Downtown Calgary’s ‘The CORE’ Shopping Centre Optimistic as Traffic Increases

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Calgary is a city built on the success of the oilpatch.

When the oilpatch is booming, the city feels the impact in a positive way in many different areas including the retail industry. But when the oilpatch is struggling, that ripple effect is a painful one for retailers as less discretionary spending takes place.

The CORE shopping centre, which spans three city blocks in the heart of Calgary’s downtown, knows the ups and downs of the oilpatch very well  over the years and is closely tied into that economic cycle. 

THE CORE – PHOTO: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD
‘THE CORE” IS THREE CITY BLOCKS (PURPLE, YELLOW, AND ORANGE) TIED TOGETHER BY A BRIDGE (BLUE). PHOTO: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD

When oil prices collapsed in the latter half of 2014, it led to two recession years in Calgary in 2015 and 2016. And as always happens historically, thousands of jobs were shed by corporate Calgary with its head offices concentrated in the core. However, the economy began its slow rebound to recovery in 2017.

“We’re actually coming out of a fantastic 2018 heading into hopefully another strong year. In 2018, we are up in almost everything. In traffic, in sales, in gift card sales. So we’re really excited,” said Allison Onyett, marketing director for The CORE which is managed by Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services.

As of the end of August, The CORE was sitting at a 6.4 per cent increase in traffic year-to-date with some months being up as much as 20 per cent over last year. Gift card sales were 68 per cent higher this year year-to-date than last year. Weekend traffic increased in 2017 by 8.8 per cent and the shopping centre is maintaining that increase this year.

PHOTO: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD

“It is positive. However the numbers are still not those pre-recession numbers. We’re up over previous years. We’re still struggling to get to that pre-recession time. We were definitely affected by the layoffs in downtown Calgary. The downtown workers is traffic that is constantly passing through and as soon as you lay people off in the downtown core that is having fewer people walking through our centre every day,” said Onyett.

“So we’ve had to work really hard to come up with a marketing strategy that is event based, weekend based and engaging to further drive that traffic in from the suburbs that wouldn’t be here just because they’re working here but actually are coming to The CORE as a destination.”

The CORE has about 560,000 square feet of retail space.

“We are sitting at about a 20 per cent vacancy with permanent tenants. We’re actually almost fully leased coming into the fall here with a mix of both permanent and temporary tenants,” explained Onyett. “Some of them will come in just for the holiday season or some will be here for even a year or two. That’s still considered temporary. We’re actually running out of space to put some of these stores.

PHOTO: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD
ATRIUM SPANNING THREE CITY BLOCKS. PHOTO: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD

Michael Kehoe, an Alberta-based retail specialist with Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary, said The CORE shopping centre with its anchor department stores is one of the largest enclosed shopping centres of any city centre, of a market with under two million people, in North America and attracts millions of visitors every year.

“Holt Renfrew and La Maison Simons anchor The CORE and provide a powerful draw to the project and the surrounding retail centres such as Bankers Hall and Scotia Centre. Downtown Calgary with close to 30 per cent office vacancy has affected the customer footfall, retail sales and vacancy levels at The CORE. Recent proactive landlord leasing strategies leading to retiring less productive retail tenants in favour of more current and up-to-date retailers is paying off with higher sales productivity and encouraging increases,” said Kehoe.

“The 2017 opening of La Maison Simons at The CORE has been a solid attraction and addition with their success especially on the weekends which is encouraging. As the office sector goes so goes The CORE and tenant retention and attraction challenges will continue.”

PHOTO: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD
PHOTO: SIMONS

Onyett said the most significant addition to The CORE is Simons which opened in March 2017.

“We’re definitely feeling what we call the Simons effect. We’re seeing an increase of traffic. We did a survey in the mall and 31 per cent of our shoppers indicated that they were here specifically to go to Simons,” added Onyett.

The mall along pedestrian-friendly Stephen Avenue begins at Simons at its east end and continues to the west end with Holt Renfrew.

“What’s nice about us and it’s truly Canadian of us is that we’re anchored by two Canadian retailers. Simons on one end and Holt Renfrew on the other,” she said.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Sadly, The Core is suffering more due to the rise of Chinook Centre as the prime retail centre of Calgary, and less due to the loss of downtown workers.

    When Ottawa was faced with the same issue of downtown retail being eroded, they all but stopped suburban retail growth, and focused retail growth in the Rideau Centre.

    Calgary probably needs a similar bylaw in place to help downtown regain retail power.

    Go to downtown Calgary on a Saturday, and it hardly feels like a city of million or more, because everyone is now at Chinook Centre.

  2. I think one of the main problems with the Core declining in overall prominence is their lack of ability to evolve. Simons was a great addition no doubt but there are so many popular stores missing from the Core that Chinook has started becoming the go to mall. Why hasn’t the Core tried to negotiate adding in shops like Zara, Uniqlo, Apple Store, Microsoft store, Urban outfitters, Champs/footlocker etc? These are popular destinations particularly for 15-35 year age group. This is one of the biggest reasons me and my friends avoid the Core, theres just not enough popular up to date trendy retail to bring in youngsters compared to Chinook/Market Mall. Thats the thing with Cadillac Fairview, they always stay on top of updates. Just adding an Apple Store to the Core would bring massive footfalls, living in the NE its pain to drive to Chinook/Market so I’d love to drive downtown more often for these stores. The second biggest thing is the lack of parking options. Its just too expensive to go during a working day. I don’t see the downtown vacancy dropping anytime soon so how do they ever expect to draw in footfalls from the suburbs? Lastly, the hours are ridiculous, why is it not open later on Saturdays, theres like a small hours of operation window opening for suburban folks to come in on a day with work off and cheap parking. Even evenings are brutal when parking rates fall but the mall ends up closing at 6pm on a Tuesday. Basically, this mall needs to become more suburban friendly for a city like Calgary because its footfalls may have been lost to the recession but for people like me theres no real reason to visit the Core when u have Chinook with free parking, extended hours, and a lot more popular stores. I want the Core to become at least as prominent as Chinook and I hope that someone from their malls management is reading this. Simons was a great exclusive addition but how much longer until one is opened somewhere else in Calgary? The LV leaving is a bummer too. And MB is right, the city needs to quit approving all these pathetic strip malls and focus on making its Downtown vibrant especially on weekends.

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