One of the grand old ladies of downtown Calgary is getting a facelift.
Renovation work will start this summer on the historic four-storey Calgary Chamber of Commerce building at 517 Centre St. S.
But the 112-year-old heritage structure isn’t going completely contemporary, says chamber president Murray Sigler. Rather, its main floor and entrance will be expanded and rehabilitated to reflect both its original grandeur and the chamber’s energetic, small business-oriented membership.
“It’s a bit of a metaphor for the new chamber itself – we’re trying to be more open and bright with a contemporary feel – lots of light and high ceilings while preserving the traditional heritage of the building,” says Sigler.
|Artist renderings courtesy Doug Jameson|
|Changes are afoot on the ground floor of the downtown heritage building, including a new reception area and café.|
“Up until now, the ground floor has been rented out to tenants, so we’re going to move into the ground floor ourselves and make the main entry into the chamber through the corner entry,” which is now being used by a rug shop.
Chamber chairman Ken King outlined the organization’s new philosophy last week at the chamber’s annual general meeting, saying it plans to take a more “aggressive” stance on public policy issues on behalf of local businesses.
The renovations are part of that drive, Sigler adds, by helping attract and engage local business members to drop by and literally get involved on a ground level. “We’ll have a casual coffee shop for people who want to drop in and network informally,” he notes, as well as a high-tech business centre available for members.
“We’ll still have a club upstairs and our luncheon facility, but it will be a casual, drop-in atmosphere. For our members who don’t have offices downtown, they can just drop in and use our services and business centre.”
Gowling & Gibb Architects are now finalizing the design on the estimated $750,000 project, which has been funded by sponsors including Enmax, PricewaterhouseCoopers, RGO, ATCO Group, the Royal Bank and Stuart Olson, which will oversee the project management.
“We’re trying symbolically to let the architecture represent that the chamber isn’t an old and tired institution, but just the opposite – a kind of with-it organization of young business people,” says Barry Gowling. “From the moment you walk through, you’re going to run into a very contemporary modern space, a very open plan. It will be a place to walk in with your laptop, sit down in the cybercafé, and plug in.”
Just over 5,000 square feet will be developed on the main floor as part of the first phase of renovations. Naming rights for various meeting rooms may also be up for grabs in the renovated facility. Sigler adds the new open architecture on the ground floor will be ideal for evening receptions.
Meanwhile, the chamber is hosting one of its biggest annual events this week with International Business Week.
Manfred Merkel, chair of the chamber’s International Business Committee, says more than 500 people are expected to attend a number of speeches, workshops and round-table events focusing on issues and opportunities for Calgary companies in regions including the European Union, Mexico, China, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Merkel notes that current events including the SARS epidemic and global economic issues are likely topics of discussion at the fourth annual IBW event, which runs until Friday.
“Calgary has become more of an international city – increasingly we’re tied more to the rest of the world and not just for business,” says Sigler.
“This year more than ever, the international scene is quite volatile and uncertain. So it’s very timely, certainly because of Canada-U.S. relations . . . not so much the war, but the uncertainty over energy prices arising from the war.”
U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci is scheduled to address a sold-out crowd at the chamber Friday on Canada-U.S. transportation issues.
“We’ll be showing him some strong affirmation of the need for close business ties between Canada and the U.S., and how important that is to the Calgary community and the members of our chamber,” said Sigler.