White: Stampede Park makeover gains momentum

C+E District is shaping up — but couldn’t it be branded with a better name?

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Plans for a mega makeover of Stampede Park (or should I say Culture + Entertainment, aka C+E District) have been in the works since the mid-1990s. After a few false starts, the makeover is finally coming to fruition with the opening of the Sam Centre, the expanded BMO Centre and the new Stampede Station for this summer’s Stampede celebration.

Stampede Makeover 101

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Some might say it started back in 1981 with the opening of the Roundup Centre, since re-branded as the BMO Centre. But the ongoing redevelopment started in 2014 with the opening of the Nutrien Western Event Centre, a state-of-the-art facility designed for national and international agricultural exhibitions and trade shows, as well as to be a centre for agriculture industry education and, of course, the annual Aggie Days.

Two years later, Enmax Park opened on the east side of the Elbow River and the relocation of the Indian Village to the east side of the Elbow River below Ramsay (rebranded as Elbow River Camp) during Stampede.

The Youth Campus concept, also announced in 2016, included plans for rehearsal space for Young Canadians School for the Performing Arts and Calgary Stampede Showband, a Stampede experience museum and an outdoor plaza with amphitheatre.

A year later, in 2017, the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios opened its doors, as the new home for the Young Canadians and Stampede Showband. That same year the Calgary Arts Academy High School relocated to the campus’ renovated historic Weston Bakery building. The Youth Campus vision was quickly being realized.

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The next step was the Enbridge Plaza, designed as a year-round outdoor rehearsal space for the Calgary Stampede Showband and other outdoor events and festivals. It opened in 2019.

Then in 2021, the city announced plans to redesign the Stampede LRT station to create a more welcoming and pedestrian-friendly entrance to Stampede Park at 17th Avenue S.E. It will open for this summer’s Stampede.

Also in 2021, construction began on the mega expansion of the BMO Centre that will make it the largest convention and trade show facility in Western Canada. This signature new building will also open for Stampede 2024.

Last year, Olympic Way (4th Street S.E.) was rebranded as Stampede Trail and a $20 million pedestrian-friendly makeover of the streetscape commenced. Also, Matthews Southwest Hospitality announced it would build an $80 million, 220-room hotel (it is anticipated that a second hotel of the same size will be needed once the arena is completed). Ideally, Stampede Trail will become a mixed-use main street with themed shops, bars, restaurants, craft brewery and nightclubs, rivalling Stephen Avenue Walk.

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Opening for Stampede 2024 — in addition to the BMO Centre — is the Sam Centre, a year-round immersive experience (hands-on museum/interpretive centre) that will allow visitors and locals to learn about the incredible history of the Calgary Stampede and how it has shaped our city. The Sam Centre, is named after Robert Samuel Taylor, the father of Calgary entrepreneur and philanthropist Don Taylor who donated $15 million to the project.

The next milestone will be the announcement of the design of the new Calgary Flames arena (or should I say Event Centre) which is expected to happen shortly after Stampede with construction starting in late 2024 and completion hopefully by the start of the 2027 hockey season.

Residential Development Opportunities

The master plan for Calgary’s new C + E District (formerly Stampede Park and Victoria Park) also calls for several residential towers between the CPKC (Canadian Pacific Kansas City) railway tracks and Stampede Park itself. This residential development is critical to creating vitality not only when there are no events happening, but also when everyone is attending an event. One of the issues with major events centres is visitors go into the buildings for extended hours without coming out, leaving the streets around them empty most of the time.

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Remember Stampede Park will eventually be home three major event centres — BMO Centre, Nutrien Western Centre and new arena (billed as more than just a hockey arena but rather as a multi-user event space).

With the new Green Line LRT station at 4th Street and 11th Avenue S.E., as well as the enhanced Stampede LRT station nearby, living in what used to be called Victoria Park, (maybe still is, it is hard to keep up with all the new branding terms), could become very attractive. This would be an ideal opportunity for the city to fast track the development of several towers with a mix of affordable and market housing to create a 21st century urban village like East Village. I am surprised this hasn’t been an announcement yet.

Last Word

Is it just me who thinks C+E District (Culture and Entertainment) is a poor re-branding of Stampede Park and Victoria Park by Calgary Municipal Land Corp., the group managing the Stampede Park makeover? Do they think the new name will help foster the area as a fun, funky year-round entertainment district?

Are they trying to downplay the area’s history, moving away from the “10 days of Stampede?” Are they trying to appease the anti-Stampede sentiment expressed by some Calgarians and outsiders who think our “cowboy” image is a negative and doesn’t support a more cosmopolitan 21st century Calgary image?

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Perhaps they are trying to create a hip brand like Edmonton’s ICE District? If so, I think they have failed as I don’t think C+E District is immediately understood, memorable, inspiring or clever. It is too generic — it could be in Columbus, Cleveland or Charlotte or Chicago.

And could the C+E District be confused by some as the area around Arts Commons, The Glenbow, Olympic Plaza and Stephen Avenue, which one could argue is already Calgary’s cultural and entertainment district?

What’s wrong with “Stampede Park” and “Victoria Park?” What’s wrong with celebrating 100-plus years of Calgary history, heritage and tradition?

Perhaps we need a petition to stop using the C+E District brand and revert to Victoria and Stampede Park! Who’s in?

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