Retail Insider continues its Photo Tour series of Canadian malls to provide a glimpse into shopping centres which may be less visited lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This edition takes us to The CORE Shopping Centre in downtown Calgary, which spans across over three blocks and emcompasses four major office towers: TD Canada Trust Tower, Home Oil Tower, Dome Tower, and the historic Lancaster Building.
Unlike suburban shopping centres, adapting existing architecture to evolve the shopping centre into the three-city-block, modern, unified retail centre presented a unique challenge for its owners, Ivanhoé Cambridge (50%) and Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo, 50%). The centre is managed by Cushman & Wakefield. For the horticulture enthusiast, another draw to The CORE is the Devonian Gardens — an indoor botanical garden with overhead vistas displayed through a continuous 85-foot-wide (26m), 656-foot-long (200m) suspended glass skylight down the heart of the centre.
The CORE is an indoor shopping centre with approximately 120 retail stores spanning over 600,000 square feet of floor space. The three main anchor tenants for The CORE include:
- Holt Renfrew (146,887 square feet)
- La Maison Simons (95,080 square feet)
- Harry Rosen (27,821 square feet)
History of The CORE
The CORE has an interesting and complex history on how the three city blocks became the modern-day shopping centre. It all began with one city block through the opening of an Eaton’s Department store in 1929. The second city block was added when Eaton’s was joined by the neighbouring TD Square to the east in 1977. The third city block was added when Eaton’s moved one block west in 1990 while vacating the original first city block, which was redeveloped into the Calgary Eaton Centre and was anchored by a 27,000-square-foot Holt Renfrew. Thus the three city blocks (the new Eaton’s store to the west, the Calgary Eaton Centre in the centre, and TD Square to the east) took shape into what would eventually become one retail centre.
As Eaton’s faded into Canadian retail history in 1999, Sears Canada took over the western building from 2002 to 2008, prior to Holt Renfrew taking over most of it in 2009. The CORE now consists of Holt Renfrew (510 – 8 Ave SW) to the west, Calgary Eaton Centre (751 – 3 St SW) at the centre, and TD Square (317 – 7 Ave SW) to the east.
A three-year redevelopment of the centre was completed in 2011 and included the installation of the largest point-supported structural glass skylight in the world. MMC Architects and GH+A Design Studios collaborated on this project as lead architect and retail design consultant respectively.
Breaking Up The CORE
In order to make this photo tour manageable, the shopping centre has been divided into four tour zones based on the floor/level.
- Ground Floor: The first floor is accessible from numerous street-level entrances, including from the pedestrian-friendly 8th Avenue SW (Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall) to the south and 7th Avenue SW (LRT Corridor rapid transit line) to the north.
- 2nd Floor: The second floor is the highest foot traffic floor of the entire shopping centre due to its interconnection points to adjacent buildings to the north, east, and south through Calgary’s elevated Plus 15 pedway network.
- 3rd Floor: The third floor is bathed in sunlight beneath the suspended glass skylight with retailers running the length of the floor. Not to be greedy, light wells share the natural light to the second level as well.
- 4th Floor: While not truly a fully-fledged floor, the fourth level acts more like a tiara crowning the third level, housing a food court and the 2.5-acre (1.0 ha) Devonian Gardens. Most of the food concessions are perched upon the roofs of the third floor retailers as to not obstruct the view and natural light from cascading to the floors below.
The CORE at Ground Level
The retail areas on the ground level of The CORE are disjointedly separated due to the nature of the overall shopping centre spanning across three city blocks. While three distinct retail areas appear to be marooned with moats of city streets on ground level, the foot traffic from the 7th Avenue “light rail only” street and the pedestrian-only 8th Ave SW (also known as Stephen Avenue Mall) encourages a steady flow of potential patrons to the centre.
The only drawback is the two north-south flowing city streets which naturally split the centre into its three parts based on the bases of each respective office tower. The centre’s second and third floors unify the three city blocks, spanning over the two high-traffic streets, creating physical tunnels to allow traffic to flow with the adjoining high-density ‘Beltline’ residential neighbourhood to the south.
