Another office-to-residential conversion is underway in downtown Calgary — this time with balconies

What's caught the eyes of Calgarians this week is the construction underway at 909 5 Ave SW in downtown Calgary — particularly the addition of balconies to the building's exterior. (Karina Zapata/CBC - image credit)
What's caught the eyes of Calgarians this week is the construction underway at 909 5 Ave SW in downtown Calgary — particularly the addition of balconies to the building's exterior. (Karina Zapata/CBC - image credit)

A 10-storey office building that sat vacant for nearly a decade in downtown Calgary is given new life by being converted into a residential building with 112 units.

Each unit in the building, dubbed The Cornerstone, will have two or three bedrooms to serve larger families, and 40 per cent of units will be affordable — starting at $1,600 per unit.

"Our whole goal is to provide not only additional supply, but also additional affordable units to the downtown core," said Maxim Olshevsky, managing director of Peoplefirst Developments, the company in charge of the conversion.

The second floor will also be home to a co-working space for up to 16 independent beauty businesses. Olshevsky says it's the biggest co-working space for estheticians in Calgary.

Submitted by Peoplefirst Developments
Submitted by Peoplefirst Developments

But what's caught the eyes of Calgarians this week is the construction that's underway — particularly the addition of balconies to the building's exterior.

Olshevsky says they're doing a complete overhaul of the full exterior, so he pushed for balconies because he "wanted to give people some additional space that they can enjoy their units on."

"Ours will probably be one of the first [office-to-residential conversions] with the balconies, at least in our city," he said.

The conversion is partially funded by the City of Calgary's Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program. Under the program, Peoplefirst Developments will be reimbursed $7.8 million upon completion of the project. The conversion is budgeted to cost $38 million altogether.

Olshevsky says demolition and abatement of the building are complete. The next steps are to put up walls on the inside, remove the building's envelope and continue exterior construction.

Submitted by Peoplefirst Developments
Submitted by Peoplefirst Developments

It's expected to be complete by the end of 2023. Olshevsky says they'll likely start pre-leasing affordable units by the end of the summer.

Development incentive program

To date, city council has approved $153 million toward the program to incentivize owners of downtown office buildings to convert them into residential towers.

Natalie Marchut, director of the program, says it was created to deal with ongoing high vacancy in the downtown core, which is still sitting at around 34 per cent.

"This is all part of recreating what Calgary's downtown is going to look like in the next five to 10 years and start to turn it into a completely vibrant community," said Marchut.

Of the complete funding, $100 million has been allocated to 11 total projects — five of which have been announced.

Marchut and her team are working on reviewing applications on their waitlist, which the $53 million will go toward. If there's remaining funding, the city will re-open the program.

"The Cornerstone building is offering a lot more than just what our program set out to achieve, which was simply 'remove office, build res,'" said Marchut.

"They will be the our first completed project through the program, so it's super exciting."