the project," he said.

Public health restrictions halted any initiatives that were in the works.

"Based on COVID and all the challenges during that time when that project launched, [we] just couldn't get the appropriate traction on it," said Garner.

In February of this year, the city and the downtown association formally terminated their project funding agreement and then the money was returned to the Council Innovation Fund.

Garner is hopeful, though, that a new revitalization strategy can be created and that the city will grant the money for it again.

"I think the desire is still there between the partners and stakeholders to do that project, but make sure we deliver in a more holistic way on the vision than we had previously articulated and put out into the community," he said.

Whether it's a small retail space or a curated art display, Garner believes finding ways and creating a strategy to reactivate key downtown streets will be revisited, adding he has already had conversations with the city.

"The commitment we have from the City of Calgary to do these types of partnerships and trying things is very refreshing," he said.

"I think there will be an opportunity to look at other activations. We still need to convince people that downtown is the place to be."

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