What's New? What's Old

East Village planners look to past to integrate commercial businesses with residential

The resurrection of Calgary's East Village is in full swing with a recent announcement that a second mixed-use development is in the works.


Led by FRAM Building Group with support from Slokker Canada Corp. and Tricon Capital Group Inc., the $300-million retail and residential development is still in the planning stages, as is another $300-million development by Embassy/Bosa of Vancouver. While no firm decisions have been made on what the retail components will look like, it's safe to say that Calgarians may see something a little different.

FRAM, Slokker and Tricon plan 900-1,000 residential units, and about 40,000 square feet of retail and commercial space on four parcels of land in East Village. The developer, based in Ontario, is in the process of reviewing focus group research to determine exactly what will be done. But the company has done some interesting things in the past that provide a glimpse of what we might see in the formerly downtrodden area.

Live/work units reminiscent of the days when the proprietor lived behind the store are one example. FRAM constructed 18 of the units in Port Credit, a development on the shores of Lake Ontario.


HOME AND BUSINESS

"These were three-storey townhomes with a residential side and a 500-square-foot storefront," says Fred Serrafero, vice-president of development and construction, FRAM Building Group, from his office in Mississauga, Ont.

"About half the people are truly live/work, where the husband or the wife has their own little business and are just commuting up and down the stairs." Others choose to live in the units and rent the storefronts, or to use the storefronts and rent out the residential space.

Another option under exploration is the creation of smaller live/work units for artists. The units would include studio space, small living areas, and possibly display and retail space.

"We have different ideas, different concepts," Serrafero says. "These have been done in Toronto, Vancouver and other places so they'll be nothing radically new. We just need to see if they should be part of the overall plan for East Village."

Between them, the two developers have envisioned about 90,000 square feet of retail in their phase one development plans, but East Village has about 300,000 square feet of retail overall.

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) is the organization responsible for overseeing revitalization of the area. Susan Veres, its senior manager, marketing and communications, says: "You'll find that both developer partners are taking a proactive approach to the retail in phase one that will provide convenience services and retail amenities that allow residents to live here comfortably. CMLC has other parcels of land that have a heavier retail orientation."

Veres says that generally, an eclectic approach is expected to be taken for retail parcels to give East Village a character similar to Vancouver's Gastown or Yaletown, or Ontario's Unionville, all of which include memorable shopping and entertainment venues.

"We want it to look as though the village has grown up over time; that it's not just put together in one year," Veres says.

That doesn't it mean it will actually grow slowly.

"We just don't want to have it so prescribed in its tenant mix or its architectural design that it looks like the same thing repeated over and over again," she explains. "The architecture should embrace and inspire, and not look like it just sprung out of the ground. This will be an urban village of mixed character and mixed retail, and this is the placebrand of East Village."

That could mean a block of theatres, coffee shops and offerings such as unique urban furniture stores. On Eighth Avenue, an area adjacent to the National Music Centre on the site of the former Le Méridien King Edward Hotel that includes several significant heritage properties that could be incorporated into the area's new look and retail mix, there will likely be what Veres calls a "restaurant-café-microbrewery type of environment."


FRESH RESEARCH

CMLC had retail market research done for East Village in 2007-08 and used that information to create its master plan for the area. Now it's set to conduct a refresh of that work to test whether the market conditions apparent then, pre-recession, still apply today, so it can build a strong business case to potential development partners.

CMLC is working with FRAM, Slokker, Tricon and Embassy/Bosa on the retail strategy, as well as on a strategy for the creation of a discovery centre that will serve as both a sales centre and a showcase for the CMLC's vision for East Village.

The first residential occupancies for the two new developments are slated for the third quarter of 2013. Residential sales efforts are to begin by early next year. As the developers plan their retail components, the intent is to do something different in the area, but the most important aspect is to give people what they want.

"We're the beast from the east," Serrafero says with a laugh before going on more seriously. "We are new in town, so we're all ears. We need to understand."


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