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Work begins on converting historic Barron Building to residential, retail space

Updated: May 9

Source: Calgary Herald .............................................................................................................

Brodie Thomas

Artist's rendering of the conversion of the historic Barron Building in downtown Calgary. Built in 1951, the Barron was Calgary's first skyscraper. Courtesy Strategic Group

It will be a second life for the Art Moderne office building, which opened in 1951 as one of Calgary’s first skyscrapers

It may have been the first sod turning to take place on a second floor, at least in Calgary.

Strategic Group CEO Riaz Mamdani, Mayor Jyoti Gondek and MP George Chahal used shiny new shovels to flip some ceremonial sod from a box onto the concrete floor of Calgary’s historic Barron Building on Wednesday morning.

The second-floor ceremony marked the beginning of a second life for the Art Moderne building, completed in 1951 as one of the city’s first skyscrapers.

Back then it was mostly office space, except for owner J.B. Barron’s penthouse suite and the main floor’s Uptown Theatre.

In a year’s time, the office space once taken up by companies such as Shell, Halliburton, and Mobil Oil will be converted into 118 residential rental units — including Barron’s former penthouse suite, which will be restored.

In addition to 100,000 square feet of residential space, the building will house about 8,500 square feet of retail space.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Strategic Group CEO Riaz Mamdani and Skyview MP George Chahal take part in the ceremonial sod turning.Gavin Young/Postmedia

The conversion will maintain the Barron’s facade and much of its inside structure, which are an essential part of historic preservation.

Strategic Group held a ceremony Wednesday to mark the start of its repurposing construction.

Mamdani said it was the first building he ever made an offer to purchase, in 1996, although that offer was swiftly rejected. Strategic Group didn’t obtain it until 2009, and its future has been in limbo ever since.

“There was a time, a few years ago, we were going to build a skyscraper overtop of the historical building,” said Mamdani.

Work had been done to prepare a parkade below the building, but it was stalled until October 2021 when the previous city council voted to provide $7.5 million to help get the project across the finish line.

A further $1 million is coming from the city’s Historic Resource Conservation Grant Program, bringing the total investment of public dollars to $8.5 million.

The redevelopment will maintain the Barron’s facade and much of its inside structure.Gavin Young/Postmedia

Mamdani said J.B. Barron showed vision when he built the structure, and he believes politicians are now showing vision as they work to convert office space into residential space.

“They show vision for creating housing in the downtown,” said Mamdani. “They show a vision for the future of Calgary. The long game.

“Next year, we’ll have $100 million invested in this project over the past 15 years,” he said. “We will have been able to protect what I think is a very significant historic asset.”

Gondek said the city’s downtown revitalization fund, which sees the city pay developers up to $75 per square foot to repurpose office space into residential space, is already oversubscribed, sending a clear signal to the private sector that the city will be a strong partner for the downtown.

“It will be remarkable to see how the iconic Barron Building transforms into a modern multipurpose building,” said Gondek. “This is yet more evidence that our downtown revitalization strategy is working and it remains critical to seeing assessed property values continue to rise.”

Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary, said he’s been working on the project for more than 10 years, and called it a win for heritage preservation in the city.

“It shows that heritage can be seen as an asset,” he said. “Seeing almost $100 million worth of investment going into this project, I think is going to be a catalyst for other conversions in the downtown.”

Artist rendering of the main floor of the Barron Building after renovation.Courtesy Strategic Group

Ken Toews, senior vice-president of development with Strategic Group, confirmed the company is exploring the possibility of making some of the apartments available at below-market rent prices.

He said by repurposing a building rather than building from scratch, more than 4,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases are being prevented from entering the atmosphere.

“And then the building materials, rather than taking them to the landfill, we’ve got about 56,000 tons of material that will be reused. And so that’s very, very important to us,” said Toews.

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