By Chris Blatch
The University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus opened its doors Sept. 13 in an area that both City Hall and the U of C have admitted has a less than stellar reputation. The new campus in the west end of downtown is expected to revitalize the area and drive down crime, however concerns remain that little is being done to protect students in the area.
The U of C leased a building located at 8 Ave and 8 St. SW and renovated the first four floors, where classes in business and professional development began Monday. Two floors are still uncompleted and will hold a bookstore, library and retail space. Courses in Continuing Education, Business, Energy and Environment and Public Policy (a faculty currently awaiting approval from the provincial government to grant degrees) are slated to be offered in the newly renovated building.
The University had originally planned for a much larger campus in the redeveloped East Village area of downtown, but a lack of funding forced the campus to be relocated to the west end. The university opted for a $100 million, 20-year lease on an existing medical building.
The Calgary Herald stated that funds from a $15 million provincial grant for the project were used by the U of C to renovate the interior, while building owner North-West Healthcare Properties spent $25 million on the exterior.
Bob Ellard, the U of C’s vice-president of facilities management and development, said the trendy makeover of the building is “pushing the downtown core a little further west.”
“The redevelopment of that area with the building across the street really pushed the wrong types [of people] out of the area,” Ellard explained. “You don’t see those kinds of things people used to see anymore.”
Ellard said the downtown campus addition will bring 4-500 students and staff into the neighbourhood and create a positive change.
“I think this building will win awards both architecturally and for what this building has done for the area,” said Ellard.
Ward eight alderman John Mar also has high hopes for the effect the downtown campus will have.
“Students come with an incredible type of energy bringing a type of synergy unique to students that will bring a new outlook to the area,” said Mar. “We are hoping students will bring legitimate users to the area . . . through almost an osmosis process.”
Mar explained that other municipalities with downtown campuses have “experienced a revitalization of the downtown” which he hopes to mimic in Calgary.
But students aren’t so sure their mere presence will make the area safer.
“I understand its not the universities choice who can be around here,” said Michael Thoronton, a mature student enrolling in continuing education. “But Calgary’s a big boy city now and we have to deal with the fact that we’re going to have to deal with real city problems.”
The newly renovated building is located next to a strip mall known to many Calgarians as the “Crack-Mac’s” due to its perceived propensity to attract drug users, dealers and a myriad of crimes.
“Because the building is leased, the building owner provides us with many of the services, including what I’d call more of a concierge than security to monitor people that are coming and going and to make sure the right people are in the building,” Ellard said when asked about the U of C’s safety precautions. “At this time there is nothing that our group has done that specifically would promote the safety of a student say going to the C-Train at 1 a.m.”
Ellard did point out that the park across from the downtown campus is a particular problem, but the city has acknowledged that the “whole corner needs redevelopment.”
Mar confirmed that the city is working on re-envisioning the park to create a better area for Calgarians.
“We are doing lots of things for safety. We’ve redesigned the light rail transit with better lighting, visibility and accessibility,” stated Mar.
Connie Anderson, an employee in the nearby Nexen building, thinks the city moved the problem rather than getting rid of it.
“I only really ride the train at peak times, but even when I’d run down to the Bay on my lunch hour I’d see those ones shooting up in the doorway there on the side during the day,” said Anderson. “Since they moved the station, I don’t see it as much but I think that’s because those types just moved into the park and alley.”
Mar pointed out the city hired 25 new bylaw officers and 78 new police officers who will be conducting foot patrols throughout the downtown core. But these new personnel are not specifically going to be concentrating on the west end of downtown.
Sebastien Leonard, a tenant in an apartment building a block from the site said the area is too dangerous and not enough is being done.
“I’ve been mugged three times . . . I don’t even report it anymore because there is little the police say they can do. Moving the C-Train made it easier to see them but the druggies don’t care,” said Leonard.
“I don’t understand how the city thinks that students are going to magically clean this place up and scare the crackheads away. We already have hundreds of people working and living or riding past here on the C-Train each day. How are a couple more people supposed to get rid of the Crack-Mac’s?”