Any ambiance for foot traffic at street level is forcibly interrupted by the physical tunnels becoming acoustic tunnels as vehicles roar from red lights and pass beneath the second floor overhead walkways above each street. Pedestrians unwilling to wait for the crossing signals or wanting to evade the outside weather mostly duck into the closest entry point to ascend by escalator to the unified second floor.
Here our tour starts on 4th Street SW between 7th Avenue and 8th Ave SW.
On the left side of the map above is the ground level of the first building that makes up The CORE. The westernmost building on the west side of 4th Street SW is home to Holt Renfrew and its luxurious stone-clad entrance, accompanied with various window displays for high-end retail brands including Gucci, Prada, Miu Miu, Burberry, Celine, Tiffany & Co. and the recently-opened Chanel boutique which we profiled in June 2020.
On the east side of 4th Street SW (opposite Holt Renfrew) is the entrance to the former Calgary Eaton Centre which is the second (of three) buildings making up The CORE. The office tower is home to TD Canada Trust offices and its main lobby is located on the ground floor of this portion of The CORE. Before heading into the ground-floor entrance off of 4th Street SW, one of the key retail tenants is Brooks Brothers, which has access to 8th Avenue (Stephen Avenue) to the south and extends up to the second floor as well. The ‘tunnel’ spanning across 4th Street SW is noticeable on the left side of the following photo.
Pictured below is one of the street level entrances to The CORE bringing visitors into the TD Square component of the shopping centre.
Aside from Brooks Brothers, the rest of the ground floor for this section is occupied by a Second Cup, a Bell mobility store, a TD Canada Trust branch, and a Hy’s Steakhouse Restaurant accessible from 8th Ave (Stephan Avenue) through the historic Eaton’s façade which still remains as a nod to its retail history.
Another key traffic artery, 3rd Street SW, needed to be crossed to get to the third — and larger — ground floor retail section in TD Square. The building is home to the Home Oil offices and the tower lobby for the oil company is intermixed with the retail found on this floor.
Included within the ground floor retail area sandwiched between 4th Street and 3rd Street SW is a Shoppers Drug Mart on the north side facing 7th Avenue.
Across the corridor to the south is a standalone Beauty Boutique by Shoppers Drug Mart, which is unusual, and is next to a Cactus Club Restaurant. Other retail tenants on the ground floor in TD Square portion of The CORE include a Bentley Leathers store and an Indigo Spirit bookstore.
Outside of the Indigo Spirit exterior door on 8th Ave SW (Stephen Avenue) is the The Galleria Trees, which are formed by ten tree sculptures. The galleria was a gift from Trizec Hahn Office Properties to the City of Calgary in 2000 following the completion of the second Bankers Hall building located south of The CORE, which is interconnected by Calgary’s Plus 15 pedway network. Since it is difficult to grow trees in Calgary, it was decided that the ten sculptures comprised of two design types would take the form of stylized trees. They also project heat on cold winter days which is a benefit for the homeless trying to keep warm.
Returning inside The CORE’s ground floor, the second largest anchor tenant for the centre is Quebec City-based large-format fashion retailer La Maison Simons. Nestled against 2nd Street SW, the 95,080-square-foot retailer rises up three levels in the historic Lancaster Building which is part of the TD Square section of The CORE. This became Alberta’s second location for Simons when it opened in March 2017 and it connects with Hudson’s Bay on the second level which sits across 1st Street SW from The CORE.
The CORE on the Second Level
Ascending the escalators in Simons within the Lancaster Building brought our retail tour to the second floor. As mentioned above, the interconnected Plus 15 pedway network is a key pedestrian access point for downtown office workers to traverse the downtown regardless of outside weather conditions. The shopping centre is interconnected with other buildings not associated with The CORE, including the Hudson’s Bay and Scotia Centre buildings to the east, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) to the north, and Banker’s Hall to the south.
