Downside of Calgary Downtown Residential Conversions?

The Calgary Herald reports that some office tenants are being forced out of their buildings in the city of Calgary’s program to convert office buildings to residential uses.

We had covered this program recently, noting that “that the City has adopted an aggressive program to reduce downtown’s office footprint. With 14 million square feet vacant, the city has adopted the “Downtown Calgary Incentive Program,” a goal of which is to reduce CBD office space by 6 million square feet by 2021. The purpose of the program is to encourage the removal of vacant office space in the downtown to help address vacancy rates and stabilize property values over the next decade.” The program provides subsidies to building owners undertaking conversions.

The Herald cites the case of one business that signed a sublease for space on April 12, just over a month ago. The company learned shortly thereafter that they would need to relocate before the end of 2023. Four years before their sublease was to expire.

Conversion of office buildings to residential may be the greatest hope for the survival of downtowns where until the pandemic, there were far more jobs than resident workers. The experiences cited in the Herald story could make downtown Calgary even less competitive with other office locations in the metropolitan area, as firms face uncertainty about being able to rely on agreed upon lease expiration dates.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council, to complete the unexpired term of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1999-2002). He is author of War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life and Toward More Prosperous Cities: A Framing Essay on Urban Areas, Transport, Planning and the Dimensions of Sustainability.