Empty Calgary office towers flipped to residential with $31M taxpayer subsidy

How much will $31 million in taxpayer subsidies get you in office-to-residential conversions in a downtown core with huge vacancy rates?

About 400 units, Calgary’s mayor told reporters Wednesday, while announcing the first three successful applicants for a $100-million fund approved by two councils dating back to April of last year.

This office tower at 205 Ninth Avenue S.E. is across the street from Palliser One, It will result in 110 rental apartments after a conversion funded in part by the city. (Mark Matulis/CBC)

The officer tower vacancy rate has crept from 25 per cent in early 2020, to almost 30 per cent last summer. In fact, a handful of once bustling buildings had literally no tenants at that time.

Council approved a fund to help property owners switch to something less unstable and hopefully more lucrative.

“These projects are absolutely transformational in how they are going to breathe new life into largely empty or underutilized office buildings by converting empty spaces into new residential units, into homes for people,” Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says the conversion project funding will breathe new life into parts of the downtown core. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The first three projects will share $31 million in grants to convert 414,000 square feet of office space into residential space:

  • Palliser One at 125 Ninth Avenue S.E.
  • HAT at Arts Common at 205 Ninth Avenue S.E.
  • 909 Fifth Avenue S.W.

Calgary has struggled with retaining commercial renters due to oil and gas boom-and-bust cycles, with a global COVID pandemic pouring salt into the wound.

Wednesday’s funding, however, is a drop in the bucket.

“We have estimated that approximately six million square feet of office space needs to be removed from the market through conversion, adaptive reuse and or demolition, to stabilize downtown property values over the next decade,” Gondek said.

The business manager for the company managing the HAT conversion at Arts Common says about 110 rental apartments are on the way.

There won’t be any commercial or office space after the conversion, said Sarah Itani, business development manager for the Cidex Group of Companies.

She said the main and lower floors are available for new ideas.

The office building at 909 Fifth Avenue S.W. is one of three projects to receive funding to convert the space to residential. (Mark Matulis/CBC)

“We are leaving a lot of that space open for future programming — so things such as workshops, open gallery spaces, places for us to invite the incredibly diverse and amazing community around us,” she said.

“It’s a community we are aiming to develop here.”

On top of these three projects, there are two others on deck, and that doesn’t include the wait list.

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