Less than two years after being approved, Calgary’s massive $80-million mixed-use parkade is open for business.
Designed by Kasian and 5468796 Architecture, the Platform Innovation Centre and Parkade features 50,000 square feet of office space to be occupied by tech hub and startup incubator Platform Calgary. There’s an additional 300,000 square feet to accommodate more than 500 parking stalls and racks for 99 bicycles, fulfilling the changing needs of East Village — a recently revitalized area in the city’s core. While both spaces are contained in the same building, the Calgary Parking Authority (CPA) owns the parkade and Platform Calgary owns the innovation centre.
“At its heart, this project is about creating real value for Calgarians as an adaptable, innovation-focused, public facility,” Moe Houssaini, acting general manager of the CPA, said in a statement.
Conceived with a less car-reliant future in mind, the building’s design considers features meant to allow for a smoother adaptation into alternative use. Meanwhile, higher than usual floor-to-floor heights and smaller floor depths are supposed to ease the transformation of the building’s five floors of parking into office or residential space.
“I think the biggest thing for any repurposing job is having the fundamentals right,” said Kate Thompson, president and chief executive of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), “and that’s what this building does.”
But while cities across North America innovate to transform already underused parking structures, why did Calgary build a new parkade to repurpose down the road?
Despite the existence of more than 30,000 parking stalls in downtown Calgary, according to a 2017 Avison Young survey, the area redevelopment plan (ARP) for East Village demands the construction of a parkade on 9th Avenue to fulfill the parking requirements of the revitalized area. The Platform Innovation Centre and Parkade is located in close proximity to two important downtown destinations lacking on-site parking: Calgary’s Central Library and Studio Bell. (Yet it seems noteworthy that from the innovation centre’s doorstep, visitors can see two other parkades: one at City Hall and the other at the Arts Commons.)
Funded by the CPA’s capital reserve budget and cash-in-lieu funds, the parkade is meant to “address shifting parking and transportation patterns of Calgarians” while it awaits its adaptation into other uses, such as office or residential space, Mr. Houssaini said. In the future, technological advances are expected to lessen the need for a large volume of parking space downtown.
“The Platform Innovation Centre and Parkade is part of the revitalized East Village urban mosaic,” Mr. Houssaini said. “[It] was designed, developed and built to address the evolving transportation needs of the neighbourhood.”
Demand for parking space downtown has been in steady decline since Calgary’s economic downturn of 2014, resulting in a decreased revenue-to-cost ratio. Eight months prior to the project’s announcement, the CPA reported a $4-million revenue gap.
According to Mr. Houssaini, this is one of the reasons why the CPA sought to “future proof” the last parkade it would build downtown and brought Platform Calgary – a startup hub whose mission is to provide a one-stop-shop for Calgary tech innovators – into a partnership with the CPA and CMLC.
“Our work developing a physical hub coincided with the work of CMLC and CPA to create a future-proofed, active and publicly engaging building that would also be a parking structure for the near term,” said Terry Rock, president and CEO of Platform Calgary.
Mr. Rock added that in the mid-2010s, Platform Calgary was looking for “a place that is highly visible and accessible for all Calgarians who want to be a part of our innovation economy.” East Village fit the bill.
“Integrating startup culture into the evolution of East Village is not a new conversation, as it fits the identity of a revitalized and modern community adjacent to downtown,” he said. “This was a perfect opportunity to use this space to anchor a burgeoning innovation district in downtown Calgary.”
When the partnership among the CPA, CMLC and Platform Calgary was announced in January, 2018, vacancy rates in downtown office space were soaring – having reached 26 per cent by the last quarter of 2017.
But despite the availability of office space downtown, the program requirements of the innovation centre – determined by “hundreds of stakeholders,” said Mr. Rock – called for a purpose-built space.
“Our global research shows that successful innovation centres are highly visible, accessible and purpose-built to support the needs of the community,” Mr. Rock said, adding that “being the partner to activate a space already being built was the best option.”
Platform Calgary owns the 50,000 square feet it will occupy this fall. There, the organization will play host to a variety of businesses to support Calgary’s emerging tech startup scene as well as offer short-term incubation space, events and educational programming for entrepreneurs.
“What happens within this building will accelerate the transformation of our tech industry and larger economy,” Mr. Rock said. “By increasing the volume and velocity of startup creation and scaling, we are helping create the future tenants that will fill Calgary’s downtown.”
In the medium term, the building’s function as a parkade will also service Calgary’s coming culture and entertainment district, as projects such as the Arts Commons, BMO Centre and the Event Centre are expected to reach completion in the next decade.
“I hope the Platform Innovation Centre and Parkade becomes an easy place for Calgarians to access, and then go from there to the Rivers District – and use downtown,” Ms. Thompson said.
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