Calgary’s BMO expansion on track amid concerns over Stampede Trail development

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Proposed Stampede Trail development raising questions for Calgarians
A proposed development on Stampede Park is raising concerns with some community advocates. Adam MacVicar reports. – Jun 21, 2022

The $500 million expansion of the BMO Centre is a third of the way to completion, according to the project’s managers.

The expanded BMO Centre is scheduled to open its doors ahead of the 2024 edition of the Calgary Stampede, and officials with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation said the project is on-time and on budget.

“With the (Calgary Stampede) coming in just a couple of weeks and all of the people walking on the midway… you’re really going to see what’s coming,” Calgary Municipal Land Corporation president Kate Thompson said. “Not a lot of people have seen that scale and seen it right up close, and I think now Calgarians will see what’s coming.”

According to Thompson, construction on the project will slow down over the 10 days of Stampede festivities, which has been factored into the project’s schedule.

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Once complete, the BMO Centre will offer more than one million square feet of space, becoming one of the largest convention centres in Western Canada.

It will also be the tallest structure on Stampede Park, featuring an outdoor plaza twice the size of the Olympic Plaza and a 50,000-square-foot grand ballroom.

“We’re starting to see the junior ballroom come together on the upper floor, the meeting spaces on the second floor and the expansion of about 100,000 square feet on the main floor of exhibition hall space,” Thompson said. “A really exciting project for Calgary and actually beyond Calgary.”

During a project update on Tuesday, Calgary Stampede officials said there is already interest from conventions with spaces booked from 2024 through to 2027.

“We actually already have dozens of bookings for conventions for this building,” said Calgary Stampede park planning and development vice-president Jim Laurendeau.

“We are not done, we’ve got a long way to go but we are on track with our sales targets for this building. It’s very exciting and the response has been overwhelming.”

The expansion to the BMO Centre is seen as a catalyst project for Calgary’s Culture and Entertainment District in Victoria Park, with several projects also planned in the area, including the 17 Ave. S.E. extension and Victoria Park/Stampede Station rebuild.

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“This is a gathering space for outside of Calgary to come to as well,” Thompson said. “Getting that number of new people coming to the Culture and Entertainment District, walking our streets, going to our river pathways, going to retail, different restaurants, and hotels; it’s a really big game-changer for this area.”

Stampede Trail Concerns

Some aspects of a proposed project on Stampede Park are raising concerns for residents and community advocates in the area.

It’s called Stampede Trail, a four-block section of Olympic Way S.E., set to be transformed into a “multifunctional space” that will include retail and commercial stores with areas for special events.

According to CMLC, the project will connect 12 Avenue S.E., with 17 Avenue S.E., wrapping around the expanded BMO Centre and crossing the CTrain tracks.

But a rendering of the Olympic Way stretch of Stampede Trail has drawn criticism from community advocates, particularly for its lack of bike lane infrastructure.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is sort of a reinforcement of the old vision of a street that’s busy just after hockey games and for 10 days a year, that moves cars as quickly as possible in and out of surface parking lots,” Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president Peter Oliver told Global News.

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CMLC has submitted a development permit application with the City of Calgary for the $20 million project, which is currently under review.

“As we’re in design review, we’re still working through some of the realities of how to integrate cycling and all the other requirements of that street,” Thompson said. “But I think with our partners, we’ll get there.”

According to Thompson, the goal of Stampede Trail is to have a stretch of roadway that allows traffic to flow through, with pedestrian spaces, sidewalk and patio space, as well as the ability to shut the street down as a festival space.

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the different needs for Stampede Trail make it “a very difficult street to deliver.”

“A lot of balancing acts to be made,” Carra told Global News. “I think everyone understands that balancing act, and now the devil will be in the details for how it’s delivered.”

Carra said what is shown in the rendering isn’t expected to be the finished product, and a more accurate depiction of the project is still under consideration.

A rendering of Stampede Trail included in the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation development permit application. CMLC

In an ideal situation, Carra said he’d like to see bike infrastructure built on the next street over to accommodate cyclists when there are big events in the area.

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“You create a street that almost reads like a plaza… and then you have physical infrastructure that either fully closes (Stampede Trail) off, opens it up for cars or half opens it and closes it to keep the cars constrained but allows bikes on,” Carra said. “Kind of like how we handle Stephen Avenue.”

Construction on the section of Stampede Trail to connect 17 Avenue to Stampede Park is set to begin later this summer as CMLC awaits a development permit for the section along Olympic Way.

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