In honour of International Women’s Day, The City celebrates two women who have helped put Calgary on the global stage
The City of Calgary’s Downtown Strategy Team has a lot to celebrate on International Women’s Day. The team, comprised of over 70 per cent of women, has put Calgary on a global stage since its inception in 2021. Whether it’s focusing on implementing Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan or together, with our public and private sector partners, working to create jobs, drive economic recovery and revitalize downtown; Calgarians and the world are paying close attention.
One program in particular has received international acclaim - The Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program. Led by Sheryl McMullen and Natalie Marchut, these two powerhouse professionals have helped Calgary become a leader in addressing high downtown office vacancy rates and supporting the creation of new homes in Calgary’s downtown. It’s a common issue that a number of major cities around the world are grappling with.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished with the Incentive Program, especially the number of homes we’ve been able to bring into Calgary’s downtown,” says Sheryl McMullen, Manager, Investment & Marketing with Downtown Strategy. “Having such a supportive Council and a partner in the private sector, it shows there is a real desire to bring people and vibrancy back to our core.”
So far, 14 projects are currently approved or are under consideration for funding and will remove ~2 million square feet of office space from the market and create ~2,000 homes.
This work has not only moved the needle in Calgary, but the Incentive Program has become a model for other cities facing similar issues.
“We’ve been consulted by other Canadian and American cities including Montreal, Ottawa, Portland, Chicago and Houston,” says Natalie Marchut, Manager of Development & Strategy with Downtown Strategy. “It’s been a collaborative effort with industry and I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made. Sheryl and I have worked hard to build and maintain positive relationships with our partners. It’s real teamwork and we’ve proven we’re much stronger when we’re working together.”
One of the first projects to receive funding for the Incentive Program was Teck Place, which is being redeveloped by Cidex Group of Companies.
“When the oil and gas market slowed and the pandemic hit, we were faced with a very different downtown,” says Sarah Itani, VP Development with Cidex Group of Companies. “Industry and The City needed to work together to problem solve and create a solution that worked for everyone. The Incentive Program has immense potential – it gives us the ability to take under utilized space and bring it back to life; creating a more vibrant, more resilient downtown.”
As for working alongside Sheryl and Natalie, Sarah has nothing but praise and respect. “Being a woman in a male dominated field, I love having the opportunity to work and learn from other strong women,” says Sarah. “They are phenomenal and are incredibly professional and passionate, which is a rare and valuable combination. They really believe in the work they’re doing and are committed to seeing the projects through successfully. Sheryl and Natalie carry themselves with authority and respect, but also demonstrate graceful leadership, which I believe is needed now more than ever.”
Sheryl and Natalie both agree that while gender equality has come a long way, there’s always room for improvement.
“A lot of times, Sheryl and I are the only women in the boardroom,” says Natalie. “While we’re seeing more amazing and inspiring women, like Sarah, we’d love to see more.”
Pending approval from Council on March 14, the team hopes to expand the scope of the Incentive Program, while also creating two new programs that support downtown revitalization and the goals of Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan – the Downtown Post-Secondary Institution Incentive Program and the Downtown Office Demolition Program.
“It’s an exciting time,” says Sheryl. “We’ve had such a positive response to our downtown office conversion program, I’m hopeful that we’ll see the same enthusiasm with these two new programs. Our downtown has so much potential and so many visionaries within the industry, who want to invest in Calgary’s success.”
Throughout their careers, Sheryl and Natalie have encountered many female mentors who they admire and have paved the way for future generations. These women include Glenda Cole, Deb Hamilton and Pamela Mireau, to name a few.
“On International Women’s Day, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the past generations of women and recognize all they’ve endured to get us to where we are today, and to acknowledge there’s still work to be done,” says Natalie. “It’s a good time to pause and give gratitude to the women who paved the way for the rest of us; not just the famous ones, but our mothers and grandmothers too.”
The future looks bright for the Downtown Strategy team, as Sheryl and Natalie continue to push boundaries and dream big. If you’d like the chance to meet Sheryl and Natalie, and learn more about what’s happening downtown, please join us for an Open House in April. More information will be available shortly at calgary.ca/downtown.