Here comes the neighbourhood: slowly but surely, the Stampede Park area is getting a facelift

Ryan Pike
23 days ago
This article is brought to you by bet365.
If you’ve gone to a Calgary Flames home game since the Olympic Saddledome (as it was called then) opened in October 1983, you’ve probably had the same experience in the area that many have. The Saddledome has existed as an island surrounded by a sea of surface parking lots, disconnected from the rest of the city by the Red Line C-Train to the west, the CP Rail line to the north, and the Elbow River on the east and south.
But a series of projects being executed by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) are aiming to connect Stampede Park with the rest of the surrounding area as part of a broader plan to develop a cultural and entertainment district on the east side of downtown.
After a lot of work, the summer of 2024 may be when visitors to the area start noticing the difference.
“2024 is a really significant year in the evolution of this part of Calgary,” said CMLC president and chief executive officer Kate Thompson. “Really from 2018 to 2024, that’s really fast in terms of getting the BMO funded and built and all the infrastructure around it moving forward and the plan and everyone buying in on it. So a lot has changed. That BMO Centre expansion is going to totally transform the type of activity on Stampede Park, for sure. It’s the largest convention centre in Western Canada. It’s going to be a different offering that our city hasn’t seen yet.”
Since the 1980s, the C-Train’s Red Line along Macleod Trail acting as a sharp boundary separating Stampede Park from the rest of the city – 17th Avenue abruptly ended at Macleod. The solution to the sharp boundary was pretty simple: continue 17th Avenue into Stampede Park, and rebuild the existing Victoria Park C-Train station at street level. The changes are aimed at creating integration with the surrounding areas.
“The previous gateway for Stampede Park was actually at 17th Avenue and Macleod Trail,” said Thompson. “That was their front door. And then in the ‘80s, when they put the Red Line there, obviously that changed. And there’s an LRT, which was valuable and great, but then there’s also chain link fence that everyone had to go up and over and down. Not the best urban design for creating a gateway. I think that one act in the master plan to bring the road, 17th Avenue, into [Stampede] Park and conversely have park kind of become part of our downtown kind of [connects it]”
First established in 2007, CMLC’s mandate is to revitalize Calgary’s Rivers District – the East Village and the east Victoria Park area bordering on the Elbow River – and their work has also spilled over into parts of downtown. (They’ll be orchestrating the upcoming revamping of Olympic Plaza and Arts Commons.) The East Village was the initial focus of CMLC’s efforts, which featured roughly 30 projects including the construction of the RiverWalk, the National Music Centre and the new Central Library.
While CMLC’s website uses the terms “place-making” and “city-building” to describe what they do, but a simpler way to describe it is that they help build cool stuff that makes key areas of Calgary more interesting to experience.
“Any great city that you walk around, you can walk for half an hour and not even notice that you’re walking because it’s an exciting half-hour walk,” said Thompson. “If you’re walking from traditional downtown Calgary down to Stampede Park, it’s not that exciting. Our whole job as a community is to start filling in the gap between all these nodes that we’re building; between Arts Commons and the BMO Centre and then the event centre. How do you make that exciting for people to move around in?”
If we’re being honest here, the East Village was a bit of a blank slate for CMLC, and so their development of the area wasn’t really encumbered by ongoing activities. Their work in east Victoria Park and Stampede Park is much different, with development in the area overlapping with the everyday happenings in the area – Thompson remarked “it’s kind of like building an Olympic village while hosting an Olympics” – as the BMO Centre construction and Stampede Trail festival street redevelopment, Green Line C-Train prep work and rebuilding of the Victoria Park station occurred while millions of people a year were visiting the area.
On June 8, the BMO Centre expansion will open to the public. The 17th Avenue extension and revamped Victoria Park C-Train station are expected to be complete in July, according to the CMLC website. While construction will continue in the area after the Stampede – between development of the new Calgary Flames arena (the event centre) and the ongoing Green Line C-Train work, there’s a lot left to do – but visitors will be able to see what all the construction was leading toward.
“We always are saying that it’s short-term pain for long-term gain,” said Thompson. “But it’s hard to know that when you’re sitting in your car and you might be late for work or whatever event that you’re supposed to be going to and you’re delayed. But 2024 is going to mark a significant change in the district that I think people will have that ‘Aha’ moment of ‘Oh this is what they’ve been working on’ and ‘This is why they have so much traffic rerouting happening in the area.’”
While CMLC isn’t directly involved in event centre construction – it’s being managed by CAA ICON – they remain the ringmaster for the various pieces of infrastructure development throughout the district. Much of the larger pieces they’re working on – including expansion of the River Walk south along the Elbow River and the construction of the 6th Street underpass beneath the CP Rail line – are dependent on construction timelines for the Green Line LRT.
Regardless of the sequencing of the last few pieces, the end goal of the developments are to connect the Stampede Park area with its surroundings, and to fill it with reasons to show up early before events or to hang around and have fun afterwards. If CMLC manages to achieve what they want, it’ll be a far cry from an arena surrounded by a parking moat.
“That’s the task, is to make sure that people understand it’s not just a building with parking around it,” said Thompson. “But it’s an event centre with many different things around it, and it’s where people want to be.”

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