International Women’s Day: The City celebrates those helping transform our downtown

Sarah Itani has accomplished a lot in her life – she’s attended Stanford, the London School of Economics and has an impressive resume, including her current role as vice-president of development with a local real estate developer. The born and raised Calgarian has the grit, determination and passion to change the world, but first, Sarah has her heart set on making a meaningful impact on the city she loves and calls home, Calgary.  

“At a young age, I knew Calgary would be where I set my roots,” says Sarah. “I’ve had the privilege of traveling the world, but nothing compares to this city. I wanted to use the incredible experiences I gained through my studies and travels to make a difference here.”  

When Sarah started the role in 2015, most people could not have predicted that the development industry was about to take a major hit. “When the oil and gas market slowed and the pandemic came, our city faced some major challenges, especially our downtown,” says Sarah. “With office vacancy rates on the rise, an increase in safety issues and no foreseeable end in sight, I knew we had to do things differently.”  

With industry and The City working together, the Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program was born. “I am proud to have worked alongside a dedicated group of people who pushed boundaries to come up with a creative solution that would benefit everyone,” says Sarah. “It was incredible teamwork and we’re now seeing the success of our collective efforts.” 

Since its inception in 2021, the Incentive Program has been an international success story with Calgary becoming a leader in addressing high downtown office vacancy rates and supporting the creation of new homes. To date, 13 office conversion projects have been supported and will remove 1.67 million sq. ft. of office space, delivering more than 1,500 new homes for Calgarians, with more to come.  

One of the first projects to receive a funding commitment from the Downton Incentive Program was Teck Place, which is being redeveloped by the Cidex Group of Companies where Sarah uses her skills and expertise to implement change. “The Incentive Program has immense potential,” says Sarah. “It gives us the ability to take underutilized spaces and bring it back to life, creating a more vibrant, more resilient downtown. We’re thrilled to also be working on Eau Claire Place I, another office conversion project in the works.” 

As a visible minority and female, Sarah is used to being underrepresented and sometimes, undervalued in the workplace. “I remember a former boss saying to me that I was smarter than I looked,” says Sarah. “Being judged by your race, gender or age is completely unacceptable, and while things have improved, we still have work to do. Equity in the workplace is a subject I’m passionate about and a top priority.” 

Being a role model for women planning on entering the real estate development industry, is something Sarah takes seriously. “My hope is that when women see me in a traditionally male-dominated field, they’ll see themselves and believe they can do it, too,” says Sarah. “I’m so excited to see more women entering the industry, especially in leadership positions. Having diversity at the workplace means more variety of skills, experiences and talent.” 

On International Women’s Day, Sarah is grateful to all the women who have worked tirelessly and sacrificed so much to get to this point. “My mom is a woman I admire and look up to. She came to Calgary at 19, looking for a better future for herself and her family,” says Sarah. “She is someone who gives 100 per cent every day and is always looking for ways to give back to her community. To me, she embodies the Calgary spirit of generosity and resilience.” 

The future looks bright for Sarah as she strives to make our city an inclusive place where everyone has a voice at the table. If you’d like to learn more about the work happening downtown, visit