Monday, November 2, 2009

Council greenlights major inner city "West Village" redevelopment plan

Many Calgarians will have a new inner-city area to call home, shop and enjoy nature after council approved a comprehensive redevelopment of the west end of Calgary’s downtown.

Over the next 25 years the new 111 acre “West Village,” located between 11th Street S.W. and Crowchild Trail, and the Bow River south to the railroad tracks, will be completely transformed.

“This is some of the most valuable and strategically important land in Calgary; downtown real estate, right on the Bow River, right next to a new LRT station,” said Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

"It's a textbook case of what Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) was brought in for," said Bronconnier. “It’s a prime location for re-development, but that won’t happen without a comprehensive plan and a CRL – the upfront infrastructure costs are just too large.”

Mayor Bronconnier announced Council’s decision to redevelop West Village utilizing a financing mechanism called a CRL at a press conference this afternoon. CRLs are enabled through provincial legislation, and allow for new property tax revenues in a redevelopment area to be pooled for up to 20 years to pay for “up-front” infrastructure improvements that “kick-start” private sector re-development. A CRL is necessary for West Village as the area has significant environmental contamination and major transportation networks would need to be re-routed and re-constructed.

It is expected the land, currently scattered with light industrial uses such as car lots and bus terminals, will eventually become a new downtown mixed-use community and home to more than 12,000 people. The West Village Concept Plan also calls for enhanced parks and open space, a land bridge connecting a new SunAlta LRT station and users to the river park system, and sites for institutional facilities such as a new Alberta College of Art and Design and a Global Energy Centre.

The new “West Village” however, isn’t financially viable in conjunction with The City’s 2017 World Expo bid.

In May, The City of Calgary expressed an interest in hosting the 2017 World Expo, with the desire to not only locate the Expo site in West Village but to “lever” both projects. The concept was to use Expo as a means to accelerate redevelopment of West Village, and use land redevelopment to pay for hosting the 2017 Expo.

From a planning and development perspective, the two projects were an ideal fit, but financially, a very different perspective emerged.

“As a stand-alone project, using a CRL, West village is viable, and would provide for a net return of somewhere between $72 and $470 Million. However, even with that favourable return, it would not cover the costs of hosting Expo 2017,” said Bronconnier. “As a combined project, Expo and West Village, the result would be a net deficit of somewhere between $380 million and $1 billion.”

"If we can't deliver (the Expo) on a best business-case model, we shouldn't be asking (the provincial or federal governments for funding)," said Bronconnier.

It’s because of the potential $1 billion shortfall that Council approved the redevelopment plan for West village that will not include hosting a World Expo, said the Mayor. The mayor also said that the enviornmental remediation is estimated to cost $30 milion to $100 million and that the Pumphouse Theatre will remain at its current location.

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