New life about to bubble at site of historic brewery
By Paula Arab, Calgary Herald
September 29, 2011 8:33 AM
Crack open the champagne, or, ale. Calgary is getting its own version of Toronto's Distillery District, an acclaimed urban village that transformed dozens of dilapidated Victorian-era industrial buildings into one of Ontario's hottest neighbourhoods.
Calgary's Brewery Flats in Inglewood is headed in the same direction, albeit, on a much smaller scale.
It was the Distillery District that came to mind when I toured the 119-yearold Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site two years ago, after the owner requested demolition permits for five historic buildings; damaged, but still rich in character.
I could easily envision how the city's first brewery, and one of Calgary's first industries, could be transformed into a mixed-use residential, commercial, art and culture space, much as other former industrial sites (known as brownfields) in cities around the world have been redeveloped. Each model is unique, but all share the often bold fusing of old with the new, creating a space that harkens back to the horse and buggy days, but in colour.
It seemed Calgary's postindustrial vibrant urban village would never materialize when owner AECO Holdings sought the contentious demolition permit in the absence of development plans for the Class A heritage site. The writing was on the (hand-dressed but crumbling) sandstone wall: Calgary history would again be torn down and the story doomed to repeat itself.
The province intervened and ordered a historic resources impact assessment, but as time passed, and nothing happened, it looked like this would be another demolition by neglect scenario.
Not any more.
"The demolition permit application is no longer active," says Eileen Stan, development program manager for Matco Investments, which is representing AECO Holdings. "It has expired and we're not addressing that at this point in time. We're exploring a larger plan now."
Why the change of heart? "We just sat back and said if we're going to be doing this, we're going to be doing it in a very thoughtful way.
We're going to put together a strategy for redevelopment . . . and it's going to be something that's successful and economically feasible," she said. "It's going to add value, both culturally, socially and economically to the community."
The development will align with the city's larger planning goals to create a walkable urban district with good public transit options, higher density and opportunity for more art space.
The original plant played such a significant role in the early Calgary community, the area around it became known as Brewery Flats, a name that has a nice ring still today, for the authenticity it conjures up, along with images of loft-style condos, patio-hopping and a glass of ale at the gorgeous Tudor Revival-style pub in the original brew house.
Brewery Flats was a community that centred around the importance of its employer, A.E. Cross, who kept people working in good times and in bad, even through the Great Depression. Rather than fire people, the Cross family put them to work building the Brewery Gardens, trout ponds and a fish hatchery.
AECO Holdings hired Sasaki Associates out of Boston to develop the master plan, whose exhaustive portfolio includes Beijing's 798 Arts District, considered to be at the heart of China's creative culture.
The local architect is award winning Lorne Simpson, acclaimed as a heritage conservation expert whose work includes restoring the Lougheed House and the Lougheed Building.
James Miner, Sasaki's principal on the revitalization project, said the two examples that could be considered models are Toronto's Distillery District and Portland's Brewery Blocks, a five-block shopping and professional district in a post-industrial neighbourhood.
Unlike either, which had ample historic buildings in tact, the Calgary site is more like fragments of the past that must be pulled together. For instance, there is a stand-alone smoke stack, which is iconic, but doesn't lend itself easily to reuse. Those buildings that could be more readily restored into functioning space have less obvious historic significance.
"If you go and stand on the site today, without having the benefit of someone like Lorne Simpson, who has done a lot of work understanding how the site evolved over time, it's not obvious where the old pieces are," Miner told me this week. "It's hard to pick out the connections to that history, as singular pieces of architecture, the way that you can, say, in Toronto."
Another interesting element is the water table below ground, which pumps pure water through an artesian well used for making the beer.
"It's very clean and it's right there. You have a pure water source that you don't want to disturb," said Miner.
Weaving those remnants of the past into a tapestry attractive enough to draw people today is both the great challenge and the opportunity.
"What do you do with an artesian well? I don't know, but there's lots of ways we can think about it. How do you connect all of those pieces with each other, and with whatever comes next?"
The prospect makes my mouth water for more details. Here's a toast to the future of Brewery Flats, and one that successfully incorporates its rich past.
Paula Arab is a Herald columnist and editorial writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
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