Is the condo back? Is Calgary back?

RICHARD WHITE | Calgary Herald | Updated: February 11, 2022

Artist's rendering of Frontier Condos in Kensington, by Truman Homes.

While surfing social media, an ad popped up about a new condo building called Frontier in Kensington. It looked remarkably similar to the Truman Homes’ condo on the old Kensington Legion site, approved back in 2015. The site has been sitting empty since then as a result of the downturn in the Calgary inner-city condo market. In fact, I thought the site was for sale.

A quick check with Oliver Trutina, vice-president of Truman Homes, and sure enough, Frontier is the name for the condo building on the Kensington Legion site. He said they are testing the market by releasing a few units, while they negotiate with the city some minor changes to the original plan (for example, making a bigger space for an urban grocer on the main floor).

Oliver and I decided to meet for coffee at Deville Coffee on Broadcast Avenue S.W., in Truman’s ambitious West District development, to catch up on the Calgary condo market.

First I had to ask, “What’s with the name, Frontier?” Oliver smiled and replied he and other family members like the name because of its multiple references. Calgary began as frontier Canadian town and is still perceived by some as having a frontier mentality. They also see the project as a new frontier in expanding the boundaries of Calgary’s city centre, beyond 14th Street N.W., and into West Hillhurst. It could reference that the project is a new frontier for West Hillhurst’s emerging 19th Street/Kensington Road pedestrian hub. Furthermore, its unique scale and design make it a frontier infill project for Calgary and Truman Homes.

Truman Homes is a unique Calgary home builder and developer in that they construct both inner-city and suburban homes (most do one or the other). In fact, Oliver told me they are currently building homes in 21 different Calgary communities, with about 1,200 traditional single family and town homes and 2,600 apartment-style homes either under construction or in the planning stages.

In Calgary’s inner-city, Truman Homes has been the leading builder in the University District development, selling out three projects (419 homes). They also have two projects currently under construction — Archer on Memorial Drive at the Peace Bridge and West 17 across from the Killarney Pool. Construction should begin on a new project (yet to be named) along 33rd Street S.W. next to the Westbrook LRT Station.

Developer’s Crystal Ball

Oliver is pleased by the early response to Frontier. What is tricky is that even the best case scenario doesn’t have the project completed until 2025, meaning he has to anticipate what the condo market be like not now, but in three years’ time.

Why three years? It will take the rest of 2022 to get the city approvals in place, then tender contracts so site development can begin in early 2023, followed by two years of construction to complete.

Frontier is not your typical Calgary infill residential development in that, while it is only eight floors, it will have about 226 new homes (the equivalent of a typical 40-storey residential tower) because of its width. It is a bit like a horizontal skyscraper. It will take two construction cranes and $140 million to build it.

West District Legacy

Over in West District (which is in the community of West Spring, along 85th Street near Old Banff Coach Road), Truman’s flagship family legacy project, the two eight-floor Gateway buildings along Broadcast Avenue S.W. are completed, with all ground floor commercial spaces leased (including Deville Coffee, UNA Pizza + Wine and YYC Cycle Spin Studio).

Along 77th Street S.W., on the east side of West District, Truman has also completed the Mulberry and Newberry projects, with the Wilshire currently under construction. The Mulberry, completed in the fall of 2021 was fully leased in just three weeks, and now has a long waiting list. Parkside, the next West District project, are uber luxury condos located next to the community’s planned Central Park, that are totally customizable — including size.

To date, Truman Homes has successfully completed more than $300 million in new projects in West District, with another $350 million in the late planning stages.

Last Word

It has been a long time since I’ve heard a Calgary developer talk so optimistically about Calgary’s future. While housing developers are almost always optimistic, I am sensing not only from Truman but other Calgary developers that our city has turned the corner. Oliver shared with me that they are seeing more and more sales and leases signed by people moving to Calgary because of its affordability.

Dare I ask? Is the Calgary bust over? A recent study by the Waterloo Economic Development Corp., which mapped North America’s technology clusters, found Calgary is the No. 4 Emerging Tech Cluster (not very far behind Vancouver). This is good news, as is the rise in the price of oil!

Now if only we could get rid of that nasty COVID that keeps getting in the way of our economic recovery.

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