January 18, 2022

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Northland, Stadium shopping mall conversions rejuvenate communities

Richard White shows how mall redevelopments can transform older areas into walkable communities without impacting single-family streets

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While the conversion of old downtown office buildings to residential is getting lots of attention these days, there are several other conversions taking place in Calgary’s inner-city neighbourhoods. Like the redevelopment of Northland Village Mall that is currently underway, or the old Stadium Mall conversion next to the colourful new Calgary Cancer Centre. Yes, both of these old northwest Calgary shopping centres are at the beginning stages of mega makeovers that will convert them into mixed-use (residential, retail, restaurants, recreational and office) villages.

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This is not the first time a Calgary mall has added residential development to its mix of uses — North Hill Mall (Calgary’s first mall) added the two Renaissance condo towers next to the Lions Park LRT Station in 2002. And, Concord Pacific Group, current owners of the old Sears building and surrounding parking area (12-acres in total) at North Hill, is working on plans for a major residential oriented development of the site.

Northland Village Conversion

Northland Village Mall is now closed, making way for its mega makeover. The mall has struggled for the past 25 years partly due to the fact it has no LRT station, as well as its close proximity to other northwest malls — Brentwood Mall, North Hill Mall and Market Mall (northwest Calgary’s premier regional mall).

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In its heyday, the enclosed mall had 500,000 square feet of retail space, encompassing 81 stores including Eaton’s as an anchor. The Eaton’s store closure in 1999 was the beginning of its decline. In 2003, renovations included the addition of Best Buy as an anchor; in 2005 the cinemas were converted into Calgary’s first Designer Depot — the Hudson’s Bay’s first off-price store in Western Canada. But the mall still struggled.

In 2015, there was excitement and optimism for Northland as plans for it to become home to Calgary’s first Whole Foods Market was announced. Unfortunately, in 2017 Whole Foods Market decided not to expand into Calgary, and the mall continued its decline.

Then in 2020, the mall owners revised their plans to convert the mall into an open air, mixed-use site with residential (250 new homes), retail, restaurant and recreational uses. While the site would still be dominated by surface parking, the plans called for a pedestrian-friendly corridor in the middle of the site, as well as a dog park and a bike route through the site connecting to the city’s new bike lanes along Northmount Drive. The existing Walmart store will stay and is currently undergoing a $10.5 million renovation.

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Northland is within walking distance to several schools, Nose Hill Library and Sir Winston Churchill Aquatic and Recreation Centre. A Calgary Co-op grocery store and Canadian Tire is located on the other side of the Shaganappi Trail via a new pedestrian bridge, making Northland a very walkable development.

In addition to the 250 new homes at Northland Village, Remington Developments is completing 446 new homes (two towers — 13 and 15 floors) in Phase 1 of its 946-home infill project a 20-minute walk away.

The new vision will put a bit of “the village” into the old Northland Village mall. Ironically, the developer Primaris is dropping the world “village” and rebranding the site as simply “Northland.” The question is, will this hybrid between an auto-oriented power centre and walkable village work?

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An artist’s rendering of UXBorough, the redevelopment of the Stadium Shopping Centre by Western Securities.
An artist’s rendering of UXBorough, the redevelopment of the Stadium Shopping Centre by Western Securities. Photo by Western Securities /QMI Agency

Stadium Shopping Centre — UXBorough

All of the buildings have been demolished and ground work has begun at the corner of 16th Avenue and Uxbridge Drive N.W. for the multi-million dollar, 830,000-square-foot urban village of UXBorough (formerly Stadium Shopping Centre). The master plans calls for two residential buildings, a hotel, a medical office building, one commercial office building and a central commons amenity plaza, with 1,100 underground parking stalls.

Phase 1 includes the eight-storey, 146,000-square-foot medical centre office building; a 14-storey, 203-home residential tower; 480 underground parking stalls; and a central commons amenity plaza in the middle of the site. It is expected to be completed by early 2024. Future phases will include the commercial office building, hotel, and the second residential building that includes a grocery store and other everyday amenities.

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UXBorough is also ideally located for infill development as it is within early walking distance to the Foothills Medical Centre, as well as the University of Calgary campus (Calgary’s two largest employment hubs outside of downtown), and the new Calgary Cancer Centre. Banff Trail the closest LRT station is just a 15-minute walk away.

Last Word

Old shopping mall infill projects like Northland and UXBorough have huge potential to convert more of Calgary’s inner-city communities into walkable communities by increasing the diversity and density of activities without impacting single-family streets.

Calgary’s new city council should be fast-tracking approvals for any developer wanting to convert an old shopping centre into a residential or mixed-use development. Case in point: Western Securities’ investment of $400 million to transform the Stadium Shopping Centre into UXBorough, when complete, will generate an estimated additional $5 million annually in new property taxes when completed.

Let’s hope Concord Pacific announces in the new year its plans for the redevelopment of the Sears site at North Hill. And, Calgary Co-op moves forward with its plans for the redevelopment of its Brentwood store site.

With each new infill project, Calgary’s northwest inner-city communities are gradually evolving into more walkable neighbourhoods. As community activist Jane Jacobs I believe once said, “good city building is evolutionary not revolutionary.”

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