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Calgary’s East Village project forges ahead – despite the flood

Calgary’s East Village seen from the RiverWalk in this file photo. The East Village, which runs along the south side of the Bow River, suffered flooding in June. This week it was announced that three ‘foodie’ tenants will open for business in the historic Simmons factory seen here.

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation

As the June floods hit Alberta, officials with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation were just putting the final touches on a splashy announcement, scheduled for June 26, about the city's East Village development project.

But they quickly abandoned their press conference planning and went to work surveying the damage that the water had done to the project, which sits near the Bow River.

This week, their announcement finally went ahead, during a period in which architects, planners and developers involved in the project are still working to ensure that the flood's impact is only temporary.

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"We've been quite fortunate," says Susan Veres, vice-president of communications for Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.

The first part of the two-pronged announcement was that RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust of Toronto finalized a deal to buy a piece of land known as the Gateway Block, which was formerly owned by the Calgary Police Association. The deal for the 2.8-acre East Village site was completed in April, and the land was bought in a 50/50 joint venture with KingSett Capital for $20-million, although RioCan will develop, lease and manage the property on behalf of the partners, according to the company's disclosure.

RioCan, which has been looking at the East Village for some time, says the site is one of downtown Calgary's few remaining privately owned full city blocks. It is looking at building 300,000 square feet of retail space there, and has talked to Loblaw Cos. Ltd. about leasing a significant portion of that.

"We are excited about the opportunity the East Village development represents, and the chance to expand RioCan's urban property portfolio into Western Canada," RioCan CEO Edward Sonshine said in a news release this week. "Calgary is an important market to us and this urban shopping centre will provide an exciting shopping destination for new and existing residents in Calgary's unique urban village."

The second part of the announcement from the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), which first revealed the master plan for the East Village in 2009, is that it has chosen three tenants to activate the Simmons Building, a historic landmark that is part of the project. The three are Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, Sidewalk Citizen Bakery and chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jackson. The Simmons Building, which used to be called the Simmons Factory Warehouse, dates back to 1912 and CMLC began refurbishing it in 2008.

Ms. Veres says that the damage done to the overall project by the floods is much smaller than it could have been. Some excavation sites that had been dug out for new parking structures had water in them, but because they were at an early stage there was no mechanical systems or communication systems in them at the time. Those have been delayed by about a month.

The biggest issue has been the new pedestrian bridge that connects the East Village to Calgary's Bridgeland neighbourhood. That bridge was about three months away from being completed when the floods hit, and it was damaged by the water and debris in the water such as trees. The repairs will likely add another year to its completion.

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"The good news is that Graham Construction, the group in charge of constructing it, has insurance in place, as any construction company would when they're managing a very large public infrastructure project like a pedestrian bridge," Ms. Veres says. "So we're fairly confident that, even in that, the cost to our organization will be mitigated."

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