Conversion of former downtown Calgary office tower nearing finish line

Work continues on the exterior of The Cornerstone in the west end of downtown Calgary. The former office building is being converted to residential units. (Scott Dippel/CBC - image credit)
Work continues on the exterior of The Cornerstone in the west end of downtown Calgary. The former office building is being converted to residential units. (Scott Dippel/CBC - image credit)

A project to convert an empty downtown office building to residential units is into its final stages.

PeopleFirst Developments gave Mayor Jyoti Gondek and the media a look behind the construction hoarding on Friday of The Cornerstone. Visitors were allowed to walk through fully completed units on the building's third floor.

The 10-storey building at the corner of 5th Avenue and 8th Street S.W. is being redone as a 112-unit rental tower.

Work is continuing on the building's exterior as well as its upper floors.

The company's managing director, Maxim Olshevsky, said he expects occupancy of the building's two and three bedroom apartments can begin in the first quarter of 2024.

"We can't wait for that date," said Olshevsky.

"The construction process was not without its challenges. There were plenty of things to overcome but I'm really grateful for having an amazing team that made these things easy to overcome."

New balconies

Balconies have been added for every suite in the former office building.

He said they had plenty of conversations with engineers on how to make the adaptations work.

Maxim Olshevsky with PeopleFirst shows Mayor Jyoti Gondek some the features of a new apartment in The Cornerstone.
Maxim Olshevsky with PeopleFirst shows Mayor Jyoti Gondek some the features of a new apartment in The Cornerstone.

Maxim Olshevsky with PeopleFirst shows Mayor Jyoti Gondek some of the features of a new apartment in The Cornerstone. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

"We figured out how to recess on the existing concrete, to ensure that the thermal break remains as is. We're quite pleased with the balconies that you see in these suites."

Olshevsky said 40 per cent of the units in the building will offer rents that are 20 per cent below market rates for qualified tenants.

The conversion project has a $38 million budget.

It is one of 13 downtown building conversions to receive money under a city program that aims to remove six million square feet of empty office space from the market by 2031 and replace that with residential units.

Upon completion, PeopleFirst will receive a $7.8 million payment from the city for The Cornerstone.

Incentives credited

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she's pleased with how the project is going.

"Incentives absolutely work and this project is a great example," said Gondek.

With the projects that the city has already committed to help fund, she said the program is more than one-third the way to its goal.

"This is a big deal. It's 2.3 million square feet of what was office space being turned into homes where people can live with dignity."

The City of Calgary's work is being watched by other municipalities.

"We do continue to get phone calls from folks that are interested in doing conversion programs and people that want to see how the strategy actually looks when it's implemented. So we continue to engage with any city that's interested," said Gondek.

With 13 conversion projects approved and four more in the pipeline, intake applications were paused by the city in October as the initial funding for the program is fully subscribed.

So far, the program has leveraged more than $567 million in investment by development partners on the various projects in downtown Calgary.