Finally, the University District project is underway, where about 200 acres of land will be transformed into a “future-focused” community within walking distance of two major hospitals (Alberta Children’s Hospital and Foothills Medical Centre) and the University of Calgary.
The community will accommodate between 15,000 and 17,000 people. Houses will mostly be in the form of multi-family development, according to data from its launch March 11 and 12.
“Staff [and] faculty from the University can live here, and hospital employees, but there may also be people in other parts of the city who want to downsize to a more low maintenance lifestyle, or young professionals who want to live in an urban area,” says James Robertson, president and CEO of West Campus Development Trust.
The Trust is a real estate development company created by the University of Calgary to manage development of the West Campus area. Its volunteer board is comprised of representatives of the community, the university, including administration, faculty and students’ unions, business people and veterans of the development industry.
The University District will be built on university-owned land, and the Trust’s website says this name was chosen for the new community to reinforce its strong tie to the U of C experience.
Attempts to reach Stephan Guscott, president of the undergraduate students union, and Sam Hossack, president of the graduate students’ union, and Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice chancellor of the university, went unanswered.
However, Robertson gave some insight into how the Trust and the University go hand-in-hand. He explains the Trust was established by the University of Calgary to develop the 200 acres of land — an approach that first emerged in B.C.
“The University of British Columbia established what was called the UBC Properties Trust, and it was the first time in Canada a university established a trust to unlock the potential of their endowment land. The next one was Simon Fraser Community Trust and then the University of Calgary was third,” he explains.
Each trust is independent of the university it works for.
When the Alberta Children’s Hospital was first approached about the development plan, it was reportedly concerned about how large the nearby community would be. But, according to Robertson, the hospital soon realized the new community could provide more place for its staff to live in close proximity of the hospital, or even just another place to walk to for a quick bite.
“I think the hospital has, like many other neighbours, thought, ‘Well how big is it going to be, and what is the impact to me and what is the benefit to me?’ And I think they see the benefit of having a place where their staff can live in close proximity, that’s a huge advantage to everyone who works at the hospital,” says Robertson.
“We also think that right now the hospital kind of sits on its own and so if you’re at the hospital, you work at the hospital, there are limited options for lunch or coffee, so we think there’s a benefit to everyone, and it will be a great community in Calgary.”
He also mentions that nearby Shaganappi Trail now has a new access route to alleviate heavy traffic and provides a faster route into the area, for those concerned about traffic associated with the Children’s Hospital.
The University District master plan went through what is called a ‘transportation analysis’ where priority was given to pedestrians. The development is not demanding new bus routes and bus stops in the area since they already exist, but it’s just a matter of adding more stops to make it even easier for people in other parts of the city to reach this destination.
Robertson asserts “the pedestrians are always first, then cycling and transit. We accommodate cars but it’s not the first priority.”
No public dollars are going into this project, according to Robertson.
He also confirms that the net profit will go back to the University.
Truman Homes and Brookfield Residential are the only two real estate companies involved in the construction of University District.
Dilesh Sidhpura, a client services specialist at Truman Homes, says he’s already sold some of every type of unit at different price ranges so far, be it a condominium, town-house or a higher-end unit.
“A lot of my purchasers are actually tied in with the hospitals or the school. If it’s a parent buying for a child it’s because they’re going to med school, because like they will be there for four or five years.”
Ayah Muftah, a University of Calgary student, can’t wait to see what the construction process will lead to. Although she will be done her studies and possibly even married with a family by the time University District is completed, she still would like to visit the restaurants and parks in this community in the future. But in the meantime while she still goes to school, she has one main concern.
“I feel like the only downside right now is the construction noise. For future residents, noise will also be an issue because this community is near major roads,” she says.
Sidhpura, on the other hand, believes that having a community within walking distance to so many places is nothing to complain about.
“Like literally everything is within walking distance so it’s an amazing little community that I think will have a level of vibrancy and culture that will be unique to Calgary,” he says.
- By Malak Amche