3 more downtown Calgary conversion projects help soak up vacant office space

Three more office conversion projects are helping downtown Calgary take up more vacant office space while meeting demand for housing and hotel space.

On Wednesday, the city announced a new office-to-residential project in the Dominion Centre at 665 Eighth Street Southwest would convert around 100,000 square feet into 132 homes across 10 floors. One-quarter of those would be rental homes at affordable rates.

Bryce Alston of Alston Properties said construction on the Dominion Centre — the fifth conversion that company has undertaken — is expected to start in early 2024. He said the downtown conversion projects mark an “inflection point” in the recent history of the city’s core.

“Downtowns across North America are watching and they witness a city catalyzing transformation and revitalization through investments like these announced today,” Alston said.

The previously-announced Palliser One will be moving into its second phase, turning around 206,000 square feet into 219 homes, with a quarter of those designated as CMHC affordable housing units. Both phases of the tower at 125 Ninth Avenue Southwest represent the single largest conversion project in Calgary to date.

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“What makes this project truly outstanding is not just the sheer scale, but also the inclusion of amenities that enhance the quality of life for its residents,” Rob Blackwell of Aspen Properties said of the Palliser One conversion.

“We’ll set out to prove that a converted office building can compete with a purpose-built apartment building.”

A hotel conversion at 833 Fourth Avenue Southwest is slated to become an Element by Westin hotel. That project was originally approved as an office-to-residential conversion, but instead will become a long-stay hotel offering 226 suites.

“These three projects have seen a municipal investment of almost $50 million and a private sector investment of $194 million,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

“When you look at the fulsome downtown conversion efforts to date, all of these projects will collectively remove 1.67 million square feet of office space in downtown and deliver 1,500 new homes for Calgarians, along with 226 hotel rooms.

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“We anticipate that with four more projects in the pipeline right now, we will see an additional removal of 680,000 square feet and the creation of another 800 homes.”

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Gondek expected announcements on the four additional projects to be made soon.

Thom Mahler, the city’s director of the downtown strategy, said despite the infusion of municipal funds, the companies involved are taking on a “huge risk” in the projects.

“What makes it exciting is their confidence in our city and they’re confident in our political support for what we’re doing. And the more we do this, we just keep increasing our momentum,” he said.

With the four projects in the pipeline, Gondek said the city is about a third of the way towards its downtown office conversion goals.

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“We’re doing really well. The 10-year strategy, it launched in spring of 2021. Here we are in 2023 with lots of good numbers to show,” Gondek said.

The mayor added it’s “impossible” to turn back the clock on downtown Calgary.

“We had built a downtown that worked well at a very specific point in time. That point in time no longer exists,” Gondek said.

“So the more mixed use we do downtown, the better able we are to combine housing with employment hubs, with recreation and all of the other many, many things people do in their daily routine, the stronger our downtown will become.”

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