Similar to the ground level, Simons continues on the second level along the main corridor that interconnects the Plus 15 pedway network. Foot traffic from the Hudson’s Bay building passes through Simons to enter The CORE on this level. Harry Rosen, the third largest tenant with 27,821 square feet of retail space, can be found on this level adjacent to the north Plus 15 entrance from the BMO building.
Other retailers on the second level in the TD Square portion of The CORE include Banana Republic, Aritzia, MAC, Browns Shoes, Curatedly, Just Cozy, Club Monaco, Femme De Carriere, Sephora, and GAP.
Montreal-based jewellery retailer Maison Birks is currently under renovation with construction signage noting a spring 2021 reopening. The store spans about 5,500 square feet over one level according to lease plans, including a small Rolex boutique that is connected and not in the photo below. In decades past, the Birks store at the former TD Centre was considerably larger and spanned two levels that were joined by a circular staircase. The Birks store shrank when it gave up its street-level space and then shrunk again when its space was demised to create a 2,700 square foot corner retail unit that was recently vacated by US fashion brand Michael Kors.
Retailers on the third level have the privilege of being beneath the suspended skylight and light wells provide sky views for shoppers on level two as well. The unified second floor of The CORE crosses over 3rd Street SW and includes retailers suspended above the roadway below.
In the Calgary Eaton Centre portion of level two, the monolithic entrance to Brooks Brothers is accessible. In years past, the space was occupied by Holt Renfrew’s women’s designer floor.
Other retailers on the second floor of the Calgary Eaton Centre portion of The CORE include Bellissma Fashions, Tip Top, L’Occitane, Aldo, Labels, and Tristan.
At this point within The CORE, the building transitions from the Calgary Eaton Centre to the Holt Renfrew section and some retailers occupy space in the suspended galleria above the 4th Street SW roadway below.
Holt Renfrew is a key tenant for The CORE, especially since its signifiant expansion into the vacated Sears Canada space in 2009. The retailer announced plans to add a fourth floor in September 2014, which was set to include a restaurant and personal shopping suites. Oil prices crashed shortly thereafter and the expansion still hasn’t happened.
The CORE on the Third Level
The third floor of The CORE is the architectural icing on the metaphorical cake for the shopping centre. Before we go into the details of the suspended glass skylight, we start the retail photo tour on the west end as we emerge from Holt Renfrew.
Through novel architectural design and construction, the gigantic skylight, which spans three city blocks, is suspended under structural arches by special spider fasteners which secure the four corners of each glass panel. It consists of 1,740 glass sections, and is 90 feet wide and 656 feet long, with 95 arches suspending the glass sections.
The key tenant on the west side of the third floor, besides Holt Renfrew, is H&M’s 25,992-square-foot store. Next door to H&M is the soon-to-be-closing Le Chateau which is above the 4th Street SW roadway below.
Other retailers in the Calgary Eaton Centre section of the third level includes Suzy Shier, Ricki’s, Lenscrafters, Vivid Beige, Recreation World, and The Source.
Continuing eastward under the glass skylight brings our retail photo tour to the TD Square section of the third floor.
Other retailers on the third floor of the TD Square section of The CORE include David Jones, About the Bra, Echo Bridal, Roots, Showcase, Soft Moc, Rocky Mountain Soap, and La Vie En Rose.
The CORE on the Fourth Level
The fourth floor of The CORE is home to the food court as well as the Devonian Gardens.
The original Devonian Gardens opened in 1977 at a cost of $9 million dollars. The park was closed in 2008 for four years while the major redevelopment of The CORE unfolded and reopened on June 27, 2012. It features additional seating for the CORE food court, a playground, and space for corporate events.
The CORE is a beautiful shopping centre property that we’d consider to be one of the most under-rated in North America in terms of overall design. It is worth a visit for those seeking a unique urban experience. The Holt Renfrew store has valet parking in its basement, and La Maison Simons is unlike any store in Canada in terms of its configuration and design.
Overall, we had a very interesting photo walk around The CORE in downtown Calgary and we hope you enjoyed coming along with us. Don’t forget to check out our other retail photo tours over the past few months. Thank you for taking this tour with us, feel free to leave your comments below and tell us what you think.
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