Twenty years after it was conceived, the completion of development of Waterfront Drive could be at hand.
Calgary developers, whose speciality is modest-sized downtown residential developments with special attention to design details, have recently acquired two properties just north of the Mere Hotel and intend to build more than 300 rental apartments split between the two sites.
On one site between Pacific Avenue and Alexander Avenue — the current home of Great West Metal — the Calgary developers also plan to rehabilitate an existing heritage building to create about 16,000-square-feet of commercial/office space.
Alkarim Devani, president of the Calgary development company he runs with his brother Afshin called Round Square (they spell it RNDSQR), says he knows the two developments are ambitious but that the demand for this type of development downtown will continue to grow.
"We have been looking at Winnipeg for the last four years, slowly looking at opportunities," he said. "We feel like the developments that have been taking place and the changes that have happening in the Exchange District are really exciting. We just feel there are more people who want to continue to move into those neighbourhoods."
The two projects, which will pump about $100 million of new investment into the area, will include about 170 units on the Great West Metal site that will wrap around the heritage building and another 160 in two six storey buildings on the other site, one block north on the north side of Galt Avenue and Waterfront Drive.
"We received quite a lot of interest on the property. RNDSQR has a really urban philosophy to their developments." - Angela Mathieson, CEO of CentreVenture
It was the latter site that first caught Devani’s attention. The 32,000-square-foot piece of land had been assembled by CentreVenture which originally owned just a small portion of the parcel. After several years of efforts — including a last minute discovery that a small sliver of the land was still owned by CN Rail — a request for proposal for development was published in the spring of 2018.
"It was a long process for sure," said Angela Mathieson, CEO of CentreVenture. "But it was definitely worthwhile."
With the closure of that deal CentreVenture has only a small property at Heaton Avenue left that will wrap up its work on Waterfront Drive which has included $250 million in private investment to date and the development of nearly 500 new housing units and the conversion of 12 vacant or derelict buildings not counting these two new proposed developments by the Calgary developers.
The request for proposal was not just for the purchase of the land, but includes a development agreement. RNDSQR has committed to actually build on the site by a designated time or be forced to sell it back to CentreVenture and pay a penalty.
"We received quite a lot of interest on the property," she said. "RNDSQR has a really urban philosophy to their developments."
The company has more than a dozen projects in Calgary and Devani said they get invited to get involved in suburban projects there but he said that’s not where their passion lies.
"When you think about sustainability from a growth perspective, in every single city, including Calgary, the most sustainable type of growth is within the downtown, the core areas, and in revitalizing our old neighbourhoods," he said.
Among other things, RNDSQR projects try to include partnerships with local businesses, so that rent payments will include some sort of incentive to patronize local establishments.
They call it a "subscription-based model for living" where the monthly rental fee also includes access to shops, restaurants and fitness facilities that are partnered with the development.
"Our whole goal is it to encourage collision and interaction and support for local small business," Devani said.
He said the hope is to start construction on the Great West Metal site first with design work being done by 5468796 Architecture.
"We are taking possession of that property and we’re helping them (Great West Metal) relocate," he said. "We’re hoping to start development there early in the new year."
That is estimated to be an 18-month process to get to occupancy. He said the Galt Avenue project will likely start development before the first one is completed.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Monday, October 7, 2019 at 9:02 PM CDT: Updates photo captions