Crescent Heights Village BIA Position: May 2020 Green Line Alignment

Centre Street lies at the heart of Calgary’s north and is one of our beloved (and designated) Main Streets. Described by the City as places where citizens come together, Main Streets are places where we want to go, we enjoy, and we coalesce as a community. Main Streets are resilient, adaptable, and attractive public spaces that, celebrate the character of the community, encourage diversity of local business and create a vibrant destination.

Centre Street has been left to languish for years of uncertainty as the City addressed other concerns in other areas. 

 Take a walk down Centre Street in 2020 and it’s abundantly clear that this historic and important mainstreet has been left behind. Crumbling sidewalks lined with neglected buildings are sparsely populated with nervous pedestrians – scared to cross four lanes of commuter traffic. Cars and busses full of Calgarans from all over the city (85% of whom are not local to the area) rush through the neighbourhood twice a day, leaving behind a desolate road intended to be the heart of a village community, but left to languish for years of uncertainty as the City addressed other concerns in other areas. 

Today’s Centre Street is home to an eclectic mix of diverse business owners from all over the world.

At the same time, intrepid small business owners have managed to eke out a living despite parking woes and dwindling pedestrian traffic – some have been here for decades. Founded as a village in 1901, Crescent Heights is Calgary’s first community outside the valley. Annexed in 1911 and established as a neighbourhood in 1914, Crescent Heights is steeped in the history (and built on the hard work) of Calgary’s Chinese community. Today’s Centre Street is home to an eclectic mix of diverse business owners from all over the world. It’s for these hard working, risk-taking, job-creating Calgary business owners that the new Crescent Heights Village BIA was formed in 2020 and on behalf of whom we offer this position on the proposed Green Line LRT alignment released on May 12, 2020. 

The Potential

 The Crescent Heights Village Board of Directors believe Centre Street’s time has come. Our community (and, indeed, all of North Calgary) has waited long enough for the City’s attention and investment. It’s time to shift the role of Centre Street from an unplanned and haphazard commuter traffic thoroughfare to a vibrant and colourful, people-focused local business hub where Calgarians from all over the city come to eat, shop, work and play – by foot, by bike, by car and, of course, by transit.

The proposed alignment of May 12, 2020 provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink, reinvent and revitalize Centre Street by:

  • Reducing out-of-area commuter traffic while improving access to local businesses 
  • Slowing car traffic down with narrowed lanes 
  • Creating opportunities for city-funded sidewalk improvements, pageantry, trees, infrastructure and lighting we may not otherwise see
  • Creation of a 9th Avenue (Crescent Heights Village) station bringing foot traffic to area businesses


Of course, with this exceptional opportunity comes exceptional risk, including: 

  • Three to five seasons (or more) of construction disruption to small business owners who have already experienced the unprecedented and devastating effects of COVID-19.
  • The loss of a great deal of precious parking along Centre Street that business owners rely on for their customers, for pick-up/delivery services and for loading – parking that is already inadequate. 

 

Our job as the Business Improvement Area is to assess the needs of the businesses in our area in the short, medium and long term. Often, these are in opposition to one another – as is the case with the Green Line alignment. While there’s no doubt the long-term benefits of the development will be transformative for Centre Street Village, getting there will be difficult at best, calamitous at worst. Given the recent economic downturn, challenges seen in other BIAs under construction (17th Avenue S.W.) and now the impact of the pandemic – the risk to many of these small business owners is substantial.

Our Position

Trying to balance the opportunity and the risk results in our position of conditional support of the proposed Green Line alignment, contingent on:

1. A robust and material business support program which might include but is not limited to:

  • Grants, tax freezes and other financial support measures through construction and for a period following its completion.

 Additional consideration of: 

  • A policy of using local businesses for construction needs throughout the project (office rental, business services, insurance, food and beverage, etc.)
  • Marketing and advertising support (both financial and City communications channels) throughout construction (beyond on-site signage).
  • Strict protocols on maintaining access to businesses including pedestrian escorts, flagging, etc.
  • Managing parking of site workers and others.

 

2. Replacing lost parking in its entirety and adding additional parking capacity, potentially by: 

  • Building a CPA parkade
  • Buying existing surplus parking from landowners
  • Expanding two-hour parking into the residential streets
  • Finding areas for angled parking/parking nodes (1st Street W)

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Never before has the City asked small businesses to make the sacrifice of enduring a long construction period after five years of  recession and a global pandemic that put them out of business for months. 

Likewise, there isn’t another BIA in the city that offers zero parking along the BIA’s main street with the possible exception of International Avenue, which enjoys ample opportunity on residential side streets and large parking lots.

But the Crescent Heights Village Board believes moving forward is more important than waiting for the perfect circumstances — this far along in the process, standing still is as good as stepping backwards. We want to step forward and create an exceptional future for Centre Street.

Additional Considerations

It’s important to note that our ratepayer community does not unanimously support this alignment, nor does our board. The project team has asked the business owners of Crescent Heights to take a major leap of faith with many unanswered questions. Given the long term potential benefits to the area, it’s a leap we’re willing to take with an understanding the Green Line project team and Council will continue to work with us to support the businesses in our area. In the spirit of that collaboration, we also request consideration of the following: 

Consultation and funding of public realm improvements including:
  • Public art
  • Trees and Greenery
  • Alley lighting/beautification
  • Interim traffic calming and parking measures such as a 4-to-3 lane conversion and permanent parking on both sides
  • Improved sidewalks and crosswalks
  • Pedestrian scale lighting
  • Use of character materials
  • Multi-use pathway on the train bridge
  • Bike parking (re-installation of existing CH branded racks)
  • Installation of benches and other streetscape enhancements that can be removed and replaced during and after construction
  • Maintaining permeability of centre street with no fences or arms dividing the street

 

Station Naming: It is our request that the 9th Avenue station be called Crescent Heights Village to give it a sense of place that celebrates Calgary’s history, to recognize it as a destination, and to give back to businesses in our area by promoting economic development once the project is complete. Input on the 16th Avenue station naming, design and public realm is also requested.

Traffic/speed Management including:
  • Lower posted and street design speed of Centre Street to 40 km/hour between 7th and 16th Avenues for both trains and motor vehicles to provide a “Main Street” feel, improve safety, and promote economic development (speeding vehicles don’t stop for coffee)
  • Dedicated left-turn lanes
  • Busses share LRT lane versus using the car lanes

Summary

The business owners in the Crescent Heights Village BIA have shown a tremendous amount of grit over the last decades as Centre Street sat in limbo. Dangling in the winds of politics, economics and public opinion, these restaurateurs, accountants, pharmacists, herbalists, retailers, dentists, barbers and grocers have continued to create jobs and serve their community with pride and resilience. Let’s reward their perseverance by giving them a Centre Street that works – during construction and for decades to come.