Stephen Avenue development project put on hold after province requests heritage assessment

The multi-phase proposal includes plans for office and residential towers, retail space and a hotel.  It would remodel a well-known section of Stephen Avenue.  (Mike Symington/CBC - photo credit)

The multi-phase proposal includes plans for office and residential towers, retail space and a hotel. It would remodel a well-known section of Stephen Avenue. (Mike Symington/CBC – photo credit)

A major development project on Stephen Avenue proposed last spring was shelved after the Alberta government requested a heritage assessment of the street’s existing buildings.

The project, called Stephen Avenue Quarter, would see three large towers remodeling the block between Center Street and First Street SW and Stephen Avenue and Seventh Avenue.

A proposed tower would be a 66-story condominium building, making it the tallest building in Calgary.

But those plans have now stalled.

According to Nancy Bishay of the provincial ministry of culture, in December the Alberta government required developer Triovest to conduct an impact assessment on historical resources.

She says that’s because Stephen Avenue is a National Historic Site and contains a number of significant historic buildings.

“We want to ensure that the proposed redevelopment along Stephen Avenue is conducted responsibly and respects the area’s unique historical character,” Bishay said.

“The evaluation requires the developer to consider a number of options that prioritize the preservation of Stephen Avenue’s historic buildings.”

Bishay said the government will decide on any necessary conservation measures once the assessment is complete and evaluated.

Effects on listed buildings

Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary, says the province’s request is prudent — but not unprecedented.

There are a total of 17 historically significant sites in the redevelopment area, seven of which have been placed under monument protection by the city and state government.

15 of these buildings would be affected by the project.

“This is the biggest development I’ve ever made [seen] with the largest number of listed buildings that would be affected,” said Traptow.

Triovest, Google Earth

Triovest, Google Earth

It is not the first time that an evaluation of the province’s cultural heritage has been requested. Traptow says this also happened with the Calgary Brewing and Malting site in the late 2000s and the Barron Building in the early 2010s.

“This is just a break. They don’t approve or approve any of the development – they simply ask the developer to do their due diligence on what [the impact will be] about the legacy of Stephen Avenue.”

Given the size of the project, Traptow says the assessment won’t be a quick endeavour. The first step, he says, is for Triovest to hire a consultant, which must be approved by the province.

Then it must evaluate how the development will affect all 17 buildings in the area, according to Traptow.

He estimates it could take up to a year to complete.

Triovest declined CBC News’ request for comment on the evaluation of Stephen Avenue’s legacy.

see the positive

Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, says the wait might actually be a good thing for developers, especially given recent rate hikes.

“If they have to pause their plans for a while and interest rates go down at the same time, that’s a net positive compared to where we are right now,” she said.

Still, Yedlin says paused plans aren’t ideal. Even as the Chinook Blast Winter Festival brought Calgarians to the downtown core, she says Stephen Ave isn’t the vibrant attraction it once was.

Terry Wong, the area’s city councilman, has previously spoken out in favor of the project, saying it would help revitalize the downtown area.

Now it’s time to wait. But Wong says he’s looking forward to seeing what Triovest comes up with.

“We need to make sure the history and heritage of our buildings are recognized in Calgary,” he said.


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