New president, CEO to head up University of Calgary Properties Group

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In the early 2000s, University of Calgary student Novy Cheema had no way of knowing that one day he’d be in charge of a big pile of dirt on the northwest corner of the campus.

The former Haskayne School of Business student has been named the next president and CEO of University of Calgary Properties Group, developer of that patch of land that is now the bustling community of University District. Cheema takes over from interim leader Gregg Callander, who assumed the role in March 2023.

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“When I went to university it was just a field and now, it’s a vibrant, active community that draws people from all over the city,” he says.

Cheema, 41, grew up in northeast Calgary. After completing his undergrad in finance at the U of C, he studied law at the University of Alberta. Back in Calgary, he practised commercial real estate law and was counsel for a Calgary-based development company. For the past eight years, he has been managing director of Vancouver-based Gracorp Properties. This role brought him back full circle to those dirt fields, only this time as a major player in the development of University District.

“We looked at the vision for the community and we absolutely loved it. We thought it was a no-brainer. You’ve got the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Market Mall and Foothills Hospital isn’t too far away. This was an opportunity that doesn’t often come up. We were there from Day 1,” Cheema says. “It’s a beacon of what a sustainable, innovative development in an urban location should look like.”

Gracorp was the construction firm that built Aria, a five-storey mixed-use building with 288 luxury rental apartments and anchor tenant Save-on-Foods. The developer has another 303-unit project called Block 15 to be constructed kitty corner from Aria and another pending project with 300 units elsewhere in University District.

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When approached by UCPG, Cheema was intrigued by a couple of opportunities. The first was the chance to head up the new University Innovation Quarter, a re-imagining of University Research Park.

“This is going to change the face of the U of C and the city as an incubator for innovation and technology. We’ll take what’s been done at University District and recreate that model to build a technology and health sciences space for start ups and for new companies. It will become a hub for job creation,” he says, noting that UIQ is still in the early stages of approval with the City of Calgary.

The second was to help rework the community’s original plan to reflect current market trends.

“The master plan is 10 years old. There’s more office space in the original plan and we have to address what the market is asking for right now. There’s a lot of runway and a lot of chances to make changes and create something that will stand the test of time,” he says.

Outside the office, Cheema is married to Manhar and is involved coaching his sons, ages 9 and 11, who play hockey and basketball. He dabbles in martial arts and plays hockey several times a week. He can often be found enjoying post-game refreshments at Banquet in University District.

Cheema will assume the role Jan. 29.

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